The travails of a travelling NRI

I am a NRI.

Before you conjure up an image of a south Indian software engineering geeky guy coding away to glory in the good old US of A, let me stop your mental machinations right there. Yes, I am a south Indian but the similarities end there. I am a banking finance professional (woman) based in Hong Kong (Yes, the one of which you read all those democracy protests about). If you are one of those who often fantasize about international travel, I am here to tell you not all is bright and shiny as it seems.

Over the course of the last decade, I have travelled across the southern and the eastern hemisphere quite a bit either alone for work or for “vacay” along with my long suffering husband. During my most recent trip to Harbin (a city in China located close to the north korean and russian borders), my husband and I travelled with a group of locals and 3 energetic 5-year-olds eager to experience the promised ice wonders in the city. The locals we met and our travelling companions were pleasant and quite enjoyed the novelty of two foreign looking faces who cannot speak Mandarin. Our English was conversational lessons to two of our travelling companions who spoke in halting terms. It was then that we learned the funky cultural cliches that Bollywood offered up to those outside India. I was dumbfounded when one of our fellow travellers (whom I will call J) commented that I looked exactly like a Bollywood bride in one of my social media wedding posts.  I wondered if they had been watching 2 states, though I still cannot understand the comparison. My wedding was a traditional tamilian wedding and I am no Alia look-alike. But it’s a lot clear now why Justin Trudeau wore all those sherwanis on his India trip.

Another traveller hesitatingly wondered why my husband and my father in law were topless in the wedding photos, a question which I struggled to answer. Why do we have topless grooms in the tam-brahm weddings anyway? J admitted in slow and scandalous tones that she would flip her hubby for Hrithik Roshan in a heartbeat if he would have her. Ah, but I did tell her that 300 million Indian women have been trying the same thing for decades now without the slightest chance of succeeding. The tour guide was very helpful though we did have some trouble over the AI translation (since we cannot speak Chinese and the guide couldn’t speak English, the phone AI translation came to our rescue) which led us to dragging two bulky backpacks and two huge suitcases over four inches of snowfall while our travelling companions sauntered empty handed.

Back home in Hong Kong, I frequently visit a well known south Indian restaurant chain that boasts of side by side posters of MS Subbulakshmi and our dear old Thalaivar. Nothing evokes nostalgia for Chennai and home than eating a sambhar vada while the super star grins down at you from his lofty perch.

I almost always search for Indian eateries irrespective of the country I am in, which is why I had the novel experience of watching framed Modi photos all around me in a Phuket restaurant. My Indian face attracts an avalanche of Hindi pleasantries whichever restaurant I visit, only to harden at my English responses. Ah, but I will never get to live down skipping those Hindi lessons at school.

During my visit to Sydney, the immigration was surprisingly uneventful though my husband and I were slightly held up at the baggage retrieval arena. A customs executive sauntered to us with a form and demanded that we declare any food items we were importing into the country with our baggage. When we replied in negative, she peered suspiciously at us and pointedly asked “No pickles? No spices?”

When we shook our head, she looked dumbfounded at our Indian passports before flouncing away to the next passenger.

Needless to say, none of these quirky experiences have reduced my love of travel and in bidding adieu, what can I say but “Mera Bharat Mahan Hai”.

“This post is a part of ‘DECADE Blog Hop’ #DecadeHop organised by #RRxMM Rashi Roy and Manas Mukul. The Event is sponsored by Glo and co-sponsored by Beyond The BoxWedding ClapThe Colaba Store and Sanity Daily in association with authors Piyusha Vir and Richa S Mukherjee”

Decade, BlogHop, Contest

151 comments

    • I too am a tam brahm and mine was an inter caste marriage and it was conducted in two different styles, once according to brahm norms and then according to my wife’s customs. There were two sets of pujaris both trying to ask for more money towards the end and needless to say I went through the ignominy of being topless.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What I feel, India ki baat hi alag hai, I never went outside rom the country. And whenever my husband says he wants to go abroad for a job. I totally refuse the idea. I love my Bharat. I will stay here only. After reading your travelling tails I must say when we are not here in India, we miss the fragrance of our culture and food. You reminded me of the love for my country through your post. Great job!

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I too am a tam brahm and mine was an inter caste marriage and it was conducted in two different styles, once according to brahm norms and then according to my wife’s customs. There were two sets of pujaris both trying to ask for more money towards the end and needless to say I went through the ignominy of being topless.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah why are they topless? We never question these sort of things. We also dont the why behind any of the rituals and hence we ultimately stop doing them, only for some foreigner to rediscover them, document them and then teach it back to us(like yoga or turmeric latte).

    Ok think I went off track. Anyways happy travelling in the new decade too and great reading you after a long time Lavanya

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Namrata. I have no clue too. But its simply one of those quirky Indian things we do.without knowing why as you rightly pointed out.

      Like

  3. Haha, what a humorous take on the prompt. Topless in weddings!! I loved your trave stories and here is wishing you many more travels in the next decade so we can enjoy reading your experiences. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. no pickles and no spices is the best one!! i have seen my nri cousins carry sweets and pickles like anythng. they would even drop carrying their clothes and make space for some more pickle.. U tickled my funny bone with this post and i enjoyed reading every bit of it. keep traveling and keep updating. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I smiled constantly reading your post. The Chinese guide using AI for translation … I was actually conjuring the scene in my head. So well written. Wishing you many more adventures.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Haha! had a good laugh while reading your post. Yes the topless state of the groom is a mystery that can’t be solved. My husband came with his ‘banian” to avoid being topless!

    May the new decade take you to more places and may you write about all of them too! Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Haha, that’s a lovely humour filled post.
    And let me tell you its not only tambrham but in our Maharashtrian weddings also the traditional rituals are with silken dhoti that groom wears and topless is the trademark I suppose.
    You should travel more and write more, the adventures are a great read and you have penned them very nicely.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Pragun for the encouragement. Indeed, I am aware in India, many communities have similar customs esp in the south. Loved the perspective.

      Like

  8. I have already said this 🙂 You have actually busted so many Indian NRI myths Lavanya.I am a sardarni born and brought up in south India and I can totally relate to what you have conveyed. Very well expressed and articulated.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved the humorous take, Lavanya. I totally get the stereotyping. I have been on the receiving end one too many times too.

    Glad to have discovered your blog all thanks to the blog hop. Wishing you the very best, and loads of “eventful” travels.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I can so relate to your post, Lavanya. In fact you busted so many NRI myths, which even I experienced. As we landed in New York, the customs guys asked us the same question and they really got exact same answer from us, as I and my hubby prefer to be locals while in any region.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Haha😄👏same pinch Lavanya , found someone like me, I also look for Indian restaurant first, regardless in which country I am. I also managed to nod my head succesfully before immigration officer by denying that no pickle and spices in my luggage, but can’t forget their one peculiar line that” it’s almost impossible for Indians to carry baggage without food like pickle and spices”,😂.loved your post, while reading throughout it managed to keep not only smile on my face but interest too.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I liked the way you have handled the prompt.
    I love travelling but would love to come back to home which is India.
    I am a south Indian but our weddings don’t have any topless ritual.
    It was hilarious read.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I am also Tamilian – but in our weddings – the groom wears a suit..interesting isn’t it? 🙂 But loved your travel experiences and wish you many,many more! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I was smiling throughout while reading this post. People have a specific image of Indians in their mind and it is highly influenced by Bollywood. Your experiences were hilarious. Travel is fun, really!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hello, fellow Wodehouseian and TamBrahm. I live abroad too, and goodness! Your post made me cackle and spit out the filter kaapi I’d been nursing.

    The NRI falls under two categories – South Indian engineer or Punjabi Restauranteur. The rest of us grow under the third umbrella, often mistaken for failed actresses or Amway professionals.

    Loved your piece. You gained a new follower today!

    As Lord Emsworth would say – Capital! Capital!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. ha ha such an interesting take on prompt..it seems you had a really adventurous life, had a great time while reading your travel experience. and ya..Topless wedding..i had never heard about it before.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Oh! Lavanya
    I too come from the family where men dress up in salman Khan style, “topless.”
    I just loved reading this piece and I am still laughing

    Especially thalaivar eyeing your medu vadai..

    I felt I had a filter coffee in Shanghai…

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I envy you for your journies across the globe! And I loved the way you have described the interactions with others. Its certainly the human interactions that make our journies so fulfilling!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Being an NRI, I can relate to your experience s, and truly the fad with Bollywood. I remember last year a hawker in Jordan, told me he’s shahrukh Khan so that I would buy something from him. Loved your quirky post.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. There is no other teacher like travelling, the experience of getting out of comfort zone and managing without family teaches us many things. Fun read, I liked the expression when the immigration personnel found you without pickle and spices, rare to find such Indian 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Beautiful post that I’m sure every Indian settled abroad can relate to. I being a Punjabi from Delhi, lived in Chennai for a few years and felt the emotions you have listed as if it were a foreign land for me too!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I am definitely one of those who fantasize about international travel. You definitely busted my bubble of ignorance. I’ve never been to Hong Kong but I would imagine it’s yet another exotic location. Reading about your hilarious adventures left me in chuckles. I am glad you are there to banish those stereotypes into oblivion!
    Here’s to another 10 years of love-filled adventures, pickle-less travels, and spicy experiences!

    Liked by 2 people

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