Raising Desi kids ..US or India ? Evaluating the move back…

images   Should we settle here or move back to India? Why? Because it is home.. because our kids will be raised in our values and   culture ? Are you prepared to watch your teen daughter get ready for her prom date?..We were in the US for 10 years  and moved back 3 years ago with a daughter who was then 5 and a son 1 year old…I am penning down my reflections from the past years here…

 

The Good: (Why I am Glad I am back!)

  • India is home!.. It truly is..
  • Never have to worry you will get that terrible phone call from home that a loved one is sick.. and wonder if you are going to make it in time.. or worse still…you haven’t seen them since last two years and now never will…
  • Never wonder if that immigration queue will update your status ?will you get an H1-b renewal intime.. worry how to move jobs until the coveted Green Card and then…. and keep it alive? Till you reach the pinnacle of the American Citizenship (We Walked away when we were a year away from that ..)
  • Never have to try and light and decorate your house for Diwali and watch the rest of the neighbourhood adorned with spider webs and graveyards for Halloween!
  • Never miss the streets decked for Diwali , smell the firecrackers and the incessant noise of the laars and tons of home made goodies
  • For vegetarians only – Never have to explain that white meat (fish and chicken) is non-vegetarian and so are eggs ..Never wonder will my choice to continue my daughter as a vegetarian cause her to stick out more?
  • Never miss cheap, ultra-spicy freely available street food specialities or seasonal fruit like Mangoes….In india , you are imply spoilt  for choice!!!
  • Never wait for that one  or two big-budget Shah rukh or such movie that appears in a high quality Big screen multiplex and depend on either that friendly Indian store or the latest friend who visited India and came back with the fresh dvd loot
  • Never stop to wonder whether you are raising your kids with desi values.. Do they to touch the feet of their elders? Know some slokas?  Do they go to a Bal Vihar to learn some mythology and value stories?..If youa re in more high Indian place, then may be a classical dance is possible…otherwise atleast Bollywood dance!
  • You will never have any one mispronounce your name  ..

 The Bad:  (Stuff I miss the most..)

  • You already knew …India still sucks! In so many ways… the crowds , noise levels ,the lack of infrastructure, lack of regard for cleanliness, lack of respect for traffic rules, lack of time sense…
  • Eve teasing, item songs and senseless dress codes that determine who you are still rampant
  • Domestic help – maids, drivers, cooks are entrenched into the system –good ones are hard to find and even harder to retain …
  • Green  spaces, public parks – there was always a nearby park , lake kind of spot to just drive to and relax, here..if there is one, it is crowded, dirty and noisy..that serene bliss is hard to find ..not impossible though (our kashid beach trip /Ganpatipule near Mumbai were good examples)
  • Public Library system of the USA – I sorely miss those huge libraries and nice bookstores like Barnes and Nobles where my kids had the access to the choicest of boos in the finest of atmosphere
  • Not just the lack but the terrible quality of TV programs. PBS kids, Nick Jr and its kids friendly shows had my first kid learning and enjoying at the same time. Here the zombies of Chota Bheem and the bad language of Doremon or insensitive fighting in so many of the other ones, make me aghast that these can even be called Children’ TV
  • Long weekends and the possibilities of fascinating trips to wondrous natural spots , child friendly museums , adventure trips…Now India doesn’t have a lack of places with beauty or museums,just that attention and care that is given to showcasing it and making it rich and memorable and easy trips in the US is missing here..

The  Surprising, Shocking, Sad..

  • Senior Citizens –With all our talk about family values, there is a serious lack of care for the senior citizen.. with broken platforms encroached upon /lack of ramps and lifts, it is often a struggle for an old man to get out and go anywhere. Many of them are lonely with their sons and daughters in the US and other countries and wistfully look forward to skype calls and snapfish shares. There is no effort to make life more accessible to them.
  • Working Mom with kids – With the lack of the US daycare system, or just the need to cater to kids with the long-hours of work +travel , stay-at-home Mom is often a preferred option until kids hit Grade1. Exceptions exist –only if you trust that dedicated maid and/or have in-laws at home.
  • Kids Birthday parties are becoming shockingly big events with event organisers, backdrop cut outs and hosts and catered food. Return Gifts are important decisions.. A costly affair!!
  • Education – I had often though the education in India always prepared you for much more rigour. Now I find it divided by class and sorely lacking in diversity– the rich/professionals send their kids to the IB schools, the next set to the ICSE, and SSC ..(yuck!) .
  • Everyday niceties and Technology Preoccupation – I used to once smirk at the habitual “Hello , hi” and one second flash-smiles that everyone exchanges  even with strangers in the USA.. So superficial. But now, here I miss it. No one smiles at strangers.. Even in my building lift each one is busy texting away on their own phone…Even kids have their own gadgets. No one says ..Have a good day to their fellow passenger as they leave the lift and somehow I miss it !

Yet, my kids have adapted to it with ease. The talk with the help in broken Marathi and enjoy the desi Pizza. They do the Lungi dance and enjoy the Chaat. They love their school (Shishuvan) which is nothing like what I went to. They do miss some of our regular US outings, but I am glad when they disappear for a couple of hours to the garden to play with friends without chaperones!

For me ,Yes, it is a mixed bag. And yes, we will always find the grass greener on the otherside each time we hit one of the roadblocks here or in the USA. But to me, this is our home and may be it is a fixer–upper in bits …if I don’t do my duty to my parents and my country today but how can I expect my kids to work hard to make things right rather than pick the easy path to escape?

In the wise Dumbledore’s words..

our-choices

15 comments

  1. Once you venture away from home and live or perhaps even go on a holiday somewhere, there’s that tension…the do I stay or do I go?
    My husband and I are both Australians whose families have been here as early as the 1830s. However, my husband comes from Tasmania and I swear in related to most of the Northerners there too! We spent 3 weeks there in January, and we could’ve moved there in a flash if my parents weren’t still alive in Sydney. His parents passed away before we married and his sisters live North of us. He has a few cousins down there and recently his best mate from here moved down there with his wife and we stayed with them most of the time. I think we realized that it wasn’t feasible at the moment but it could well be a later for us.
    Even though Tasmania is part of Australia, there were some noteworthy differences. Businesses shut at 5.00 pm on the dot there. Takeaway food places generally close at 7.00Pm and so we often ended up having pub meals. I couldn”t understand why businesses were shut with the longer hours of daylight, especially in tourist areas. However, this enables people to spent time with their families and have hobbies. Extend themselves personally. I can definitely see the value in that.
    I am really enjoying reading your posts.
    xx Rowena

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  2. Liked your honest appraisal of things. We have an 8 year old and 6 year old, living on Long island. I particularly liked the way you quoted Prof. Dumbledore. Not a day passes without thinking this quote. Recently spent a month in India with Kids. My older son asked me “if all i like is in india and my support system is in india, why did i move to US” and my younger one asked me ” how come perippa(uncle) gets to live with paati (grandmother) but you don’t?”. I don’t have an honest answer for them and admitted it as such. I told them about the need i felt to move ahead in life which i had to do by looking for opportunities for higher education and has been here ever since i finished PhD.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  3. loved your blog! We’ve just moved back to India after 14 long years and still trying to get used to the lifestyle. We compare the same things you mentioned, miss the parks, libraries,etc. but when we were in the US, we were missing weddings, festivals and family….kids miss the US but they tell me it’s fun to live in India and are more optimistic than me 🙂

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    • Namita, takes time and yes kids enjoy it more here. We have been here abt 4.5 years now.. and we still wonder about our decision. But spending the time with family and the strong bond my kids have developed more than makes up for it! Sure beats skype and face time 🙂

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  4. I have been thinking about this for since you posted this because I figure I have a different perspective given my extensive trip to India recently, growing up in the US, and having studied in India for the better part of a school year in my youth. Without rehashing the well written pro/cons of the OP’s post, there are some key missing ingredients to such a decision:
    1. Purpose: What concerns me about life in India is even as people get wealthy they cannot stop thinking about the accumulation of money. For a small percentage of the population that is OK, capitalists are needed for capitalism. However I would not want that obsession that is now (probably has been for more than a century) cultural. I meet with wealthy family members who have tons of money without any understanding of what to do with it except accumulate it and pass it on! There is obsession with status. And I found this is the norm…Money is a means, and not even a really great one. I have seen many talented people ignoring their talents to study medicine or engineering and put of living… for life! For life! When money becomes the end broadly, life creates suffering as success in wealth rarely yield any real happiness. There is a lot of suffering in India, and it is greater in people with means! Something I learned reading Hindu philosophy. Indians have sincerely forgotten the meanings of Hinduism!
    2. Duty: Here I feel that there is a plus and minus. In India like the rest of Asia, there is a strong sense of “Duty.” Something that is genuinely absent in the US. Europe is a happy medium. Duty to one’s self. Duty to one’s family. Duty to one’s geography. Etc. etc. There is a strong sense of identity in India which at a national level is new… there is a childlike giddy pride in saying one is “Indian.” Something that on an international level was probably once almost embarrassing. In the US there is a strong sense of duty to the self, especially at a young age. One thing we once talked about is how involved many Americans are in donating their time as they get older. A function of two things – guilt (although maybe subconsciously) of self-centeredness mixed with lack of happiness driven by “success.” The same point as in Purpose, but I think at some point in one’s life there is a greater and healthier probability to recognize this.
    3. Exposure and Fear: With lots of exceptions of course, I find society to be continually afraid, overly cautious, and while somewhat curious generally scared of the unknown. When I say to my cousins… lets meet in the middle in Hungary or Turkey, they say “no, what will we eat!?” When I ask if they ever thought about sailing, they ask “what if we drown?” When I said I wanted to get into shape to trek in my trip to Greece, they say why would you want to do that… take a car and you do not have to worry about your health and safety. When I ask about art, they generally look puzzled. When I ask about things to do for fun, they generally have a well thought out set of risks and no comprehension of rewards. On exposure there is an even larger pet peeve of mine – there is an Indianization of nearly everything and that is perfectly OK and I applaud the creativity – in fact the creativity of India is second only to the US. But there is zero understanding or even willingness to understand what is genuine, the benefits of other societies, etc. Ex. You cannot get a better fitting suit than an Italian one – my cousins would say – the fabric comes from India anyway so there is no value to the Italian suit. Or pizza… great that it is totally different and made with Indian ingredients for Indian palettes, but there is no desire to taste or understand the value of the authentic.
    A final point, one of the greatest values of Indian life – because I did find greatly valuable even given the negative tenor above – was the extended family system. India used to truly understand he value of raising children as a village with grandparents continually involved in family matters. It is I think the reason my nonagenarian grandmother is not only alive but witty, smart and aware. The primary advantage I felt about life in India appears to be disintegrating rapidly into a so called “westernized life.” There is a large cost to culture. END RANT.

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    • Thanks for that. I really enjoyed reading this and finding out more about living in India and about values in general. My plans were turned upside down by a severe illness and I’ve learned a lot sitting on the sidelines observing. Money is not so important to me, but at the same time, I’d like just a bit more of a buffer. I used to work part-time and that just took the edge off. xx Rowena

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  5. Hey Archana,
    You have noted down all the points I was thinking about..Sometimes we know what is good for us, but taking that decision is so difficult..and there is always this question: What if I cannot adjust or what about the kids..will I repent this later..
    Its so difficult staying in US during the festival season and hearing the firecrackers in the background when talking to your parents..the thought that your kids wont be able to have the experience you had while growing up and so on..
    It felt so good to read your post and knowing that I am not alone in what I am thinking..I would really like to connect with you to just understand more about life after moving back..

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  6. Hi archana,
    Loved your blog
    Was randomly searching Google for raising Indian kids in USA and came across your views..
    You write so beautifully..
    I somehow felt it deeply connecting..
    I have a 3 month old daughter and me and my husband are seriously contemplating moving to, The US of A .. Have never been there but I have this longing to go there… The desire to experience life there is strong but the doubts stronger.. Will my little one be alright? Will my parents suffer? Is it the right thing to do? What about my carrier.. What about the education of my child? Will I be able to teach her at Home.. Will having parents educated in India be a drawback and a disadvantage?
    So many questions..
    Reading your blog made me feel good..
    A heartfelt account of your experiences..
    Thanks for writing this..

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  7. One would make choices based on the innate abilities and the way you visualize yourself. and what are your priorities- what you want out of your life. Certain times you have to make choices as per the demands of the situation. I am reminded of Mahabharata here – Krishna and Arjun/ Dumbledore and Harry!!!!

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    • choices to thik hai.. this is more reflections for those who are on the fence …from my perspective.
      In some sense it is not just for those coming back..yahan pe bhi, focus is study and go abroad to make your life…no harm in that unless it is tied in to some way of trying to improve India na? ..so many like you are in to Teach india and other initiatives. if well funded , a lot can be done to improve some of India’s pains..

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  8. well written- I will differ with the fundamental point here though – while choices may show who we are, our abilities truly define us far more.
    One can make what they think is the right choices (e.g staying close to family or not, staying at home versus going to work, being vegetarian or not) —-but if one lacks the ability and conviction to follow through on the reason for that choice then just judging the person on choices he/she made isnt giving the true picture.
    Every choice has a reason behind it and its a combination of the conviction behind that choice made and ability to either carry through or make good from a poor choice that shows truly who a person is.

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    • True Vidya, In fact.. what is the right choice? to each his own…
      But that choice defines what you are, because of the beliefs and trade offs you made… If I choose to stay at home , rather than go to work.. it may mean I chose to be close to my kids as they grew up …ability to stay at home (due to financial reasons, intellectual needs or because the work defines who you are) are factored in that choice ..but you make the call…That may not mean that I am the best mom out there (judgement)…I just means I made the choice. The world may judge you very differently from what drove the choice!! For example – I may be a stay at home mom, and hate it because I just cant figure out how to manage my kids and work , not necessarily because I am want to be with them, but because I have to?… Then I would say stay- at -home is not a choice anymore..
      Or in your context, if I chose to come back to India but just couldn’t cope up with the mess and returned back to the US as some friends have…They made the choice and then another…It probably showed them that the India they wanted to come back to was not exactly what they wanted.. Then they looked back at the life in the US and thought it was better for them /kids.
      ..there is no judgement here… Just your choices and the changes it brings with them.

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