Expat Diaries: The A to Z of being an NRI
What it means to look at your burning roots
A few days ago, the Burj Khalifa lit up with the message #StayStrongIndia. And I was suddenly aware of who I was. An N-R-I. A Non-Resident Indian, who is watching my country burn and gasp for air. I am an outsider.
Like many of my NRI friends, India, for me, has been a bubble, a photo album that I revisit every couple of months.
I land into my home city, drink my favourite filter coffee at the airport, marvel at how the neighbourhood I grew up in has changed, visit a few nice restaurants and clubs, comment on how expensive India has become — wipe my hands with hand sanitizer and come back home, to Dubai.
This system that is failing, is foreign to me. I am removed from it all and yet I am not.
This is what my circle looks like right now — my circle of NRIs in Dubai.
A is watching the news, all the time. News report after news report talking about numbers — number of cases, number of deaths, number of vaccines.
B is frantically calling her mother, checking in four, sometimes five-times a day — listening to coughs and itchy throats.
C is praying. In all the tongues she knows, for all the people she does not know.
D is weeping for her best friend who she lost to Covid-19. “She was my age,” she says. “Her child is only two years old.”
E is blaming the government, the healthcare systems, the journalists for not doing their job.
F is blaming the corporations that are profiting from this tragedy.
G is blaming himself, for not having brought his parents to Dubai while he could.
H is wondering when she will see her partner next, he is in India right now and can’t fly back.
I is explaining to his seven-year-old son what it means for a country to have no oxygen for his grandmother.
J is relieved. At least, we are here. At least we can celebrate my birthday without worrying about a lockdown. Is that a selfish thought?
K is feeling helpless. For the first time, it feels like money and connections and knowing people in high places means nothing.
L’s parent is a doctor. Every day watching her leave to work is watching her walk onto a battlefield ill-equipped.
M is scrolling through social media watching Indian influencers put up dance videos and makeup tutorials. Is this the time to be posting this?
N is questioning what it means to be a parent now, when you are here and they are there.
O is checking the stock market, and his investments. What will this mean for the economy?
P thinks the people in power are doing their best. These are unprecedented circumstances, after all, how could we expect them to be prepared?
Q is the lucky one. He managed to fly his family out before this wave. Now, they sit in a hotel apartment and play video games waiting for ‘this’ to end.
R is donating, whatever she has. What else can we do, but send money back to those who need it?
S is struggling to make sense of this sinking feeling. Maybe she will get help, but therapists are expensive and busy nowadays.
T thinks she probably won’t be going home this summer, so she should make other holiday plans.
U is on the phone with his father — an octogenarian, who insists on walking to the grocery store to buy vegetables in India. “Don’t leave the house Pa, please. Just for one month.”
V is virtually connecting with all her school friends — each day there is a new update on which classmate is in which hospital, and what they need.
W is wondering what the aftermath of this wave will be? How many more people will be left without homes, or parents, or children, or the will to survive?
X is tired.
Y sits in her car, and cries for her country, and all the grief she sees on her Instagram feed.
Z gets back to work. It’s what keeps him sane.