Lakshmi Palacenda walks you through the steps of her move from Montana to Mysore.
|We were watching the movie The Namesake on video at home. In it, actress Tabu in the character of Ashima says “I’m going back to India” at one point. She looks totally collected, noble and serene, a lovely endorsement for a move back to the mother country. I was wearing a ratty old robe with mismatched socks and my hair was sticking out every which way.
I turned to the love of my life, “Do you think I’ll ever be like that?”
Sweet man that he was, he responded, “Not a chance.”
He knew that I was not talking about appearances. And both of us knew that the decision to go back to India would be a hard one to make. Make the decision to leave the country where you finished your education, learned about life, fell in love, got married, had kids, and sank roots into the community … just like that? Yeah, right!
Step 1: Decision-making.
Basic lesson is, do not take the decision lightly. You must have very, very good reasons to move, and the whole family must be behind the move 100%. Otherwise, it is like shopping on an empty stomach — you’ll live to regret it.
In our household, the subject of moving back to India came up more than four years before it actually happened. Predictably, it came in the kitchen. My husband was paying some bills, sitting at the dining table, while I was doing dishes in the sink. Our daughters, who were seven and three respectively, were doing whatever kids normally do, like playing with wires and live plug points.
“Today, at work, my colleague was talking about how expensive college is,” my husband said. “It is going to be very hard to be able to afford college for our two.”
“Well, it won’t be for some time, will it? After all, it is not like they are prodigies,” I retorted, smiling fondly at the three-year-old who was taste-testing a dust bunny.
“We could go back to India, you know,” he replied contemplatively. “What do you think?”
It was February at the time, and February in Montana where we lived is always brutal. It is the worst month, since winter is already five months old by then, and spring is a full two months away. I was heartily sick of the weather and would have parted with any of my limbs just for an hour in a salubrious climate. On top of it all, outside, a blizzard was bellowing and the roads were already becoming a nightmare. Of course, I didn’t have a problem making a decision. Go back to India?
“Let’s do it,” I declared wholeheartedly. Talk about shopping on an empty stomach.
However, we did have very good reasons for moving back. We had no family and no good friends living close by in the U.S. We also had a small coffee plantation in Coorg, Karnataka, to manage. So, it was the wisest decision we could take under the circumstances.
Step 2: Planning.
As for furniture, we found that buying new stuff in the U.S and transporting it in a container was cheaper in the long run than buying it in India. Besides, the quality in India is iffy at best. It’s best to dispose of old furniture at the same time as your house and buy new stuff to transport home. You can break the new furniture in. Make sure you ask for an extra set of screws for everything, you might just need them.
Many websites help you plan your move. R2I.org is the one we became most familiar with.
Step 3: Prepare your kids.
And how we talked up India! The department of tourism in India has nothing on us. Poverty, lack of security, corruption and mob rule were ruthlessly cast aside, while hospitality, travel opportunities and fun under the sun took center stage. We were not out to hide the truth, but there is a limit to the reality that will give kids nightmares. We didn’t promise them that life wouldn’t change in India, but we did assure them that we would be there for them throughout it all. Basically, what it came down to was that we were going, period.
Since the children would be exposed to linguistic torture in the form of second and third languages, Dad took over teaching them the basic alphabets of Kannada and Hindi, while I …. thought about shopping.
Step 4: Shopping for the move.
During our move, I wanted to make sure that we would have everything we had grown used to during our life in the U.S. But I couldn’t just take Wal-Mart, K-Mart, J.C.Penney’s and Macy’s back with me. So I asked around. But people in India were of no help and neither were Indian Americans. While those in India claimed blithely that they now “got everything” in local stores, the NRIs cautioned that the locally available cheap Chinese knock-offs were no match to the real thing. Luckily I was already used to shopping at Ye Local Wal-Mart, so I figured that I wouldn’t be too inconvenienced. I was partially right.
These days, you can get really good kitchenware at the same price as in the U.S. Same goes for bedclothes too, if you like razais. You’re better off getting all your electronics in America, and as for bikes, helmets, etc. there is no comparison. And my husband regrets not getting a new car there (custom-made with right-hand drive). We bought our refrigerator, microwave, washing machine and cooking range in India, and we are happy with the results. However, for warm gear (jackets, both rain and winter, socks, hats, etc.), cotton shirts, jeans, underwear and shoes/sandals, you can’t beat the U.S. for quality, fit, variety and durability. Surprisingly, I found that the spices that you get in the U.S. are superior than Indian ones. So if you don’t mind taking some coal to Newcastle, buy bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves at your local Indian store. You won’t regret it.
As for knick-knacks, remember that glass gets broken, pictures get torn, and objets d’ art turn out to be dust-traps. Therefore, don’t get too attached to your knick-knacks. Personal experience: I bought the cutest vase imaginable — it made the trip without a scratch. I dropped it and broke it two weeks later — I mourned it for a month. Lesson: not worth it.
Step 5: Packing.
This is where you’ll rethink Step 1. I did. Looking back, I think that the back labor I endured while having both my children was an all expenses-paid vacation with all-the-liquor-you-can/can’t-handle at a swank resort, compared to packing for the India move.
I wanted everything to move. I love all my junk with a devotion some mothers have for their children. I had faithfully passed on that trait to my offspring. So the kids and I tried postponing our packing and when the inevitable day came, tried hiding it under other approved material. But it was no use. Every item that went into the boxes had to be labeled carefully, typed up, printed in duplicate and pasted on the outside of the cardboard boxes to avoid endless hassles at Indian customs clearance. So the only thing to do was to quietly discard some of the more unacceptable of the kids’ things and hope that they had forgotten about them.
A prime example was the red and green chain made with construction paper that my older daughter was allowed to take home because she made the longest one. It was a 10-ft. long, tacky, ugly monstrosity that only its maker would love, and she was devoted to it. One day, her loving father came home during his lunch hour when she was at school and stuffed the paper chain into the trash can just before the garbage collection truck pulled up. I happened to be home and watched, misty-eyed, dreading the scene that evening. But my daughter didn’t even notice and I was relieved. However, soon after, some of my junk began disappearing inexplicably. To this day, I can’t figure out where my collection of reproduction nature pictures cut out from calendars went. Hmm, I wonder …
Step 6: The move.
When it happens, it is a huge wrench. In our case, the moving truck came on a Saturday and all of us were home. I cannot describe the feelings we experienced seeing the material effects of our lives to date disappear into it, not knowing if or when we would ever see them again. It was then that things quit being objects and began to represent our history, of good and bad times gone by. How can you not love something that you bought at a sale you waited two months for? The only thing I can say is that there was a leaden feeling in the chest that made it hard to swallow and eyes to tear up. Immigrating hadn’t been all that hard, but leaving the U.S. was the pits. The children were just wonderful and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful. They could have made it hard; instead they made it so easy.
Our things moved full two months before we did, so we had held on to some of our stuff. As we began to say our good-byes, we began disposing them off slowly. It was a struggle to not go shopping for more new stuff, and I must confess that I succumbed to temptation a time or two. Our cars sold surprisingly easily considering the recession gripping the country. We sold some of our remaining stuff or donated it to the Salvation Army, friends or neighbors. Even so, we filled three garbage containers. The last week was especially weird because we moved out of our rental condo into a vacation home. Though this created some confusion, it actually helped us sever our bonds less painfully.
We also took a small holiday, spending a couple of days in Boston and London in transit, before boarding a flight for Bangalore. We landed in Bangalore on Sunday (Mothers’ Day), May 10, 2009, at 11.30 a.m.
It was the first day of the rest of our lives.