V and I are in the throes of an on-and-off argument on whether to move back to India (at some point) or not. He wants to, me not so much.
His reasons, as I understand them, are partly self-centred – he does not want to keep working in the banking industry forever, with children the stress of keeping them in school here would require him to keep striving. And partly to do with what he claims to be the welfare of the children – a greater sense of belonging, growing up surrounded by family etc.
My reasons for not wanting to move are more practical – we have a relatively stress-free life here, leaving us with time to enjoy each other, our children and life. I can earn more money here with less effort than I would in India. Now that I have a child and another on the way I value safety even more. Lingering somewhere at the back of my mind is the thought that having been presented with the choice of living in a safe city, if I moved back to India and something violent happened to my children, I would never forgive V or myself.
Yes, the big thing we give up on living abroad is extended family. I have begun to wonder, though, whether the wonders of extended family are worth the stress that the immediate family would be under living in India, a stress that you will only be aware of if you have lived outside India and moved back.
And then there’s belonging. The one thing that niggles me about Hong Kong is the inability to belong. Racially, one is an outsider, and not an outsider from the preferred white-skinned race. One will always face a subtle racial tension and this is a barrier that cannot be really overcome, just ignored. One way of integrating is linguistically; one of the reasons expat remain always slightly removed from Chinese society is the inability to speak Cantonese, a difficult but not impossible language to learn.
The irony is that I don’t speak any Indian language comfortably either. Linguistically, I am as much an outsider in India as I am in Hong Kong. I have always contended that I belong in India because I have roots there, I am ethnically Indian, I have the whole background of India in my bones.
But do I? I have also always felt a certain amount of foreignness even while I was in India and adult enough to be aware of it. Part of it is because Goan culture, especially the lifestyle of Goans outside Goa, is so Westernised. I grew up with so many Western cultural references. Part of that is speaking only English and a difficulty picking up Indian languages. With English as one’s mother tongue, always a source of some confusion, and only the barest bones of Hindi available, one is always slightly cut off from the masses on the street. And being from a minority religion, once one steps out of the world of Christian educational institutions, puts one in an increasingly insecure space politically; the slight fear that one of these days the communalists might come knocking at your door.
I have never been detached from the street, which I consider to be the ‘real’ of any place, but if I am honest, I never quite fit in on the street in India. My inability to converse in the language of the street excludes me. I will always be a little bit the outsider. In Hyderabad, I was actually asked which country I was from and told that I looked like a foreigner, even when dressed in a salwar kameez. I probably had more in common with expat Indians than Indians in India.
And that brings me to my current epiphany. Sometimes it’s easier to be a foreigner in a foreign land than a foreigner in your homeland.
(Or maybe all this is just to rationalise my fear of rocking the boat.)