It’s the relentlessness that gets you down. It’s partly the country, but partly the fact that your days are now full of people. Either way, life in India has a full-tilt, “when can I get off?” quality that’s exhilarating most times, exhausting at others and downright infuriating at those special moments when you dream of mountains.
It’s true though that we’ve chosen to lump several life-stressors in one — moving countries, setting up a new home and settling into new jobs. And the problem with moving home is that you’re adding the additional stress of fitting back into what you once knew, as well as (re)negotiating a range of relationships. After ten years away, you’re different. Everyone is ten years older ... people simply change with time. You’ve been away from home, immersed in new situations, in different cultures — you can’t be the same. These changes are often hard for people who know you well.
And then, as if there wasn’t enough in our lives, what with sulky contractors, rude tenants and familial great expectations, we went and adopted a dog. His name’s Gunter for he’s largely Rottweiller (and large) and is an alternating bundle of mad puppy-like energy and great sighing peace.
Like last-minute dog adoptions, we’ve made different choices about house and home here, and I sometimes wonder if someone somewhere has written the script of our lives that we’re supposed to follow, because it seems we never do anything right for some people. We’re constantly up against disapproval, or at the receiving end of a high-handed lecture and sometimes even being shouted at.
Both of us have lived by ourselves a long way from home for many years without starving to death, or setting fire to things, or going bankrupt, or being arrested, so it’s a mystery why we’re suddenly answerable to someone else for the choices we make. We have the constant feeling that we’re supposed to clear all our decisions with a superior, if not, any mistakes we make will be met with arched eyebrows and “I told you so” shrugs.
Actually, it’s a mystery why, at 38, I’m not allowed to have any opinions but the party ones, for when I voice them, listeners turn their faces away and don’t want to hear any more. And when I persist, as sometimes I must, I’m met with defensiveness and justification. Things are even harder for my wife. In addition to being talked down to nearly all the time, she faces discrimination about career choices. When she found her new job in Bengaluru, she was shocked when an educated, independent woman asked her: “Shouldn’t you be thinking about family?”
I’m reminded of how a few years earlier, when she bought her dream car, a different educated, independent, even feminist woman asked: “Shouldn’t you be thinking about having kids?” How frightening that even in the upper middle class homes of modern-day Bengaluru, a woman is considered selfish or believed to have her priorities wrong if she chooses to work or buys something nice for herself. As a man, I’m not expected to make corresponding sacrifices.
All in all, we sometimes both feel sad about this pressure around us. We were so carefree back in California — they really were among the best years of our lives. A huge part of that was silence and not just aural quiet, but a general peace to our lives. And yet ... even after all this ranting, I feel alive now in a way that I haven’t been in a long time. I might have to scream “let me off!” ever so often, but at least I’m at the funfair with friends and family. Right?
Gautam Raja is a journalist based in Bengaluru, India.