I miss my parents every day.
This is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of home. It may have to do with the fact that I have been away from home for 10 years and counting. It is possibly the issue with every NRI, so that way I am possibly fairly typical.
When I left home for the first time, it was with a feeling of loneliness. That was soon replaced with the hectic schedule of work, balancing family life, and settling down in a new country altogether. The calls reduced from every 5 hours to twice a day, and now –maybe twice a week. What helps me is when I go to the Bengali NRI community that I am a part of, because we talk about Pujo, food, and Rabindra sangeet every now and then and home is remembered with love and nostalgia.
What NRIs like me do feel – and I can say this from experience – is guilt. This strong sense of having left people back home who are lonely without us. Because I know my parents. They will never complain if I don’t call. My father is tech-savvy and sends me Whatsapp messages now and then. My mother, however, does not. I know that they don’t order in food much, or go out to eat as much as they used to, with me.
For one, the entire process of booking a cab, getting a reservation, all of it worries them. They find it easier to just avoid going out – even for birthdays or anniversaries. It is the same for visiting a dental clinic or a regular check-up – my parents just will not. They used to go on trips and visit me at times, but with age, they are also becoming socially reclusive. This partially has to do with trying to adjust to a new kind of lifestyle and environment, new kinds of setup, an accent different from what they are used to hearing, and all of these put together increase their anxiety. The easiest way that they can avoid anxiety is to avoid the situation altogether – thus causing social isolation, loneliness, depression.
NRI parents are also worried about emergencies. It was one thing when my sister and I were close by – my mother had a fall once, and it took us all of one hour to get to the hospital, and no time at all to book an ambulance while we were on our way. The very thought of emergencies makes NRI parents anxious – children being thousands of miles away, that takes hours (and a lot of money – as mine keep saying) to visit. They worry about where to get an ambulance from, which hospital to call – and not belonging to a joint family, they don’t have multiple relatives to call either. The issue also is that neighbours and friends are not as willing to shoulder the responsibilities of handling an emergency.
NR parents are like any other – they do not want to seem like a burden to their children, they are selflessly happy to know that their children are settled abroad, they are satisfied seeing their children once a year and they will go to extremes to make sure everything is in order when their NRI children do visit – they will never stop trying to make sure that their children are comfortable, and their issues do not come to the fore to ‘bother’ their children.
What we, as NRI children, fail in, is to find solutions that can keep them comfortable and happy, without them asking. Yes, they do ask for help with booking the gas, or paying for something online every now and then, but there is so much else that they need help within their daily lives, that we stay ignorant of because they don’t speak of it.
Uprooting them from their homes is not an option. Creating an infrastructure may not always be feasible if you are starting from scratch. It is better to ask for help from professionals because our parents definitely won’t. It isn’t out of guilt – it is to give them the feeling that you are there, even when you are literally at the other end of the world. A call every day, even though they don’t ask for it. A number they can call on for emergencies, so they don’t panic. A cake on their birthday. A book that they would love. A video they would enjoy. A picture. It doesn’t take much to make them happy or to reduce anxiety. It takes a small step, every now and then.