Why Auckland now feels like home

21:50, Feb 04 2013

I never thought I'd say this but for the first time in seven years - which is the length of time I've spent in New Zealand - Auckland feels like home. That's quite a comeback for someone who spent a sizeable chunk of these years feeling homesick.

There was a reason for my homesickness. I came here well past my youthful years, so my best memories were of India. It was good back there - the social scene, salaries that doubled every three years, absurdly low rents, a beautiful housing complex, shopping marathons that didn't dent the pocket. What was not to like!
And yet I was unhappy. So I quit India and sought a new life here.

Arriving in New Zealand I was again unhappy. I didn't like the empty spaces and the scarcity of jobs here. Imagine being a nobody the moment you touch down. That feeling put me off for a long time.

The turnaround

Like wine, New Zealand gets better for me with each passing year. I don't wake up feeling depressed. I seem to have more time for myself now. I'm now able to find the time to take up activities like swimming. I have realised that the secret to happiness is to not live in the past - or the future. I need to make use of the present, and live it well.

New Zealand is gradually changing me in other ways. I always liked crowds but now they are a pain. I don't like to see people around me when I shop, travel and do sightseeing. Despite being an atheist, on my last trip to India I secretly prayed that the seat next to me on the plane be unoccupied. (My prayers weren't, of course, granted! On the contrary I was stuck with the most uninteresting characters!)

On this visit when people -- especially store assistants and hotel front desk people -- didn't greet me, I felt offended. A friend of mine, who manages a hotel, gave me some good advice, ''Don't expect courtesies here. People in this town are not like in your Auckland. Here if we smile and say hi, they will think we are wasting their time.'' For me it was a cultural shock to learn that people in India's most literate state, Kerala, are so impatient.

I also visited a couple of my former workplaces; they gave me a sense of deja vu. A once very friendly ex-colleague didn't seem overly excited to see me; just surprised. Well, what did I expect after  disappearing for seven years?

I could feel the boiler room kind of tension in these media outfits. There's always work pressure in Indian newsrooms because of the constant stream of news coming in from a dozen bureaus. Once I thrived on it, but now I think of peaceful Auckland and pat myself on the back! I know I'm burning more bridges, but I won't tell a lie.

Religion: Big pain

People in India are highly religious. My relatives are always going to temples; I sit in the car and when they return I get some preaching about why I should have gone inside and paid my respects to the family deity. The irony: one of them was rude to a waiter an hour after visiting the temple.

Another time I visited a massive clothes showroom and bought a few things. I said I'd pick up the things after alteration in a few hours. When I returned nobody could find my purchases. Turns out the shop assistant, who had locked my stuff in a safe place, was a Muslim, and had gone to pray at the local mosque. Imagine, a 22 year old who goes to pray after getting special leave for an hour - every single day.

Religion gets in my way in other ways too. India has many festivals, and government offices are closed due to these maddening number of holidays. This makes it hard for a migratory person like me to get any work done at the land records office.

                                     For retirement, it's a toss up between Auckland and Kochi.
Indian Stretchable Time

Since childhood I've been a stickler for punctuality. But there is a thing called IST - not Indian Standard Time but Indian Stretchable Time. Which means when you and two other old friends decide to drive out of Delhi, "9.30am sharp'' is just a manner of speaking.

The plan was to reach the designated driver's house and leave asap. That sort of thing doesn't happen in India. There is hospitality to be reckoned with - the first cup of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning leads to another cup; then an offer of breakfast. But the previous night the decision had been taken to stop for breakfast two hours out of Delhi. Well, since I'm the the guest; I don't have a say in any change of plans. By the time we reach the hotel, I'm famished and cheated out of a meal as the breakfast become brunch, and lunch is cancelled. Now the thing about my metabolism is that I lose weight rapidly (up to four kilos in four weeks) when on holiday so missing a meal is scary.

Look, it's my holiday and I don't want to work to make things happen; I want things to be effortless. This, of course, has nothing to do with New Zealand, but when such things happen, I start thinking of Auckland and daydream of being in my favourite lounge seat.

Downwardly mobile

Perhaps the most exasperating part of my trip was trying to get an internet connection. I applied for a mobile connection but unlike on previous occasions when I had applied in Delhi, this time it was in a different place.

Kerala is 26 per cent Muslim and jehadi terrorists are increasingly being traced to my once serene home state. So when an itinerant Indian like me applies for a Kerala SIM card, with an uncommon first name, and - yikes! - a New Zealand address on an Indian passport, it is immediately red-flagged. I'm asked all sorts of questions as to why I have a New Zealand address on my passport. I replied, ''Because I live there. And it is your government's decision.''

But don't you have an Indian permanent address? ''No. My wife has usurped my house. Look, when was the last time you heard of a New Zealand-based Indian terrorist?'' Okay, let us get back to you.

The matter of the dude with a New Zealand address on his Indian passport went all the way up to the mobile company's legal cell, and who knows where else. Finally, a day before I left the country, I got my connection. There were 5 gigs of data in the modem; I probably used 0.1 per cent of it.

And that's the jingbang of it - as New Zealand seems like a viable option for me, I'm seeing a disconnect with India.

Seeking sanity in my village

For doing nothing, just walking by the sea shore, and watching the ships go by, my village, Valapad Beach, is perfect. No tourist has visited the place since the earth was created. And although the locals are friendly, they plan to keep it that way. All these years, I'd been planning to settle down permanently there, perhaps from 2028. But with each passing year, as I become more New Zealandish, I wonder how that will work out.

Rakesh Krishnan's articles have been used as reference at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Centre for Research on Globalization, Canada; Wikipedia; and as part of the curriculum at the Anthropology Department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His work has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Oped News, Pennsylvania; and Rossiyskaya Gazeta Group, Moscow, among others.