Lessons Learned from being an Expat

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Lessons Learned

I’m now at that point in my life where I’ve lived half of my years in India – my Motherland and the other half abroad – as an expatriate. Fifteen years within and fifteen without.

And plenty of lessons learnt throughout.

As an expat, you realize you love your country even more than you imagined. 

What is it about being an expat that brings out the dormant patriot in you? As someone who never wore her patriotism on her sleeve, I now find myself tearing up at the national anthem. I am a self-proclaimed knight for my country’s often dented honour. From unsung heroes to fantastic women writers, these are all my weapons of choice to slay the unwitting few that choose to slander India in my presence. This is new, considering the ex-journalist in me, spent many an hour ranting about our imperfections, at any given opportunity back home.

As an expat, you try and perfect the glorious art of Indian cuisine 

As someone who was never a stickler for Indian food back home, I realized that I miss curry leaves and the perfect sambaar, like nobody’s business. And so, one grinds and mixes and makes fragrant pastes of many kinds.  Even though your friends back home are now using store bought Masalas and ginger garlic paste that comes in a bottle or a packet, you shrug and get back to dry roasting the pepper and cinnamon and other precious spices. This will be powdered with utmost concentration. The Masala has to be perfect. You are not just making dinner. You are paying homage to the flavours of home. And this you do every time, you make an Indian meal.

As an expat, you stop viewing India through rose-coloured glasses 

As time passes and with every visit back home and then out again, you realize that not everything is all right in the country you call home. You watch the women in your host countries out and about in the middle of the night and you know that wouldn’t be so, back home. You read of rights denied to women, rape victims, gays and so many more of your fellow citizens, that you know that home is not the idealized paradise your mind wants it to be.

As an expat, you cannot divorce your ‘Indian’ness from your identity

There are times you get frustrated. You want your country to be known for the right reasons – not as one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women travellers. Not as the rape capital of the world. Not as the country where traffic rules and human rights and minority rights and secularism and plain common sense go to die. You want people to see it as you see it – as that great big mass of land where cultures merged and meshed through the centuries to create a vibrant tapestry.  Used and abused as a colony, but still proud and with so much more to give.

As the aging matriarch who resents the changes in her life.
As the bubbly teenager with her desi fashion and quick wit.

And you realize, that you may live pretty much anywhere, but your heart will always beat to a Desi tabla or dhol.

And that while you may love your chorizos and steaks, nothing, at least in my case, will give you the feeling of contentment as much as a few Idlis and some chutney will.

And as an expat, you will learn, without fail, that you are an Indian first and a Malayali, Bengali, Maharashtrian, Assamese, and all the other state identities that you have, second.

About Shweta 

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Shweta Ganesh Kumar

Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a writer and travel columnist. Her fourth book and first collection of short stories, ‘Suspended Animation – Short Stories of those who wait’ is now available worldwide.

She is the bestselling author of ‘Coming Up On The Show’ and ‘Between The Headlines’, two novels on the Indian Broadcast News Industry. Her last worldwide release ‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land,’ a modern take on Alice In Wonderland has been getting rave reviews from critics and readers alike.

Her travel columns have been featured in Venture, The New Indian Express, One Philippines and Geo. Her non-fiction pieces have appeared in multiple Indian editions of the Chicken Soup series. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in more than twenty anthologies and online literary magazines in more than four continents.

Shweta currently lives in The Philippines with her husband and two-year old daughter.

  • Leela Pal Chaudhuri

    Beautifully expressed Shweta. Hope to read more of your posts and books.

  • Sumeetha Manikandan

    Leela, you should check out Shweta’s Newlywed’s adventures in Married land. A lovely tale about an expat.