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Becoming British - 2

I must have been six or seven when I became aware that people travelled between countries fairly regularly. The realisation must have been triggered by an uncle’s return after a trip abroad and much fuss being made of his jaunt. No one ever called it abroad back then. It was always ‘Foreign’. Someone who had crossed the national border was ‘Foreign-returned’ and this was not an accolade easily earned. Foreign was this mysterious land that would only allow access to the special ones among us. It was a land populated by chosen people and to have been amongst them and breathed in the same air as them was a rare privilege only a few ever managed.

I can still recall the smell of the luggage that accompanied an uncle’s family after they returned from Foreign. It was smooth, fresh and nothing like the pungent odours of our crowded household. It smelt of clean, white people. A race far removed from the plagues of us dark-skinned beings. Foreign back then was synonymous with any place where white people lived - a cousin’s wife who lived in Kenya once complained to me that despite living abroad she didn’t feel as if she lived in Foreign as there were not enough Caucasian faces around.

I fully expected the Foreign-returned to possess special powers. May be they could levitate. Or turn water to oil. They had to have something extra about them. And yet to me they looked remarkably normal, almost predictably familiar. How could that be? How did they negotiate their way around Foreign land looking and talking the way they did? How did they communicate to the Foreigners if they needed water, shelter or clothing (never mind the fact that being in their land would make our people foreigners)? How did they manage this magnificent feat by appearing so utterly human?

My confusion was further confounded when at the age of 10 or so an aunt read my palm and proclaimed that I had Foreign raasi. It was predestined that I was to go abroad. I wondered if it was the curved line on my palm that resembled an airplane’s tail that gave her the idea and thought it best not to ask in case she changed her mind. And sure enough, some years later I had such an opportunity – and it was to a country with a majority Caucasian population to merit the Foreign status. My return some months later was greeted with great enthusiasm. I was asked how I felt now that I’d seen Foreign. It was my Neil Armstrong moment. And I milked it. I carried my jet lag around with pride and felt a sense of loss as my body clock returned to the local time. I would find casual ways of introducing the fact that I’d been to Foreign into conversations. I felt a unique bond with anyone else who’d left the country ever. We were the chosen ones, the Foreign-returned.

These days however, Foreign travel is much more common and does not hold the same kind of mystery like it once did. I have lived in Foreign for nearly a decade now and this fact no longer registers with me. Everything around me is in sharp focus while Foreign is a fuzzy place where everyone moves in slow motion and the air is forever scented with lavender.

Soon I am to become a Foreigner (or should it be that I now give up being a Foreigner and become a local?). I wonder if there's a line on my palm that could have predicted that.

(to be concluded)

Update: Became British.


Shammi said…
Please don't conclude it! I'd be happy to read lots of posts more :)
Anonymous said…
I like that you are so honest about peethal perumai of being foreign return..I have done it too..not everyone can accept that.
Uma said…
Hmmmm I changed my passport when I moved to Netherlands, it was becoming a nightmare to get visa sorted out each time. Have regretted it since
Anonymous said…
As I read your post for some strange reason I was thinking about the kids who acted in Slum Dog Millionnaire .. what would be the psychological state of those kids - having been to a foreign land, been in the best of best environs that even the foreigners cannot think about and then to be thrown into the filth and sqaulor of a mumbai slum ...
P said…
"I am not worried about what other people think and can simply get on with my life. I don’t feel vulnerable or threatened or feel the weight of oppressive tradition dictating my life. I could wear what I please and pretty much go where I wanted without a thousand questions being raised. This place simply lets me be. And what a blessed relief that has been."

I LOVE LOVE LOVE how 'straight-from-the-heart' and realistic your write up on this topic is. I am with you on this note. I live in the US and dont misunderstand me, i like india but am sick & tired of desi's who have "consciencely" made the move to 'foreign' (with that being focussed goal of most of their youth years!) & now, crib about how much better everything is in India while sitting here for almost a decade or more. every diwali, same old story man. i eff-ing hate diwali for this reason. Wife would've prepared bakshanam and would try to recreate the desi feeling as much as she could. husband & friends would nicely musuku-fy the bakshanam while they round-pottu sit & crib about how good bakshanam would be in india without giving a second thought to the all-nighter the wife did to make it! and even worse, that same wife would join in on the polambals & then, crib that they have robbed their children of all the fun 'desi' times! IMHO, there is no need for all that polambals. just enjoy what you have. and make a fun time for every one.

anyway, i digressed too much.

being in 'foreign' has certainly made life easier for me. i enjoy my freedom (is that the right word?), i breathe easier without caring about how i might offend someone...i enjoy life here. i do miss india once in a while. but certainly i dont miss all its idiosyncracies (OMG! are we a crazy lot!).

anyway, i dont have the guts to post this with my real name or blog...i dont want to offend other fervent desi fans. and hence, signing off with my initial.

Munir said…
I like your post..! Just a quick tailes
post for today to wish you a wonderful and sunny weekend!
Deepa said…
and then? please update!:)
A4ISMS said…
Am so happy you are back in Blogosphere. Missed you a lot. Was in 'Foreign' myself for 3 hectic months...though I don't know if the Middle East can be called that. It is more like the country cousin of 'Foreign'.... 'Bilayat' as the Malayalees refer to it. But Dubai is a thousand times 'Foreign' compared to Bhadravathi where I have been transplanted.
Missed you...happy you are back even as a 'Gora...ummm....Gori' as the Brits or any Westerner is called in the Construction circles of UAE. Still trying my hand at the poetry challenge...not much success as the creature comforts of the 3 month trip has created a massive writer's block... Maybe your challenge will help me break it!

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Found this in yesterday's paper. Again, I wish I'd written it.


Now and Then

"Now that I'm fifty-seven",
My mother used to say,
"Why should I waste a minute?
Why should I waste a day

Doing the things I ought to
Simply because I should?
Now that I'm fifty-seven
I'm done with that for good."

But now and then I'd catch her
Trapped in some thankless chore
Just as she might have been at
Fifty-three or fifty-four

And I would say to her
(And I have to bite my tongue)
That if you mean to learn a skill
It's well worth starting young

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For fifty, I've begun
To do exactly as I please
Now that I'm thirty-one.

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