Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Aal Izz Well That Endz Well

Editor's note: This is the final in a series of retroactive posts I wrote about my last month or so in India. I was motivated to write these after coming home and interacting with several people who followed this blog, whom I had never met. They told me how much they enjoyed and appreciated my writings. Then Yoric gushed about it talking about how he set it up to get new posts emailed, etc.. That's when I knew I owed you all a strong finish. Previous retroactive posts are here, here, and here.

My six months in India have come to an end, and I'm back in California. Honestly, it was an absolute whirlwind, and I don't know where the time went. I was telling friends that I felt that the 6 month stay actually felt shorter than the 3 month trips I did the previous two years. When I had 3 months, it felt like a sprint; I had a lot on my plate and was in 5th gear for most of those 12 weeks. But when I looked ahead to 6 months, I knew I couldn't sprint all the way, so I made sure I settled in, got into a nice living situation with good food, balanced work and social life, travelled more. And once you're settled in and comfortable, the time just flies.

The last couple weeks in India were hectic. I was wrapping up Avaaj Otalo development and launched the phone line with DSC. Things got tense when a certain sarkari-phone-company-not-to-be-named-here took 2 months to do a job they promised me would take two weeks. I was bewildered trying to get them to finish; I had to be on their ass every day, calling to make sure they weren't going to blow me off.

Then there was my cousin Keya's wedding, which was fun. All my family from California came, which made me homesick. The familiar faces and talk about home and how I'd be going back. Soon half of my mind left to go back home, the other tending to the loose ends in India. I think this was a contributing factor to me being sick for most of the last two weeks I was there.

It was an unfitting cap to my trip to India, which was my best stay there ever. I mentioned my living situation. The uncleji that hosted me was great and his house was spacious and gorgeous. I had monkeys in the front yard and peacocks in the back. And then I was a 2-minute walk from only the most hi-fi gym in all of Ahmedabad, Studio de Physique. In retrospect it was a godsend that it was the most expensive gym in the city. It meant it wasn't ever crowded, leaving me to work in peace.

But probably the biggest factor to my enjoyable stay was the friends I had. It was incredible luck to have Samir, Madhu, Meghna, Sachi, Anjali, Jignasha, Nirali, Aditi, Chandni, Shiven, and others to hang out with. But especially Sam and MAM. I will never forget how much fun it was lounging with you guys in Safal late night talking and eating cookies-cream (that's not a typo, that's how the flavor is spelled) and watching movies. I remember the night we almost watched Khwaab (why are you guys so embarrassed about such a great accomplishment?!?!) and instead watched Ali G and Samir was rolling. Or the night we celebrated Jayeshbhai and Anardidi's anniversary with the cake and framed photos only I was sick with food poisoning so I couldn't enjoy but it was Jayeshbhai so I felt happy anyway. Madhu feeling embarrassed about his dance that Meghna caught on tape and played for everyone. Me always encouraging Madhu by saying what a talented singer and dancer he is. Meghna's counter: the story about how Madhu used to fake play a keyboard on the roof of his apartment to impress a girl on the next roof. Dinners at our special restaurant, Cellad. Meghna, tell me if you ever figure out what that stupid sentence painted on the wall means. Dinner at Crazy Noodles where Maddog said he would just eat soup but ended up eating a load. Or that dinner the three of us had at La Fiesta where we got into deep conversation about fear and living life effortlessly (I had just finished my 10-day and MegaCool had just come back from Narmada walk). Or that night we all were at Jayeshbhai's making those masks for Jesus' birthday. Madddog remember the mask that you made that got rejected? I kept that in my closet and looked at it every morning. Or when Maddog broke out Mafia Wars at the office to show me how big of a gangster he had become in a pathetic game played by a worldwide network of pathetic guys. Giggling behind Meghna's back while she was at the computer doing real work. Meghna complimenting my ability to compliment people. Anytime you need one call me!

I really could go on, and probably should because those memories are golden and priceless and joyful. Madhu and Meghna, I am so glad we got to bond, and I hope we stay friends for life. You two will always make me smile.

And this brings me to my present state of mind, being back at home: unsettled. Mixed feelings. For both of my other two trips to India, my favorite memory was on the plane ride home, looking out the window as we made the decent into SFO. I remember distinctly the feeling of pride for my home, happiness to be back in my turf, the place I love. Not this time. I felt uncomfortable from the moment I got back. I was in culture shock because everyone spoke English. But the discomfort went much deeper than that. Even now sitting here, I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like I relate to people here as much as I used to. People here have a different set of problems. They get upset when the Caltrain is 5 minutes late. Or that someone cut them off on the freeway or even "bigger" issues like when the AT&T network was down for 24 hours in San Francisco and the Twitterverse was ablaze with outrage. I absolutely can't relate to that, not any more. For six months I lived in a place where there is real suffering, and you see it every day. Sure, maybe I didn't do much about it, but I knew that my problems are just "problems." Minuscule. And I come back here to realize that all the people whom I considered my community don't see it the same way. People here are afflicted with a narrow perspective, they see life through only one angle. Oblivious. I must have left something back in India, part of who I am. Maybe eventually I'll be 100% Californian again, but not today. Today I feel like a foreigner in my own birthplace.

Signing off till next time,
San Francisco, January 2010


  1. excellent last paragrapgh, like you said "a strong finish".

  2. Neil, I just stumbled on to your blog here and I really dig your posts. I quite relate to the parts about silence, stillness and meditation. If I don't take a step back and soak up where I'm at and what my priorities are, the everyday stresses start to build up.

    I'd be interested to know what you are working on these days. It seems like something to do with sustainable agriculture, which is something my wife and I are passionate about.

    Hope all is well, old friend! Take care.

    Ryan Yates

  3. a fellow bleeding heartMarch 11, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    Neil, I felt exactly the same way about returning to the US after spending a few years in India - constantly comparing US vs India problems, feeling like I don't relate, I don't belong, and not knowing where to start in assimilating myself back "home" again. I can't say I have the answers for everyone who goes through this after returning from long bouts of time in India or in the MS environment, except that I discovered something that really helps me not feel so out of place: slowing down and focusing. On all of the little things happening in front of me everyday. On how looking people in the eye when I say thank you somehow makes me feel the gratitude more. On how when someone honks obnoxiously and gives me the finger because I accidentally cut them off, I react with love and forgiveness instead of perpetuating the cycle of irritation. How feeling my husband's heartbeat as we go to sleep at night sometimes makes me cry because I realize how lucky I am. So many examples. I have found so many opportunities to be happy in the US after experiencing life like I never imagined it could be in India, but know that it's only possible if I slow myself down to see beauty in places I never would have thought to look before.

    -a big fan :-)

  4. Dearest Neil
    Your love and affection is contagious. Miss you so so much here. As you may now know, samir has moved in the same building as ours and every time we have icecream, I can't help but think about you.
    Biiiiiiiiig Hug

  5. nice read as always.. :) didn't get time to read it earlier..

    simply awesome (specially last few lines) :fan:

  6. I agree that the day to day problems of most people here (in the US) are pretty trivial compared to those of many in India...but while that can be frustrating, it can also be sort of comforting to realize that not everyone in the world is suffering. also, the fact that san franciscans don't talk about or think about more serious issues all the time does not necessarily mean that they are oblivious or uninformed. even if they were very aware of "real" suffering, what would you expect them to do? as you said yourself, you became painfully aware of those in need but didn't do much to change the situation. successfully assimilating back into your home city does not require you to forget about or ignore the things you learned over the course of your 6 months in India. it just requires you to accept american society for all of the GOOD things that it teaches and accomplishes, take what you can get, and spend time with the people you love. you don't become a misfit after spending 6 months abroad. there are plenty of compassionate and understanding and empathetic people in the states; the fact that they are unaware does not mean that they lack the capacity to learn and understand.