“Whatever”, she said, rolling her eyes dramatically, when I asked her whether she was excited about coming to India for the summer vacations. Her reply, though foreseen, did not cease to singe my sentiments. “So much for trying to start a conversation”, I mutter under my breath and turn to look at her. She sat in our typically middle-class silver Hyundai Santro car, and kept looking out of the window, almost waiting to see something impressive. So it seemed. Her face seemed to be made of dough as she made queer, convoluted expressions as a reaction to the chaotic scenes of the ‘Indian roads’ that went by. I followed her gaze only to rediscover my love for the bouts of innocuous craziness of our over-populated country, making it resemble a bag full of surprises-bursting at its seams!
The petulant, rude horns of the vehicles, the persistent hawkers on the roads, the unrelenting, emaciated beggars flaunting a famished look and a convincing prop (mostly an unclean, terribly skinny child with sad eyes, which make you want to give it everything you have), the shoddy ‘pan shops’ surrounded by a throng of chain and occasional smokers, the frequent sightings of a group of men attending to Nature’s very-urgent call against a stray wall despite the sign of ‘No urinating on the walls’, blatantly making a point, the absolute disregard for pedestrians, the occasional flock of eunuchs wearing bright, gaudy saris, and the perpetual pool of sweat on every person’s back, and a LOT more are precisely what make India ‘incredible’.
My cousin, four years older to me, who had come down from Paris, not only found India unfit as a ‘vacation spot’, but also rather appalling as a country to live in! Every year, her parents would insist on making their annual trip to India and catch up with family and old acquaintances, and every year she would have to battle her fears regarding health and hygiene, climatic conditions and the incessant culture.
She kept clicking her tongue impatiently, as we moved at Snail’s pace in Hyderabad’s ruthless traffic. She was wearing a cool, white spaghetti top, and the motorcyclists stranded next to our car in the traffic jam couldn’t keep their eyes off her bosom. Extremely embarrassed and irritated, she turned towards me and her face clearly enunciated disdain. “What the f**k am I doing here?”, she mumbled.
The word ‘snob’ instantly popped up in my mind. I looked down, gratefully, at my long-sleeved blue kurta, thankful for its ‘covering capacity’.
Upon reaching home, my mother served dinner with utmost gusto, while she looked positively petrified at the prospect of eating rotis, dripping with butter, and unending mounds of rice with sambar, and a colorful curry, the name of which I am unable to recall now. She slowly and reluctantly ingested all the food, almost as if each mouthful was killing her. I felt an emotion of defiance rise somewhere within me. I shrugged, and let it go.
After a long hour of exchanging pleasantries (and yawns), we decided it would be ideal to visit the Land Of Nod and let our guests pay homage to the jetlag. I was supposed to share my room with my cousin, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. Having an elder ‘NRI cousin’ is something everybody dreams of, as a child. Having known her ever since my first breath, I could not help but feel pangs of sisterly affection towards her. After a few sweet nothings, and after the gigantic ice was broken, we started talking like today were the continuation of where we had left off last year, and as if the time that had passed in-between never really existed!
I am known for my unable-to-contain-curiosity nature, and I blurt out something that had been bothering me ever since her arrival. “Tell me, seriously, whether you pretend to dislike India because it is touted to be ‘cool’, or do you seriously not like your own birthplace?” I do not care to hide the disgust in my voice, stressing on the latter part of the question. She smiles-a beautifully fake smile- and nods her head indicating that she really did not like visiting India every year.
Perhaps it was the way she put her point across, or the very fact that I had always known her dislike for my (and her) country, that I scowled deeply and shot back in an austere tone- “Why? May I know what gives you the right to behave like a Parisian snob, when you are, in fact, a humble Indian by birth? How can you have the heart to betray your country’s sentiments this way? What does India lack anyway? It is the cultural hub of the world! The ‘sone ki chidiya’! The Golden bloody bird!” My anger knew no bounds and I made no attempt to conceal it from our honorable guest. Hmpf.
She pondered over my outburst with a neat smirk lacing her lips. After a painfully long moment, she said, “The golden bird existed ages ago. It has flown to a place unknown, unreachable. What remains is the India ‘today’. When I look at what is supposed to be ‘my beloved birthplace’, all I see is corruption, desperate westernization, squalor, injustice, inequality- to name a few gruesome sights. There is commercialization of sentiments, commercialization of education, politicization of vital elements of development, day-light robbery by the bureaucracy, and an adulterated democracy. The traffic conditions are horrible, while everyone’s aping the ‘western life’ without enough infrastructures. Tourists are harassed in broad daylight. The sanitary conditions of even the best of the cities is unacceptable, the hygienic standards are, well, UGH. Terrorism is prevalent in every corner of this country. Communalism still lurks beneath the Indian soil, threatening to erupt every now and then. A woman cannot walk the streets of her own country without worrying about being eve-teased, molested, raped and killed. There is male-domination, both, physically and emotionally. Babies are bought and sold everyday. What sort of a country is this? Who is responsible for all of this? These are, in fact, just a few reasons why I dislike coming here. I could present an entire thesis regarding this, but I REALLY couldn’t care less. You know that I haven’t made any of that up, so, stop hounding me about what I am supposed to feel about my country. Face the goddamn truth, and go to sleep.” She turned off the lights, as if nothing significant had happened in the past few minutes, and fell asleep.
I watched her fall asleep, with a turbulent feeling in my heart. Humiliation, at being snubbed by her; chagrin, at her open tirade against my ego; and sheer helplessness, at not being able to refute any of the heavy charges made against my nation. She had made her point; how could I deny that? A feeling of severe doubt crept into my safe haven of patriotism. A flicker of disappointment, steadily growing, began to make its presence felt in me. Moments passed by, and the tiny flicker now turned into a blinding floodlight, while I still sat, remorseful and confounded, in the darkness of the night.