The Annual Homework

Dr. Navniit Gandhi
Thursday, August 9, 2018

The scene at the Kuwait airport, though vaguely familiar, is refreshingly amusing around this time, every year. The trickle begins… as the flights ferry the Indians (who travel home every year) back to Kuwait. The expressions on the faces are not crystal clear; there is a tinge of weariness on an otherwise largely-relieved demeanour. Are they happy to return to Kuwait? Or are they sad, having bid goodbyes to loved ones in India? Most look comfortable because ‘home’ is here and yet, a wave of longing sprinkled with nostalgia sweeps across many a faces for fleeting moments, even as the weary-eyed struggle to pick up the heavy bags from the conveyor belt. The struggle to keep a hold over the bags was the same; the bags were equally heavy (errr...heavier??) when the flights took off for India. But the look on the faces then was clearly one of eagerness; of anticipation, laced with a sense of urgency to reach that home and embrace our folks.

The ritual is Annual. This one ritual of travelling home in the summer has several off-shoots by way of sub-rituals, all leading up to that one annual trip. The sub-rituals also kind of transcend all the differences which we otherwise awkwardly try to sometimes brag about and sometimes sheepishly hide. Whether the husband, wife and kids are travelling to Faridabad or to Mumbai; to Kottayam or to Guwahati—the sub—rituals are the same. Whether there is an occasion –solemn or celebratory; or there is a no-occasion, the shopping happens. In fact, it starts for us all a couple of months in advance and almost universally so, during the period of SALE in our favourite shops. The lists are prepared in every home—what is to be taken for how many folks back home! The sizes of hearts and lists may vary for each one of us, but the lists are nevertheless made. There is that discussion on what was taken for whom in the previous year’s trip and who could potentially be omitted this year. It is imperative to also make a mental note of who had given us what in the previous trip, and therefore must be reciprocated.

One peep in the homes of any of us in the month of June…and one can see those same sighs and Aha moments!!! Lots of deliberations and dilemmas happen before the trip, some of which even lead to a bitter word and/or an accusatory remark or two between the spouses. Some desires we have learnt to eventually suppress and some indulgences involuntarily happen with a grin ?. After all, why do we live, work and earn here? A bit of indulging on our folks is called for!!! And finally, clutching the bulky bags, we reach India!

Every annual trip to India has within itself the potential to teach us many a lessons. Observing, learning and taking our homework (learning during holidays) seriously are matters of choice though. Some choose to learn and some, to ignore. Life as a NRI, gives us this annual opportunity to learn the lessons… If we take our home-lessons with a dash of spice, we could return enriched every time.

Most of us land at the house of our parents or our parents-in-law, while a few of us make our brother’s/sister’s house as the base and then go to places from thereon. There is that initial euphoria and welcome as soon as we barge in, but to these emotions, the law of diminishing returns applies. There are smiles, hugs and exclamations on the first day… bags are opened, gifts distributed and the lavish lunch/dinner spread is savoured amidst our intermittent remarks as to why was all the trouble taken for our sake!!! From that first day when we start at the peak, the curve takes a slow downward slide. From day two or three (for the luckier ones), we are expected to take over the kitchen and other related chores, while the spread during meals becomes modest, each day.

Then, there is that usual catching up to do, despite the fact that whatsapp calls to our friends and relatives are now a daily affair. Yet, we seek or are bestowed with info regarding the developments in the lives of neighbours and other acquaintances, and once again—intermittent sighs and exclamations!!! Equally excitedly is info sought from us on the Kuwaiti dinar, the size of the Indian community now in Kuwait, the rate of petrol and of gold and a casual question or two about the politico-economic situation in the Gulf. On the latter, before we blurt an answer—they paint the picture for us, as they look at things from our sub-continent. Have you too wondered, as to why no one asks us the rate of dates, almonds, and saffron which nearly all of us carry in abundance and why is no question asked about the state of traffic or of the public hospitals in Kuwait? Do your relatives ask you the average expense you incur on grocery or on your kids’ education? There are some areas where things are just allowed to be… To those of us who have relatives or friends who formerly lived in Kuwait at any time, the questions are about which new Malls have opened or if the Indian Central School is still there in Abbasiya or if the rents still soar high in Salmiya??? Strangely, in the ten years that I have been taking this annual trip home, the questions have largely remained the same…

All is not hunky-dory all the time, though. Do you not manage to spot a smirk here or there; a frown under the wraps; and an almost visible trace of irritation if you have tried to impose your things or your ways or opinions on those we stay with during this vacation period? And, bragging about what we eat or the way we take our tea or our standard of living here in Kuwait is a certain No-No if you want their eyes to be misty and not brimming with joy when you are ready to depart. Any attempt at telling them what to do and how to do---be it about keeping the kitchen or the financial affairs in order makes the frowns plainly visible too soon. Hmmmnnnn, an important lesson, isn’t it?

Learn the lessons, dear annual trip-takers to India…

Some friends will have the time sometime, while some simply may not have any time. However, if you end up not meeting either of the lot—the blame shall squarely be placed on you. Almost everyone will try to book a slot on Saturdays or Sundays with you and you won’t know how to wriggle out of the situation without sounding too pricey! If you say ‘No’ to a buddy on a Sunday since you are busy with someone else, be prepared to hear a comment or two about why do you always come riding a flying horse and that how you have changed! During every trip, a few harsh comments always hurt and we certainly long to return to our home in Kuwait at the earliest.

The visits to the ATMs increase in frequency as the days pass, and one keeps wondering how many more! And yet, the important lesson to learn is that not everyone will remain happy all the time. At some point of time or the other, a few will sound upset, and some will actually be. Amidst the oft repeated remarks on how we should have planned our stay for more days—the truth shall keep lurking at us from behind the curtains that we and our visits actually do not matter very much to anybody. After all, everyone is busy in his or her affairs! And then, one night we even sit teary-eyed and wonder whether all of it—our longing to meet our family members and the expenses we incurred in the process, were in vain? The very next morning though, a thoughtful gesture by an Uncle or a sibling ends up making us feel special and lo, all is forgotten.

As the days pass, the suitcase that had begun emptying as our distribution gained momentum starts getting re-filled. At least some of the gifts we receive from our near and dear ones are old and recycled ones—which they must have received from someone and now they are lovingly thrust in our hands. We feel disappointed for a while, but then the lesson here is to remind ourselves that didn’t we too calculate shrewdly and search hard for bargains and SALE offers and even for cheap fakes—while ticking names on our list while packing our bags here? Despite our panic on watching the suitcases gain that bulge on all sides, the insistence by neighbours, family, friends and even our maids there—to take at least what they have brought so very lovingly—is the final memory that stays while the little sad or hurtful moments simply melt and fade away! No matter what are our lessons during the trip, we return knowing that we are loved…And, the lessons that our kids learn are priceless too. They need to know that they have a large family; they also need to learn that just like every other family—theirs too is a mixed bag. Some will care from the heart, while others will pretend to… And of course, the exposure to our nation’s socio-economic fabric and realities is valuable too.

If the authorities here at the airport had to ask any one of us as to what have we got stuffed in our suitcases, we would surely fumble for a reply. For we do not just carry a thing or two while returning from home. We carry a little of India with us, when we return. The memories are stuffed in the mind but the bags are stuffed with packs of khakras/chivda/namkeen/boxes of mithai/pickles/spices/bed sheets/agarbattis/books/suits and sarees and trinkets in plenty and of course, not to mention the few gifts for the colleagues, friends and neighbours here. Even our Bangladeshi and Pakistani fellow-residents here simply relish the taste of India that we pack and get here…

Within the first one or two hours after reaching here, as we message or call a few that we have reached safely-- there is that at least one phone call, when either Mummy or Daddy or Sister or a friend surely asks: “So, when will the next trip be now?”
Well, this is life... An Annual trip; annual homework and annual lessons!

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, a feature writer and an author, who also counsels and recurrently conducts training workshops. Over 200 feature articles and 7 Books written by her have been published till date. Her most recent publication is a Book titled: Dear Parents, published by BYB Publications, Mumbai in June 2018. She has also authored two Work-books and two e-booklets. She takes lectures/training sessions at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Kuwait and Gurukul—a skill development centre in Salmiya, Kuwait.
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Express your comment on this article

 
Rita Carneiro
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Loved reading it.....so true!!!!

Karmen Meneses
Monday, August 27, 2018
Beautifully narrated. I can totally relate to this personally myself.

maharam
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Thoroughly enjoyed reading.As I read I could very well relate to all the details as you mentioned.While many of us have just returned back from our annual trip,this writeup just read our heart out.
Kudos to the way you have elegantly framed the details.

SUMATHI RAVINDRAN
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
“Thanks, great post. I really like your point of view!”

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