Leaving home… to go back home
Ruchir and Santana, who lived in Australia for 22 years, decided to return to Jaipur, India in 2016. They share their initial experiences and thoughts on moving back to India
In deciding to move from Australia to India, we chose to skip doing any detailed research or planning about what we would do to ‘settle down’. In fact, this ‘go-with-the-flow’ spirit was probably what made the decision possible. The impetus was simply the chance at having a few quality years with my parents and supporting them as they grew older.
While events including disease, death and discord rocked our friends and families, our anchor to Australia suddenly felt not as steadfast as before. Living in India seemed like a definite possibility, buoyed by the familiarity and the general warmth and connection we experienced from people during our frequent trips.
We had concerns about moving back to India, and our ability to adapt to the changes to our ecosystems and our daily routines (and how our dogs, Misty and Ellie would adapt). The darker side of India usually remains camouflaged during holiday trips – a system and culture in which day-to-day life can be full of hurdles, painfully strenuous, and unbearably ‘I-can’t-believe-this’ ridiculous at times. Anyway, armed with my unfettered optimism, (and Santana’s more cautious variety), we bid farewell to our Aussie friends and headed to India.
Although no strangers to India, we have had to go back to school, re-learning and re-calibrating our life’s routine to different rules, protocols, norms, beliefs, ethics, expectations, choices and boundaries. India has delivered its promise of serving up a taste of the entire gamut of emotions. It has been interesting, refreshing, indifferent, loving, embracing, surprising, puzzling, playful, astonishing, frustrating and bewildering, sometimes all in one day. Many times we have had a good laugh at the way things are, and at other times we’ve lost our patience.
We are learning to recognise the magnitude of disruption and to accept the slow pace and meandering nature of the voyage of ‘settling in’. The hardest part has probably been about what we always knew happened here, but we misjudged our expectations about how we would react to the situations at hand. In the past few months we have been adjusting our expectations, ‘being kind to ourselves’ and regaining the ability to respond in good-humour.
The stumbling blocks? Acclimatisation – Misty was sick and Ellie is still scared of the nightly fireworks. Diwali is over but the weddings go on. We too have fallen sick multiple times. Waiting for tradies and their lack of skills, tools and professionalism has been a dampener. We are getting used to sensory overload, to noise, rubbish, and mayhem. Dogs are not allowed in parks and hazards like traffic, garbage, and strays mean that our daily relaxing walks are less so.
At the risk of generalising, we Indians wear our hearts and beliefs on our sleeves. We love expressing our opinions and giving advice, with a lot of emphasis on what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do. There is a clear and sharp divide between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Logic is often confounded by traditions and by special cases and dispensations. Conversations are loud, dramatic, and on-top-of-each-other, much like the traffic. It certainly takes getting used to!
And the highlights? Warm connections with family and friends, old and new. Culture and food – we love all the happenings and events in Jaipur. It is fascinating how history and tradition are everywhere. Though we’re not fully there yet, as a song from a recent Bollywood film goes…‘Love you, zindagi!’
“So have you settled in nicely?” This is the question I have been asked most often in the past few months and I still struggle to deliver a coherent response! I left Oz armed with a lifetime of memories and dozens of love-filled farewells. We arrived in Jaipur and realised that our apartment renovations were still a long way away from completion but went ahead with a housewarming anyway. We had no dearth of people willing to help us settle in and give us tips on where to go for what, which was a great support to have.
India is surely a land of extremes and in the space of a day it drives me to both ends of the happiness spectrum, multiple times! It is so noisy, chaotic, dirty, dusty, hot, loving, caring, inventive, hilarious, maddening and inspiring all at once.
At the maddening end of the spectrum, I do not advise any faint-hearted individual to undertake any sort of renovations in India. The concept of straight lines, spirit levels, smooth surfaces and timeliness are all conspicuously absent here. Having been advised that the only way the renovations would finish would be for us to move in and evict the tradies, it took weeks of cajoling, begging, dummy-spitting and histrionics to get the work to 95% complete and get rid of the tradies. 95% complete is how I suspect it will stay.
Another question I am often asked is “Do you miss Australia?” And the answer is yes I do, but most of the time it is not a conscious missing of this or that. It is more the realisation that you take so much of your environment for granted and when some of those things are missing, you tend to get frustrated or unpleasantly surprised.
India has never been an easy place to live, but Australia really spoilt me. I am slowly but steadily seeking the wonder in the little things that have always been amazing here – like the sense of community and the time that everyone has for you; like the tiny cups of tea and coffee you can get anywhere and everywhere; like the way anything is possible when nothing should be; like the incredible tenacity of the dispossessed and the horrifically poor; like the really old places and their magical histories, and last but not the least, rediscovering the familiar ways of being and accepting India in all its extremes, the way I was able to do when I lived here over 22 years ago.
Many wise people tell me that it takes at least a year or more to truly feel settled in a new place, so ask me again in a few more months and I may have a more coherent answer!
A note from Misty and Ellie
This place has so many wonderful new creatures – so many more pigeons to bark at and shoo-off from the balconies, and squirrels instead of possums, and rats too!