Hate is a strong word. I don’t hate my homeland completely. I just really have an awful time every time I am there. It’s so bad, I don’t really want to go back anymore.
I grew up totally American (All American, as I like to say). I was born and raised in San Jose, California. For those readers who have never been to California, trust me when I say this: California spoils you. It really spoils you. The weather is great, the people are friendly, and everyone (for the most part) is liberal.
For most of my youth, I went to a private school where most of the students were either Caucasian, East Asian, or South Asian. Many of my school friends were second-generation children of immigrants. Many spoke something other than English at home. I was around diversity a lot, but like my school friends, and unlike our parents, I related to American culture very strongly.
When my dad used to watch cricket, I used to ask him to change the channel so I could watch basketball. When the weekend came around, I would religiously wake up to watch Saturday morning Nickelodeon. Unlike a lot of my friends, who grew up with parents pushing them to immerse more into the cultural activities of their home country, my parents never pushed me to integrate me into the wonders of Indian culture. I never experienced weekly Bollywood dance lessons. I never had a Hindi tutor. I loved eating with a fork and a knife, and even in my youth, when my parents ate their rice or roti with their hands, they never asked me to accustom myself to doing the same.
Part of the reason why I think my parents never pushed me to embrace Indian culture is that they themselves were out of touch with it. Both had come to pursue their undergraduate studies in Berkeley and upon graduation, both found jobs in the Silicon Valley as engineers. They arrived in America in their late teens and wholeheartedly took to becoming American. My dad worked for Microsoft and my Mom worked for a few startups before finally committing to a silicon valley unicorn. They were Silicon Valley stalwarts who were paid handsomely, and they used their own earnings to build a happy home for themselves, my brother, and me. Yes, my parents did keep remnants of their lives back home in our house in California, but those were simply remnants of something that kept them tied to a life they once had. My dad loved to go scuba diving in his off time, hardly an Indian thing to do. He also went hunting with a few buddies in Minnesota and made that a yearly boys trip. My mother loved to paint and she loved going to karaoke with her friends. Her favorites song was one by Adele, not Asha Bhosle. I always saw the small Ganesh statue near our doorway, but never saw them pray in front of it. We had Sanskrit scriptures as home décor. Our hallway and living room always smelled like Indian food, but overall, our home was an American one.
So, I reacted in high surprise and equal excitement when they asked me one summer that we would be traveling to India on a family trip. I was 16 at the time, a junior in high school, and I was thrilled that this would be the very first time that I would be going overseas! The long plane ride itself was a thrilling new prospect.
When we arrived in India, the excitement quickly dwindled. On my very first day, I tried a curry and daal dish at my grandmother’s house that made me sick for three days. For those of you who can relate to this, you know the drill. Extremely spicy food. Non-stop bathroom trips. Nausea. Gas. Fever. The whole “first time in India” shebang. To make matters worse, my Nani would lovingly tell my mother (in front of me, but not directly at me) that because of my upbringing in the US, my stomach was not ready to handle local cuisine. Rude. At least I thought so. According to her, the only way I would be able to do so is if I were to continue to stay there. When I asked my friend about how my Nani spoke, they said, that’s just how it is there.
On my fourth day, I finally went outside and was excited to see everything. That excitement also quickly went away. I was walking on a crowded sidewalk in Delhi. We were going to a bazaar to buy some saris. The sheer amount of people that we walked with made me claustrophobic. I’ve never felt upset in enclosed spaces. But here, combined with humidity and heat fit for a volcano, it was stifling. Being in such a crowd also meant constant conflict for my nostrils against peoples’ body odors. I was hard-pressed to avoid the smell of stale sweat anywhere I went, forcing myself to hold my nose most of the time with my t-shirt. Add to this the cacophony of honks, cowbells, and all sorts of other sounds, my first-timers experience was awful.
There were a lot of other things I found unbearable. My aunties wanted me to mingle with their children. She asked my cousins to take to me their usual hangouts. They were mostly food places, dusty parks, and hookah lounges. I wasn’t impressed. My cousins talked about materialistic things a lot. A friend owns this business. Another friend owns that luxury car. Someday he will also buy that car. She wants to get married. She is dating a really cute guy, who also owns something awesome. Things of this nature, I never did care for. I was also busy lost in thought, judging the drab décor of the shisha lounges. I was flattered by the overly polite service we had at restaurants though and impressed that a lot of the waiters and waitresses didn’t harp us for tips.
My aunties were also overly nosy about my personal life. They constantly asked me if I was dating someone. When I repeatedly said no, they wanted me to see a guy who they thought would be “a good match” because they came from “respectable families”. I had to push my mom to tell them to stop harassing me on a vacation.
The final nail in the coffin was when we were all sitting together in the living room and one of my aunties starting trashing American culture. She claimed Americans have no culture, and that I was rude to not respect elders and should have shown some respect for my roots. I replied by shouting how terrible this country was. There were too many nasty foods, no organization in the city, extreme chaos, and that I was happy I was born and brought up in a civilized society.
I flew back to California the following week, alone. I couldn’t wait to leave and I breathed a sigh of relief on the flight back home.
Five years later I went to India again, with my fiancé. This time it was to show the extended family that we were going to get married and make sure we could give them expensive wedding cards made on velvety paper. We married the following year and held two ceremonies, one in India and one in California.
I go to India once every two years now. I abhor these trips. My husband can’t stay away from his family for long periods of time and as a supportive partner, I dutifully visit. I’ve adjusted to staying there for extended periods of time. For me, that means no more than a month. I still hate the smells, the loud noises, the disorganized nature of things, and the traffic jams. I don’t think I’ll ever get over those. I don’t hate India, but I don’t think I can ever be a fan of living there for long periods of time.