My cousin D has recently moved back to Bangalore after ten years here in the US. He came as a grad student and like many stayed on to live, work and make a home in this country. When we caught up recently, I found myself comparing his experience of Bangalore to mine (which is eight years old now). There is a certain timelessness about India which makes it easier on those who have been away for a while to adjust to the sweeping changes of the past decade. The recalcitrant domestic help, the teeth-pulling agony of trying to get some of the simplest chores done, the ubiquitous squalor and dust. D and his wife deal with those things just the way I had and the way our parents and grandparents had before us.
Yet, if one has the money and the willingness to spend it freely, D tells me that is possible to create a protective cocoon that leaves everything unpalatable out. The question of "Real India" becomes a very subjective one at that point. Those inside their cocoon see a world entirely different from those who don't happen to have such protections.
The cocooned life would begin inside an upscale gated community, the conduit to the outside world a chauffeured air-conditioned car that took one to work at an office park with accouterments that beat the best the West has to offer. They may choose to eat on the "cheap" at the company cafeteria or be driven up to a nice restaurant for lunch.They would shop at supermarkets and never need to set foot in a bazaar or a sabzi-mandi. They would never need to jostle the crowds to buy cheap street fashion being hawked on the pavements of the city. Instead they would go to an upscale store and pay the steep tag for comfort, convenience and brand.Work-life balance is not yet a social construct but that may change in time too.
D's generation for the most part began their careers in India and with the growth opportunities that came their way, ended up staying there and flourishing. They have traveled around the world and still prefer living in India to anywhere else. D and his family are a bit of an anomaly. For his friends, the cocooned life-style is the only one they know since they became independent. It is what they negotiated for themselves. The old fashioned ideas of their middle class parents mean nothing to them. Being frugal, cutting corners and squirreling away everything possible for the future are not things that this generation believes in. D is finding that hard to stomach as would I.Both he and I have not had the opportunity to grow into the changed India organically. We left early and carried with us the values from our parents that have really no place in modern India.
He realizes that he needs the cocoon to thrive and yet the cost of acquiring one seems too steep to him. When faced with a 2000 rupee tab a pub for a couple of pitchers of beer and appetizers, D finds himself converting that to dollars and asking himself if he would have spent that much in absolute terms or a fraction of his net US income. Often times, he finds that the cocooned lifestyle requires him to be much more generous with his paycheck and profligate with his savings than he has ever been. Until he is able to make that transition, his Indian experience remains completely unlike those in his social milieu.