THEY are everywhere. In sari stores, jewellery kadais and the local kaapi hangouts. Looking slightly odd with hair cuts and crunchies that came out of the eighties. Clutching irritable children and grandchildren who exclaim in sulking tones “ Mom. Paaati, it is sooo haatt and I wanna go home.” They fill the air with their stilted accents from California to New Jersey. You can tell them apart distinctly with their exuberant voices crying out, “Meena, Inda Pudavai paren!. So gaaaargeous pa”.
Retailers welcome them with open arms, their summer targets met and exceeded by the phoren largesse.
Dance and music schools are filled with their presence – eager beavers waiting to plunge into summer immersion intensives.
They are the ubiquitous NRIs. I meet them everywhere.
And I can recognize them as they lunge towards my feet in full view of all present. Touching feet is a gesture only shown by those who have left our shores decades ago. Here in namma Chennai, the young greet me with “Hi aunty” or “Akka” and a stylish wave of the hand and a smile.
My phone rings daily and my e-mail box is full of these earnest youngsters who “really want to pursue dancing but classes in bio/nano/laser technology don’t leave much time for anything else.” A mridangist says with a cryptic smile,”As long there exists the NRI Arangetram(dance debut) I will never have to worry about buying a car, a house and educating my girls. NRIs are my bread, butter and jam too.” I smile when I see them, stuck in another time-space and searching vainly for the India they left behind. Shocked at the progress, open attitudes, mixed partying and greater spending all around them. We all have one in our family who is among them.
Once I was too – an NRI!