A Mid-Life Adventure In India
Madavi Nathan Oliver
One cold winter day last year, I asked my friend at the gym what it would be like to move back to India, and live there for a few years. She told me that she and her husband used to talk about it a lot, but since her daughter was already in high school they decided against making such a big move. She told me that my kids were the right age -12 and 10 - old enough to remember but young enough to adapt, and that it would be good life experience for them. That same week my husband (out of the blue) told me that the following year, he may have to spend extended periods of time in India on business. The possibility was knocking right at my door and I decided to grab it. After much debating, visiting a school in India, renting houses (renting out our Littleton house, and renting a house in India) packing, shopping and repacking - 8 suitcases – most of them over weight - we landed here, the land of my youth but a land foreign to my children.
It was bitter sweet for me. The last time I lived in India 20 years ago, my mom was alive, my sisters were all here and life was uncomplicated. Now my mom is no more, my dad and sisters all live in the USA, I have kids and in-laws close by (!!) but I felt a bit lost. My children were upset. They were missing their summer vacation since I pulled them out of school at end of May to start school again in early June. They missed everything USA – from friends, food, and their idea of fun. It became ironical. Twenty years ago when I moved to USA I missed India just like this. All I wanted to do was surround myself with some things Indian. Tamil music, thosai, idli, chatni, saambar, orulaikilangu poriyal. Twenty years later, I was scouring the grocery stores for pizza dough and pepperoni (am definitely not a baker), figuring out how to make chicken nuggets, burgers and French fries from scratch to make my kids feel at home….
We landed in Nagercoil, capital of Kanya Kumari district, in Tamil Nadu during agni nathchatiram (hottest week). It was hot and really hot at least for us foreigners. Luckily it is no longer the India of my youth. We have air condition in the house and in the car (a Toyota Innova – looks and feels just like the Sienna we had in the US). Within a week my life got better. I interviewed people (US style) to hire as my cook, cleaning lady, and driver. The fish lady comes home every morning with fresh fish (this is fish country – everyone eats fish everyday), an iron man comes twice a week to iron our clothes, and we have vegetables a-la-cart (literally from the cart). Everything is fresh including meat from a nearby butcher. We could live without a fridge except the pasta sauce would go bad and the stock of Hershey kisses we brought would melt. Speaking of vegetables let me mention the really huge karuveppilai tree – no more buying curry leaves for a dollar in a zip lock bag. We also enjoy fresh the produce from the drumstick, mango, banana, coconut trees in the backyard. Everything is home delivered. Even my yoga lessons are held privately at home, 5 days a week!!
The children found it tough. I won’t say much, it’s their story. I helped them adjust as much as I could. I drop them at school and I am there at pick up. Actually I am one of the few moms in a parking lot full of drivers. (and yes, I have read White Tiger!!). My husband, enjoys it too. In his 150 employee company he started here 3 years ago, everyone “salams” him. In addition to being the big “Sir” at the office, and being treated like a king, at home he doesn’t have a wife nagging him to do the dishes, mow the lawn, clear the snow, do the grocery, take the kids to soccer – the endless to do list I used to insist he share half of.
Fast forwarding, it has been 7 months since we arrived here. How time has flown by? I have collected loads of memories in this period. After a few weeks, kids adjusted. True, they don’t embrace the country with the same joy I feel, but they are no longer sad. Tamil words no longer feel alien to them. Every month in India brought us something new. In July we had friends from USA visit. We bunked school and hit the pristine beaches and river ways and hiked US style. In August we visited Kerala and stayed in houseboats, In Sept we went to Kodai hills. November was the best! The sound of crackers – not a blast of cold air!! It was a blast of a Diwali. Literally, a blast with all the loud “1000 vallah vedis” and “atom bombs”. December brought us a new kind of Christmas. It was an Xmas with no snow, no media blitz, no presents. Just old fashioned gathering with family, an evening service dressed in pattu sarees, a happy meal and more crackers!!! Since we celebrated both Diwali and Xmas, we got double of everything – new clothes, palagaram and fireworks. We ushered in 2010 packing and taking the midnight car ride to the airport to go to Delhi-Agra-Jaipur with more friends from the US. The magnificence of the Mughals was a contrast to the palaces of the kings of the south. The Taj needs no words to describe – it is indeed a work of art and love. Later, back in Nagercoil, to celebrate the harvesting festival of Pongal, we made pongal in a clay pot, in the yard, with fire by burning pana olai (palm tree leaves). The pongal tasted woody, our smoke filled eyes burned, but the karumbu(sugar cane) made up for it. Cook - outs are fun anywhere in the world.
My time here in India is running out. I have decided to cherish every moment I have left. Before we return this Fall, we hope to do more travelling. My kids will have a long summer holiday – April – August to make up for missing last year’s summer break. My friends thought it was my mid-life crisis, but I told them it was going to be my mid-life adventure and what fun it has been. If an opportunity like this comes knocking, take it. It is the joy of living – it is the joy of showing your children their roots. This you will cherish. They get to spend a year in your childhood shoes. These shoes are the same and yet not the same. My children will write how they fit.
Madavi Oliver lived in New England for 20 years and moved back to Nagercoil, India with her husband Gaugarin Oliver, daughter Iris Oliver (12) and son Ethan Oliver (10) for the 2009-10 academic year.
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