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Expatriate life: When an American having Indian spouse made me feel ‘home’

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Rajani Choudhary
Rajani Choudhary
Software Developer, avid reader.

Living in a foreign country, nostalgia has a way of creeping up on oneself at unexpected times, in unexpected ways, amidst unexpected people.

Christmas time in Germany can make one completely heartsick for family. Special Christmas Markets are buzzing with Christmas stuff. People are out with friends and families, drinking the special Gluehwein of the season; children are riding toy trains. Laxity and laughter, uncharacteristic to average German constitution, can be observed.

Somewhat depressed after a lonesome Christmas week, I decided, on an impulse, to attend a New Year party organised by an old club in Germany. The club was founded after the world war two by American soldiers servicing in Germany. It organised social activities for the Americans to enjoy the cold and closed Germany, as it must have been more so in the past years. In recent years, membership privileges were extended to anyone who was interested. Members mostly consisted of non-German nationals living in Germany. Quite a few German nationals were also affiliated to the club.

Traditionally the club organised the new year at a fixed location in Stuttgart. This was being done since the sixties. It was the tradition- same place, same time every year. This was the event I decided to go to- new start in the new year, welcoming the unknown by going out to meet the unknowns. Maybe the uncharacteristic feeling of rootlessness I was having these days would be stemmed by being a participant of this somewhat old tradition.

That is where I met a couple- an American gentlemean from Texas and an Indian lady from Lucknow in India.

The gentleman was wearing a half-sleeved sweater. It was handmade; exactly the kind my mother, aunts, neighbours and neighbours of neigbours made in the 80s every winter. It was almost a ritual. Every winter pure wool, preferably of brand “Lal Imli“, from a selection of a colours available would be bought and everyone would knit sweaters in similar patterns. Cable rib stitch, seed stitch, ribbing stitch, garter stitch were most common. At the end all men in the family would be wearing half sleeved sweaters in similar colors and patterns under their coats. The same pattern could be seen on children school uniforms and casual sweaters and women cardigans.

I pointed out to him that the sweater he was wearing was a very typical pattern in North of India. Everyone made that home. He very proudly informed me that his wife’s aunt made it for him in India.

“It was Manju Aunty ?“, he asked his lovely wife.

“No. It was Asha Aunty“, she corrected him. Looking at me, she said, “He loves it. He just loves it“.

“You don’t get it anywhere else in the world“, he confirmed proudly.

He went on to explain that he bought pure wool dress material for cheap in India and got stitched his trousers in India for cheap. He mentioned tailors here asking him where he bought such great stuff. The fact that some things do cost a lot less in India is no secret to the world, but it was refreshing to talk to someone with such earthy simplicity and candor.

They were an elderly couple; both had jet black hair. It reminded me of my parents. Everytime my mother dyes her hair, my father is prepared to get his hair dyed with the leftover dye. At the end of the day, both of them end up feeling chic with the same shade of jet black hair. I assumed this couple had both dyed their hair on the same day with the same shade, or rather she dyed her hair and her husband just used the leftover dye.

Regardless of whether my observations and deductions about their hair color was factually correct or not; my perception of it and its connection to my parents did take me back to some fun times at home in the past years. After a critical skull operation a few years back, my father does not dye his hair anymore.

As if I was not homesick enough already, he shared a train joke from India. “People do not get this joke, but you would get it“, he said.

He was in a train to Kanpur. As is common during train journeys in India, people got talking. There was one man who wanted to go to Madras. “Very simple man. Very simple man he was. He was amazed that the train would take me to Kanpur and him to Madras and still others to Patna“, he said.

On listening to the amazement of the simple village man, fellow passengers in the train explained to him that the train would go to Kanpur and Patna, but not to Madras. They helped him change the train and get into the right one for Madras at next station.

The gentleman found it incredulously funny, but not once did he make fun of the man. I was grateful for his empathy towards the simple, naive folk of my land. Myself having spent some time in my own paternal village in India, I could relate to the naivete of the man and was thankful that he was not being ridiculed about not understanding train directions.

Expat life does give a deeper meaning to all those innumerable mundane things. Who would have thought that a knitted pullover, someone‘s hair color and a simple train joke could trigger such emotion and bring such comfort?

“Home is not a place, it is a feeling“, so they say.

Approximately sixteen million Indian diaspora is spread around the world; more then one hundred thousand live in Germany; thousands live in the city of my residence. But an American in an unknown club amidst unknown people in an unrelated setting made me feel more at home in the foreign city, than I had felt for a long time in spite of all kinds of Indian diaspora get togethers.

Proabaly it was all merely a concoction of my perception- slanted, prejudiced and heavily drugged by homesickness and nostalgia. But like home did the Americans in Germany make me feel. Probably this is what they meant when our reverred ancients said “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam“.

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Rajani Choudhary
Rajani Choudhary
Software Developer, avid reader.
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