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where he draws the line………..

August 18, 2009

My husband embraced the thought of moving to India from the very moment the opportunity shone first light. And to be honest, he was hoping for an opportunity like it before he ever even knew there might be one – probably crossing his fingers under his pillow every night hoping something would happen. Damn him and his good crossing fingers karma. 😎

He has always thought that it would be a good experience, that we’d be glad we did it. I agree. But sometimes India can bring out the “ick” in all of us. That part in all of us that we can keep hidden most of the time. The stomp your feet, I am a brat part of us. The this is a great experience, but I really miss home part in all of us.

It is very hard to let go of simple tasks that we can do ourselves. It is hard to see them undone or done so differently than we would do them that it is nearly impossible to appreciate their doneness. It is hard to know how far in the adoption process to let yourself go when it comes to staff. It is hard to define exactly what your responsibilities for them and their well-being are. It is hard because kindness is very often seen as weakness and the vultures come out.

We are new to having guards. We had them before but they were not under our care. So, I should say we are new to being responsible for guards. We have a cooler for them and every time it is empty, we fill it up with ice and water. That is absolutely not being overly generous. I agree. They sit in a pretty small box in front of our gate for 12 hours at a time. They keep dogs and people away from our front door. They open the gate when we want to walk thru it. Not that I have lost the ability to push a gate and open it – it just comes with the package. They did finally stop saluting us.

Oh wait, I forgot to give you just a smidge of background. A couple of nights ago, one of our boxes of household items came – it had more plastic plates and cups in it.  You might recall that I love me some plastic plates and I have appointed my husband as the King of Plastic Plate Land. I swooned him over to the plastic side and he lives happily there. So when he saw that one of the boxes from home had our very LARGE plastic cups from home in it, he smiled and whispered, “You remembered”. It was like we were filming a commercial for at a tupperware party. It was really a special moment.

So, anyway, these bigarse glasses hold a lot of ice. A lot. That is why number one hubby loves them. And why he loves me for remembering to send them.

Last night, we sat down to dinner – he gets his bigarse cup and walks over to the ice maker. Chink, chink, chink……………nothing. Rattle, rattle, rattle………..nothing.

I hear, “what the hell – what happened to all the ice?”

I am not an ice drinker – so I have no idea. But I am very thankful there is no ice in my cup. I notice there is some ice in his cup – but I am not pointing that out to him. He clearly does not think it is enough.


Laxmi: Yes sir?

Hubby: What happened to all the ice? Where is the ice? There should be ice.

(She looked at his cup and all decided it might not be wise to point out that there was some ice in it. Smart girl.)

Laxmi: Sir – the guards, the cooler. Sorry sir. Sir. Sorry sir. The guards.

Hubby: They don’t get ice anymore. Do you understand that? No more ice for the guards. If they are on fire, do not throw ice on them. Got it?
(Okay he did not really say not to throw ice on them but you can bet he was thinking it.)

So now Laxmi is nervous, I am trying to walk number one hubby off the iceberg. But he is not having it.

He temporarily doesn’t care how cold their water is. He temporarily doesn’t care how hot it is outside. He wants ice. When he wants it. As much as he wants. When he gets home from a long day at work he wants ice. Is that too much to ask?

Now my husband has kicked Al Bundy out of his lead role in Married With Children.

Just so you know that hubby is not a total grump – he would truly give you the ice off his back (just not out of his freezer)  – these two guards work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hubby was concerned about that and added a third guard so that the first two at least get a day off. The irony in this is that they will probably just be assigned somewhere else on their day off. But now some of our energy is consumed with whether these three men are overworked and whether or not they are well hydrated with cold water. It wears on you sometimes.

Today I am going to buy ice trays so that the guards can still have ice.

Update – I just got a comment off-line that maybe this is a little silly. And if you have never been truly homesick maybe it is. So if you rolled your eyes at this one, please take a second and count your blessings that you have never missed home so much that a little cup of ice could bring you to your knees for just a few seconds. Be grateful that you have not lost perspective over a trivial thing just because you miss all that you hold dear.

And if you did roll your eyes, please understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what it is like to live as an expat. Most of us soak in everyday and revel in the experience, but there are moments………

When you spend your day getting promises that things will get done but those promises are not backed by even a single intention of them actually getting done,
and you worry about your parents and your mother-in-law and your family – that something will happen and you won’t be there, and
when most conversations don’t mean a lot because you can’t trust a lot of what you hear,
and you drive down the road and spill your drink because you have driven over a speed bump in the middle of the highway – a speedbump that mind you only goes half-way across the road – the half that you are on, and
small children with no present adults knock on your window everywhere you go begging not just for money but for bigger sense of purpose,
and you call your driver to pick you up and it takes 10 minutes to explain 5 different ways what you are trying to say
and your skin is heavy with the heat and humidity and the grime
and your children miss their friends
and you see trash almost everywhere you go
, and
you just want a taste of home so you search high and low for tortilla chips, you find them and buy them with excitement even though they cost 3x what you would normally pay for them, and your excitement fades because, alas, they were stale
and your towels are scratchy, and
your guard doesn’t even know your name because he is only allowed to call you sir or madam
and you float over oceans for a new experience that you know will be life changing but it is hard to hard the accept the differences, yet you do your very best to embrace them or at least understand them
and you think a cup of ice at the end of the day might melt some of the challenges away because it feels like home
and you are left iceless.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. Mumbaite permalink
    November 4, 2009 7:40 am

    Hi there,

    I just happen to read your fantastic article. There couldn’t have been a better way to put it. Although i am slightly late in responding but i would like you to go through on what i feel.

    By the way of introduction, I am Vineet, have been brought up in Delhi and have moved to Mumbai for the past 1 year. I work for a Moving co and therefore having interacted with a lot of expats, and courtesy the business i am into, i can relate this to a lot of similar views echoed by my clients. What i wanted to highlight though, was this behaviour pattern,being a lot more pertinent in Delhi, than in any other city of India. Having been brought up in a fairly agressive environment, i was stunned to see the immaculate difference in Mumbai, small little things which changed my perspective towards the way i look at India, specially being an Indian. Hence to begin with, Generalising India and the behavour patterns in india, probably come by default to all of us which i think is not correct.

    For instance the public transport, on paper or otherwise, people would rate Delhi high for its metro, wide roads, available taxis so on and so forth. For in my opinion, Delhi has the worst transportation system in India merely due to the attitude of Rickshaws and cabbies. “charges at will” is the common practice adopted by these mostly “ill-mannered” thugs. Come to Mumbai or Bombay (whatever you call it ), and the Rickshaw driver puts the metre down before you get into the very rickshaw. Same is the case with the cabbies in Mumbai. Women (including expat women ) can take a walk at 12 am at night in most places in Mumbai and they can expect to return safe with no lewd looks or stares en route.

    No doubt that Mumbai does have its problems too. Most talked about is Traffic, but honestly i will take it anyday so far as most of the people i deal with are honest and courteous in their inactions.

    I have worked in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad and i clearly would say that expats are very unlucky to have Delhi as their working ground. Delhi surprisingly has the highest no of expat population in India although given a choice to stay back, i doubt if anyone would, which may be a case otherwise in a city like Mumbai or even chennai to some extent.

    Because i know Delhi so very well, had their been a rich indian in your place, probably if not “most likely” he would have got the gaurds thrashed black and blue for what they did.

    I wish you guys the very best for the rest of your stay. Sorry for being a little Anti-Delhi but Delhi surely can be a good reason to write 🙂


    • November 4, 2009 10:41 am

      Thanks for coming by to visit – we visited Mumbai and it is a lovely city – very crowded but lovely. Overall our experience has been amazing – but there are just those days…..

  2. August 23, 2009 3:30 pm

    Growing up in poverty I am certainly aware of how the small luxuries can keep you going. I can afford to buy ice by the bag these days, but I never forget where I came from. It’s kind of you to provide the ice for them, and I’m sure they appreciate it and wouldn’t have wanted their use of it to cause your husband any distress. If you want some ice trays that are shaped like different things, you let me know – I’d be glad to send you some. =)

    • August 23, 2009 9:30 pm

      I cannot say whether they appreciate it or whether they care whether or not we have ice. I cannot imagine standing outside our gate all day and watching what we have – in comparison to what they probably don’t have, it must seem like so much. And then to hear that they may not get ice. Oh, it is all so icky. One of the big reasons I miss home is just that life is so much less complicated when you don’t have so many people involved in your life as employees. I don’t mind driving my own car or opening my own doors or buying my own groceries one little bit. It is very helpful to have all of that here and I am grateful for it – but it just means another layer. Thanks for the offer on ice trays – we are now the official owners of 5 ice trays. The guards will get ice and so will hubby. 😉

  3. sharell74 permalink
    August 20, 2009 6:05 am

    I totally understand and agree, it’s little things like that which often tip the balance and push me over the precarious edge too!

  4. August 19, 2009 11:48 pm

    Oh, I can’t even imagine the tiny things that would have me totally losing it. You’re used to what you’re used to, and that’s that. Sure, you have to accept that your life is different, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it all the time!

    • August 20, 2009 7:36 am

      I am not sure there really is such a thing as home away from home – at least not for me

  5. August 19, 2009 10:30 pm

    I can absolutely and totally relate to this! We are here in US for the past 9 years but I miss India so much that it hurts. If i catch a glimpse of any Indian city on news, I want to watch that news, I go to lengths collecting ingredients and making Delhi street food at home, will watch the sloppiest tv program on Indian channel just to feel closer home, every big expense we do I see how many tickets we could have bought for home in this money. I miss seeing my family and could not go for my father’s funeral to India, didn’t get a chance to say good bye and I don’t know if I will ever get over it. I can so relate to your words here. every little homely spark creates a big fire and I just miss home. When I miss my mom a whole lot i avoid calling her because I might cry and she might think I have a problem…..I need to stop writing but living away from family is just sheer hard work…

    • August 19, 2009 10:43 pm

      Oh Sands, I am so sorry. Not going to your father’s funeral must have been absolutely heartbreaking – I cannot even imagine the sadness you must be feeling. It does physically hurt sometimes to be away from home – even when there is a lot to enjoy where you are. I cry on the phone too and I just hang up so empty. Sometimes it just stinks.

  6. August 19, 2009 6:49 pm


    What a fantastic analysis of both worlds!

  7. deewane permalink
    August 19, 2009 4:46 pm

    Is the fact that I find myself chanting “home” instead of “om” during my ultra-lame attempt at mediation an indication that I am homesick? 😛 Jokes apart, there is no place like home, for you it’s America and for me it’s India. You are sometimes bugged by the overload of people and I am affected by the relative loneliness, u hate the pollution and I (practically) light up whenever I catch a whiff of cigarette in the air (my dad’s a smoker!), the sight of starving children tug at your heart-strings and the amounts of everything that gets wasted here annoys me heavily. But I am happy to be here and in a very good mood since the usually uncooperative dorm people helped me move my stuff out of my room (after telling me that they don’t do this for everyone, while I gently batted my lashes and gave them my best bambi eyes :P). I am super excited that I’ll be home in a couple of months (could probably get you something that you might need from here :)). I think I have grown up more in my 3 years here in the U.S. than I ever did in India. Though I would like to say that I was always a compassionate and sensitive person but the kind of equality (of resources) that exists here and the general kindness and humanity that the people have here (that gets squashed due to just the sheer number of people in need in India) has taught me so much more. I hope I am able to with-hold the qualities that I have developed here, like respecting everyone for instance, regardless of their job, money etc.. (And I hope that atleast somebody thinks, after I have left, that that girl from India was not all bad :D)

    • August 19, 2009 10:37 pm

      I like that – chanting “home” – it is really just a matter of what you are used to. The things I miss are the things you embrace – but we are both changing I bet – like you said – growing up as we reach out and experience new things. And I am quite sure America will miss you when you are gone. When are you coming back?

      • deewane permalink
        August 30, 2009 5:30 pm

        Hola! I am planning (still not sure) to be in Delhi around Diwali i.e. around Oct 17th or 18th, or may be a week before or after that.

      • August 31, 2009 12:57 am

        let me know when you get here…

  8. August 19, 2009 4:42 pm

    I have found that in most if not all third world countries, poverty just does something to people. It makes them so desperate and this desperation leads to hording. If you offer even a small thing, they will tend to horde it because they don’t know if they’ll have it tomorrow.

    I’ve often gone to my office in America and seen muffins on the communal table. People in the states will take one muffin, many even only take half, but if I did that in an office in my country, all the muffins would be taken and sheltered away by the first person who saw them.

    Living in a country surrounded by so many poor people can really, really, wear on you and I totally understand where you are coming from.

    • August 19, 2009 10:40 pm

      I would do the same for my family – I try to always keep that in the back of my mind, always.

  9. Girlsmom permalink
    August 19, 2009 2:36 pm

    That experience of doing the extra little thing, then feeling taken for granted is defeating. It seems like not a big deal to provide ice–then none left for you at the end of the day. We know it really wasn’t all about the ice and you had such an insightful way of showing where the real frustration came from. There is always so much more behind these little moments. It must be very difficult living in a country when everywhere there really isn’t enough to go around.

    • August 19, 2009 10:39 pm

      You nailed it – giving is a gift to the giver – but not if it is seen as not enough or an endless stream of sacrifices for someone else. How are you doing in your transition?

  10. August 19, 2009 12:31 pm

    My hubby would be exactly the same about his ice and bigarse glasses. That part made me chuckle a bit. I feel for you homesickness and understand it perfectly in those moments that hit.

  11. August 19, 2009 11:42 am

    You know India is an altogteher different experience…..No country can match it for its diversity….diversity in everything…..the smell/seasons/experiences……Only those who have or are living in India can understand this feeling…… Life can get very easy and tough in a matter of hours! You know the best thing about this place is that it saps energy out of you to rejuvenate you at the same time……Net result is – equilibrium is maintained at all times……. All one has to do is to draw from the source itself…..

    At times, I want to run away from this city- Delhi; as I hate this money centric and power hungry boiseterous culture of the city but then the inner drive to achieve success keep you motivated in the end…….And to draw that energy I run to my hometown every now and then!

    I can understand that it is not possible to run back to US when you feel down…..but trust me if you accept the reality of India as a home and “not a destination in terms of months”; you will start enjoying it; no matter how frustrating it gets sometimes…….

    That number of month thing reminds me of a biggest mistake we humans tend to make is that we always live life in the “past” while worrying about “future”; and in the process we always forget that only thing that we have is “present”- the only reality…………To lighten this, let me explain by way of a crude joke- You know every morning when we take bath, we usually make plans of office; but once we reach office we start to feel miserable as sonmething keep telling us that we didnt bath properly……..Neither here nor there!


    • August 19, 2009 10:34 pm

      You are so right – it’s the extreme contrasts that can invigorate you and bring you to your knees. It is an amazing and exhausting place and most of the time I am very glad I am experiencing it. And you are right – I should think of myself as more than just a visitor!

  12. August 19, 2009 9:48 am

    I can totally sympathize with your husband. When you are in unfamiliar territory, you take comfort in the small things than remind you of home.

  13. Settlers permalink
    August 19, 2009 8:50 am

    A very touching post. Isn’t it amazing how little things can snowball into a huge feeling of home sickness.

    When we came here (USA from India), the first few months were really bad. One is used to a way of life in his/her home and all that changes when she/he lands in a new country.

    Here are the very first challenges that were kind of earth shattering:
    1) No easily available local transport. By easily I mean just-go-out-of-house-and-flag-a-transport type of transport. In India, one is so used to this type of transport given the various types of rickshaws et. al.

    2) No pedestrians on roads. This was a biggie. You would know from your Indian experience that in India, at any given time and place, you see people walking everywhere. When we were waiting to get a car, we tried to walk to a nearby Target, about a mile. Lets say it was an enlightening experience. Having to go out and drive your car for minuscule things seemed a big chore.

    3) No free home delivery on grocery. In India, we were used to making a call to the local grocery store owner with our order and he’d send everything to us within a couple of hours.

    They were more, but its been about 8 years and now we are so used to things here, and love them that I cannot remember them anymore. Also, we appreciate the reasons for why things are the way they are.

    After the first few months (read about a year), things settled down so well that now when we visit India, we are kind of lost.
    It may not work this way for people going from USA to India given the entirely different levels of challenges that India poses.

    • August 19, 2009 10:25 am

      I can only imagine how shocking America must be coming from India. I never thought about the things you mention but they are certainly monstrous differences. It’s nice to get a look at how it feels on the other side of the globe. Thank you for taking the time to share!!!! No free delivery is going to stink when we return. Especially when you just need a couple of things.

  14. Patty permalink
    August 19, 2009 7:57 am

    You really have an amazing way of telling a story while bringing to light how lucky we really are. We miss you .

  15. Sharmishtha permalink
    August 19, 2009 6:13 am

    I feel for you – with how small things like ice bring back the memories of the comfort of home, and with how big things like kindness to employees can result in being taken advantage of. The thing is to aim not so much for kindness as for fairness. Think of yourself as the manager of a small company with a few employees. Would you be more effective as a kind manager or as a fair manager? Kindness will be taken advantage of, fairness will earn you respect. How does one judge the difference? Let’s start with the ice. You might tell your cook that ice will be given to the guards in pre-assigned amounts and only at 2 or 3 pre-assigned times, say 10:00 AM, 4:00 PM and 9:00 PM. That should make sure that none of your employees think that “your fridge is my fridge”.

  16. Mary permalink
    August 19, 2009 5:35 am

    OMG, you have such an amazing way of words. I have lived in Delhi for 4 years and you have described in one piece what it feels like on those “bad India” days. I love this country and I love living here, but it is so hard to describe to others back home how some days India just sucks the life from you and you need to go to your room like a child and just block it all out, for just a little while.

    I love your blog. You make me laugh and cry. That’s talent!

    • August 19, 2009 7:00 am

      Welcome Mary – thank you for coming by – it’s hard to understand/explain if you haven’t experienced it – I am not sure how much is attributed to India and how much is just gut wrenching homesickness – it really can bring you to your knees. Then you see or experience something amazing here and you are once again glad you came.

  17. Liz permalink
    August 19, 2009 4:45 am

    Great update. Makes me miss you even more. Guess what, it’s almost September. One month done, only 8 more to go! Let us know when we should send more cups.

  18. August 19, 2009 3:55 am

    The update … made me cry. Dammit.

  19. Kirk permalink
    August 19, 2009 2:29 am

    having lived in many different types of places.. and experienced that discombobulation that is being foreign…. yes. it can be weird… yes, you are gaining things that you could never have gained otherwise…. and yes, ice is a blessing — share it.

    • August 19, 2009 6:58 am

      oh we do share ice and a whole lot more – have no fear, our guards will not go iceless but neither will hubby

  20. August 18, 2009 11:55 pm

    Ok – I really should not be laughing … but I am. I’m honest like that.

    I LOVED that you wrote this post … as we JUST had the EXACT same scenario in our home yesterday (well, without the shaking on Laxmi’s part and the filming of the gooey commercial upon the arrival of plasticware).

    Apparently I AM looked at as being too kind for providing cold water for our guards and drivers … and god help me if I choose to do it on a regular basis. It is exhausting just laying down rules and guidelines sometimes, I swear.

    I’ve taken it upon myself to now require my CHILDREN to have the “morning job” of delivering COLD water to the guards in their specially marked bottles, (and then have instructed the drivers and guards to return the bottles to our front door stoop) so that if anyone has an issue with it, they’ll have to take it up with the littles, and not me.

    (sorry for hijacking your post)


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