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Oh my god! The NRIs are here again!

It’s not like we don’t like our nephews, chachas, mausas, third cousins once removed and assorted relatives who have taken themselves across the oceans and settled there.

entertainment Updated: Dec 11, 2010 18:43 IST
Mignonne Dsouza
Mignonne Dsouza
Hindustan Times

It’s not like we don’t like our nephews, chachas, mausas, third cousins once removed and assorted relatives who have taken themselves across the oceans and settled there. It’s just that we feel they are a lesser evil in their adopted countries (where they provide us with free accommodation, desi meals and free transport in SUVs) than in this one, where they turn us into a source of free accommodation, desi meals and free transport in SUVs. But that’s not the only reason why we like to steer clear of our NRI friends and relatives when they come visiting. Here’s why...

They come with bags of foodstuff for themselves
Since the NRI is not too terribly up to date with the great (and growing Indian economy), and far too fond of watching firangs discover ‘the real India’ on his local cable travel channel, he has no idea of just how much imported food is available here. Like Kellogs cornflakes. Kettle Chips. Waitrose marmalade. Betty Crocker cake. Dorset Cereals. Fennel Crackers, and the like. No matter how many times we mention that Goldfish (the biscuits, not the fish) and Pepperidge Farm are not strange words to us any more, they still don’t get it (unless they’re shown the gleaming aisles at your nearest hyper store). That’s when you’ll be able to offer some French or Italian Merlot to help revive them.

They want to eat. ALL the time
No sooner do NRIs touch down from the 747 than they start cosying up to grandmothers and old aunties (and sometimes your mother) to get them to cook and make old-style dishes for them.

So your kitchen is immediately transformed into a haven of maa ki dal and homemade prawn pickle that was last made 25 years
ago – but none of it gets past your lips since it’s either devoured by them (with a hangdog look that says, we never get it at home) or quickly sealed and disguised so that it can be sneaked past customs so the NRI can relish the taste of ‘home’ once he or she is back ‘home’.

They complain about the prices of EVERYTHING
Despite earning in US dollars and British pounds and Saudi riyals, NRIs are constantly shocked by how much things cost in India now (as opposed to the time they remember paying for stuff in rupees). While we, on holiday in the continents of the euro and dollar, are masters of multiplying by 60 and 45, they are just as adept at comparing current prices to 1950s prices. When a sari was R 50 (as if). And gold was R 3,000 a tola. And autorickshaw fares started from R 2. What we say is, stop whining or stop buying.

They’ve got weird accents
It used to be that you couldn’t understand your maternal uncle’s thick rural Punjabi accent. But after 30 years in the United Kingdom, you understand his children’s hybrid cockney Punjabi even less. And what’s more, they have the nerve to make fun of your English. The only response – smile and tell them India has more English speakers than the UK. That’ll teach them.

They want to shop. ALL the time
You might think that people living in the worlds of mega malls, Wal-Mart, Costco and Ikea would be all shopped out. Not a bit of it. The second that NRIs (both men and women) get over their jet lag (and sometimes even before that), they whip out their nine-yard-long shopping list, (which contains items not just for them, but for their friends, neighbours and office colleagues too), fix you with a beady eye, and start shooting out questions: Where can I get curtain tassels and tiebacks? Silk cushion covers? Indian cuisine cookbooks? A good tailor? Gifts that are not bulky, breakable or expensive? The list goes on, on and endlessly on, and results in you becoming their personal shopper and chauffeur as they drag you to all the old markets (whose location they have forgotten) and the new stores (whose location they don’t know). But as bad as this is, it gets infinitely worse if there’s a wedding in the offing. Don’t even get us started on that.

They come with their dirty clothes
Not only do the NRIs come down with the intention of buying a whole new wardrobe every time they visit, they bring down ALL their old clothes as well – to be dry cleaned. After all, it costs a fortune over there. Our only grouse – it leaves less room in their suitcases for all the Kit Kat and Lindt. Why can’t they throw out some boxes of cornflakes instead?

You realise they know more Hindi songs than you
Bollywood and NRIs are an inescapable combination. That's not the conclusion you arrive at when watching the latest KJo potboiler, it's what you realise when watching the NRIs strut their stuff at sangeet rehearsals. While not all of us have Munni badnam hui and Sheila ki jawani on our iPod playlist, a good many of the NRIs do, deprived as they are of turning on the radio to hear the said songs in their new 'motherland'.

They think India is just a stage for a wedding
People parading on elephants, displays of gorgeous jewellery, intricate and heavily embroidered garments of silk, stunning palaces ... no we’re not reminiscing about a recent viewing of Jodhaa Akbar, we’re just describing the average NRI wedding. That’s all India is to some of them, a gorgeous (cheap) and sensation-soaked backdrop to the most wonderful day of their life. So what if they have to ultimately make it legal in a dreary registry office back home? None of them are willing to give up the grand spectacle that is the Indian wedding.

Their weddings mean more work for YOU
It’s not a happy occasion when your NRI cousins decide to get married in India – unless you’re planning a career as a wedding planner. Because that’s exactly what you become. From sending them details (and photos) via email of everything from venues to menus, explaining their exact requirements to pandal makers, coordinating between tailors and priests, to entertaining firang guests, their weddings are a nightmare for you.

They want homely, same caste Indian brides and grooms
While the NRIs are happy adopting wedding customs from elsewhere (platinum and diamond wedding bands anyone?), there’s one thing they’re not prepared to give up – their insistence on same caste and ‘homely’ brides and grooms. After all, how else will they ensure they get served idlis and parathas for breakfast over there?

They come with cheap stuff you’ll never use
Due to the NRI having abandoned the country of their ancestors some aeons ago, they’re not terribly up to date with current events. Like the fact that The Body Shop already has 49 outlets in India. And that we’re fans of aged Camembert rather than Kraft Cheddar. And that the last time we went shopping for jeans, we bought them from Calvin Klein. Instead, they persist in handing you, with a broad smile, products from brands you’ve either outgrown (Yardley, Jergens, Palmer’s) or won’t touch with a bargepole (Kraft, Lux, Sure), forcing you to smile (and give them to your maid or driver), and hide all the evidence of conspicuous consumption in your kitchen and bathroom.

They get ultra nostalgic – and traditional – at weddings
We’re already mentioned that the NRIs LOVE weddings, especially weddings set in India. What they also love are the strange and arcane rituals that accompany them. All of them take KJo’s movies for the Bible (or the Gita) and while the young will insist on doing stuff (like stealing shoes) that may not always be part of the actual custom of the community they belong to, the elder citizens will happily (and lengthily) reminisce about their own knot-tying ceremonies to anyone they can find at a family wedding. Steer clear of both categories.

They don’t want to go malls, just bazaars
NRIs are allergic to malls, or so they would like us to believe. Like the foreign travel magazines (also available here, by the way), they’re seduced by visions of the bazaars (and want to hunt down bargains and handmade goodies in them), despite the fact that Dilli Haat is cheaper, offers better quality, and is better organised. But 10 minutes after experiencing heat and dust, they collapse in a heap, calling for ice-cold water and soda. What we say, is, keep the car engine running when you take them to a bazaar. You’ll need it for the quick exit.

They complain about the weather
If it’s hot, it’s too hot. And when it’s cold, where's the central heating? If it rains, there’s too much rain. And when it doesn’t snow, you should see the snow we get, they say. What we want is for them to melt (quickly). And what we say is, if you can’t handle India’s weather, don’t come ‘home’.

They’re bringing us less chocolate than usual (thanks to the recession)
No matter how many varieties of imported chocolate are available at our local kirana, there’s no denying that one (or more) free Lindor bar in the hand is worth two in the store. So we’re always pleased to see the NRI’s suitcases open up to reveal
Kit Kat Chunkys and Hershey’s Minis as far as the eye can see (and the hand can hold). But alas, these days, thanks to the recession, the Toblerone bars have shrunk in size and the Hershey’s Minis are being rationed out.

They complain about how India’s getting more crowded, hotter and dustier, even if they’ve NEVER lived here
We grudgingly acknowledge that NRIs who moved from India in their older years have the right to complain about deteriorating conditions in India (after all we do the same). But what we can’t understand is how their kids (or those who moved there when knee-high) can remember how things were unspoiled earlier. Are they remembering a past life?

Just when you think it’s safe, they come back for good
While we don’t like the NRIs as short term visitors, we like them even less as permanent residents. Just when you get used to semi-annual deliveries of Lindt chocolate, they call you to announce that they’re moving back for good. The reason? They don’t want their kids (who already have their foreign passports) to have a foreign education. There goes your holiday home in Atlanta.

They think they have all the solutions to Indian problems
To hear NRIs talk is to learn the solutions to all India’s problems and get the nation back to ‘India Shining’ mode again. They seem to think that living in a foreign country is equivalent to getting a post-graduate economics degree from the said country’s premier academic institution, which is why they can tell us how India should tackle poverty, corruption, infrastructure issues, and the other problems that beset us. What a shame that they don’t have a ready remedy for the global recession.

They are more Indian than Indians (they’re like Indians in the 12th century)
When a person moves from being one of a billion Indians to a small minority, they understandably get jittery about ‘hanging on to their cultural traditions’. And years of forlornly being the only house to be all lit up on Diwali and dark at Christmas have taken a toll on the NRIs. That’s why they're super traditional about remembering (and keeping up) old traditions, while we in the motherland have happily embraced all festivities from near and yonder. Halloween, anyone?

They behave like tourists in their home town
While we’re (sometimes) very sympathetic about NRIs coming back to savour the sights, sounds and tastes of home, we’re very mystified when some of them start behaving like tourists in their own home towns. This can take several forms. One is a demand to see the places (and sights and sounds) that they went a VERY long way to avoid (like a Dharavi slum tour, for instance). The second is a refusal to eat the kinds of food they claim to miss (was that samosa cooked in olive oil? Are these pani puri puris homemade?) for various reasons. Some also demand to be taken to ‘happening’ pubs and restaurants so they can eat the kind of food and drink the kind of beer they get back ‘home’. No wonder we’re so happy to wave them goodbye at the airport. Till next time then.

- From HT Brunch, December 12

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First Published: Dec 11, 2010 16:23 IST