And then we got around talking about living abroad versus living in India.
It’s something I’m conflicted about. I share many of her concerns about India:
1. First among them, the inability as a woman to be completely free in India. To wear what you want, to walk around at any time of night without having to worry about being molested, to not have to worry about being escorted home at night.
2. I’d extend that to being a human being without fear in India.If you own a house in India, you can’t leave it for a long time without worrying about it being burgled. Many people living in apartments can’t be sure they won’t be burgled. If I walked around in India the way I walk around in Hong Kong, I’d have had my wallet and mobile stolen 10 times over. If you’re a boy in India, you have to learn how to use your fists. If I had a daughter in India, I’d have her learn to use her fists too. This is besides the fact that one could get blown up on the train to work. Or that religious bigots might decide they don’t like your community and decide to hunt you down. Things you can’t control but that sit like unease at the back of your mind somewhere.
3. Then there’s the infrastructure in India. Or the lack thereof.
4. And the bureaucracy. How to get anything done, you have to know someone or bribe someone.
I’ve been spoiled living in a place where I can live completely without fear, despite being a foreigner, where things work, where bureaucracy is so astoundingly efficient that even completely careless morons like me can get things done.
So why would I even consider moving back to India, she asked.
I blame it on the child I’m having. I say children need to be surrounded by friends and family and to know where they came from.
And that although I know where I came from, I need to be surrounded by friends and family too. (She points out that India is a five-hour flight away).
But is that all that is? Why is it so hard to articulate why I would want to live in India, the way it’s so easy to articulate why I would want to live in Hong Kong.
It’s about belonging. I don’t think I can belong to Hong Kong, although I love it. I don’t think it’s possible to really belong in Hong Kong unless you’re Chinese or speak enough Cantonese to be thought of as Chinese (and even then it’s better if you’re white and not brown) or deluded. Many expats in Hong Kong live in a bubble and think they belong. Granted people like me live in a bubble in India too (my friend’s problem with India is that to live as one wants to, living in a bubble is necessary). But there are other things that make me belong – the fact that I was born in India as my parents were as my grandparents and their parents were that make me feel I have a right to be there; that even if I’m not exactly part of the mainstream, a minority among 1 billion is still large enough to be comforting, that I share enough with other Indians to not be foreign.
An indication is the news. My Indian friends in Hong Kong often complain that the “news in Hong Kong is not interesting”. What they don’t realise is that they don’t find it interesting because they are not invested enough in the community in Hong Kong to find it interesting. The news in Hong Kong is about what happens to people in Hong Kong, and China. And foreigners in Hong Kong don’t know enough of them to care. I care about the news in Hong Kong more than most expats. And yet, I care about the news in India more.
I can never be part of the real community in Hong Kong, the community of the streets, the way I can in India despite my pitiful Hindi, because that community is Cantonese-bound. I can never be part of the intellectual life in Hong Kong – the coffee shops where poets meet, the artist communities, the fringe – because I don’t speak and more importantly read in Cantonese. Chinese people think and read in Chinese. The important books and movies and poems and new ideas are in Chinese. That’s not say I would be part of the intellectual life in India. I’d probably sit on the couch as much as I do here. But at least I’d have half a chance.
Only would there be time and energy to do any of these intellectual/cultural things if one is running around like a headless chicken just trying to get things done?
Arrgh back to square one.