It’s going to be 10 months since Amrit and I decided to move to India, he to continue his studies and I, to test waters in a land I left 20 years ago. For greener pastures, you may like to believe, but definitely not I would say… and that’s a debate for another post.
Last month, my mother-in-law passed away in Mumbai after a month in hospital following a cancer diagnosis in January. It was a hard time for all of us, and when the news came, we felt numb, unable to do anything. That day, for whatever reasons, it took me an hour-and-a-half to traverse the 8 km home. There was a lot to do, book tickets, get to the airport in the wee hours… take local trains to my brother-in-law’s place and so on.
That night, according to tradition, we were not supposed to cook at home.
And I am sorry to say none of my neighbours came to ask how we were, or how we were coping. Not that I was unfriendly, my door is always open and I make it a point to speak to them whenever I am free.
You would argue why would that matter? It does, for me…. two years back, around the same time when we were in Muscat, my father-in-law had passed away suddenly. My brother-in-law and family were with us on a long-due visit and were visiting some tourist spots 250 km away from the city when it happened. The moment our friends came to know of the news, they were on speaker phone, calming Bala on the long drive back to Muscat. And once we were home, my neighbour had taken over, bringing cups of coffee to the huge number of friends and colleagues who had come home, another friend volunteered to “web check-in” all our tickets, some even helped us pack our clothes as we were similarly, numb with grief. Everything was taken care of without being asked to, right until the time we were dropped off at the airport.
This time around, Amrit and I were alone… My brother was away… and no, we didn’t eat that night. But we did what we had to do, catch a flight to Mumbai and from there on, be with family.
This lack of empathy I find everywhere. The inability to stop, speak a kind word and move on. It’s ruthless, this dog-eat-dog world where “busyness” has been raised to an art form. The standard reply to everything is, “I am busy. There’s too much traffic,” even at times when I had expressed a desire to visit people or places. When we were planning to settle in Bangalore, there were many who had said, “Come, come, we are all here.”
Sadly, the move taught me a few lessons and to believe in myself. So Amrit and I did everything alone – from finding a house, starting a home with just two suitcases and yes, over the past 10 months, have managed to find our feet in Bengaluru.
And fleece here is another word… your house help, the carpenter, the plumber, the auto driver who demands one-and-a-half or metre pe extra 30 rupees – everyone fleeces you for time and money. At times like these, I read the voice messages from Lakshmi, my former house help in Muscat, who always asks after me and Amrit and how we are doing in India. “Madam, don’t stress yourself. Eat well. Are you sleeping?,” she asks in every message.
I came to India happy to be among my own. Or so I thought. Only to realise “own” means different things to different people.
Being part of the diaspora in a foreign country taught me many lessons in togetherness than in my own country. Did we have all the time in the world there? No, we were busy with our jobs and our lives and still found time for others, for spirituality, and to forge strong bonds.
There are so many instances that remind me of such love. And it’s this love that keeps me going.
It would, however, be wrong of me to be cynical and generalise. I have found a few good friends at the workplace who I can depend on. That is one constant in my life that I have always been blessed with.
What does it take to empathise? Absolutely nothing.
Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to love without conditions attached.
The world will be better because of it.