Friday, January 21, 2011

Emigrating to Pondichery

The trouble with being 40-plus is that no one quite gets you. If that makes me sound like a teenager, then may be my life has come full circle. But truth be told, when a 40-plus couple take a life-altering decision, they face disbelief at best and derision at worst.

Our decision to emigrate from saddi Dilli – or shall I say apno Gurgaon – to Pondichery elicited all manner of reactions from friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. So much so that we spent most of September, October and November explaining ourselves to anyone who cared to listen. The ‘let-me-explain’ mode continued via facebook all through December. The new year throws up more of the same…so by now, I know my ‘oddball reasons’ by heart. No small achievement for a 40-year-old trying to learn French verbs!

The commonest reaction has been what hubby and I term the ‘halo-ji angle’. “We are proud of the two of you…what a brave thing to do…takes so much conviction,” goes this refrain, making us feel like we’ve committed the biggest, most spectacularly stupid mistake of our entire, useless lives. Yikes, what have we done!!!!!

The other lot would offer snide solace. “Heard you’ve taken sanyas?” said one source. Not quite, I tried to explain, but he wasn’t listening. “Call when you need a break from religion…” Another friend of my hubby’s christened him ‘Baba’ while still others asked, in all seriousness, whether we weren’t too young to find religion. One friend hurrah-ed our quest for nirvana, saying he’s been trying to give everything up and live in the mountains for a while….The most damning though were those who called to ask, “Heard you guys are retiring? Is it true or did one of you get fired?”

That neither of us got fired or were taking sanyas didn’t seem to register on our social radar. People just assumed we were smoking some exotic herb growing in our backyard. One social acquaintance even wondered whether Pondichery offered good opportunities for real estate investments. And if we could help him get a nice old villa in the French quarter….

The best of the lot simply assumed we had a)had enough of the big city life b) were losing our marbles. Both assumptions were easier to handle because in a way they weren’t very far from the truth. In my case, I had to even field a Gestapo like inquisition on my choice of school for my baby – the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondichery – with one dinner companion asking me why ‘normal’ options like Sri Ram School or Vasant Valley weren’t good enough. Do I mean to say, kids who go to those schools don’t turn out right? Not quite, I stammered to explain. But I just like the idea of mine growing up in a different milieu. Why? Did I go to SAICE? Didn’t I turn out right, despite a lifetime with the Loreto nuns? Ho hum. I was silenced.

While pretty much everybody was skeptical about our decision, reacting with disbelief, incomprehension and occasionally even derision, some responses were just plain over the top. One member of our extended family called our alternative living plan ‘shocking’. “There has to be more to this than what you’re letting on…you’re just not telling me the whole truth,” she said. Lest this spawn an entire cupboard full of imagined skeletons, I hastened to add that neither of us had lost of our jobs, nor was there any problem with our immediate family…this was purely a lifestyle choice. “But you’re throwing away everything you’ve achieved in these 17 years in Delhi,” she ranted. “Are you mad?” I tried to reason with her saying that it was a little bit like emigrating to London. We were doing this because we were convinced that we were moving to a better quality of life. “But London is the West…you’re not emigrating, you’re giving up Delhi for some la la land,” she insisted and then drew her own conclusion, “Is it because you don’t want the fact that your child is adopted to get around?” I gave up…
To be fair, some people came up with fairly acceptable objections. One friend noted that growing up in Pondichery would mean a lifetime of sheltered existence for our baby. Would she be able to face the real world when she grows older? Yet another said, “The school does not offer any certificates…what if she wants to get into the regular stream mid-way?” Yet others assumed, rightly, that I would miss the frenetic, news-hungry days in the Delhi Bureau. “We’re giving you a year tops,” said one colleague. “After that you’ll be back. Pondichery is too quiet for your liking.” Yet others remarked, ‘It’s good you’re not selling your Wellington Estate flat in Gurgaon. That way you can come back anytime you want.”

A select few, though, actually got the idea. They told us, they loved the idea of a gentle pace and gentile milieu, a small town where everyone knew everyone else, of colonial architecture and great seafood, of spirituality and a liberal, creative ambience. They said they were tempted to follow suit and would start building their nest egg. But till then, they would miss us. To them, I say, we miss you too guys. And hope you’ll emigrate to our alternative world really soon. That, by the way, is also my new year resolution. Bonne Annee to all….