A couple of days ago an Indian woman recounted her sister-in-law’s tale of US tourist visa chasing. For all subhumans—non-Americans—this is an unsettling process. What with all the gun-toting meatheads, it’s much like I imagine being probed in the middle of an arms fair would feel. For an Indian housewife with a son working in the West, it’s a Salem-like bind: Gitmo for Amma if she says she hates America; more commonly, if she appears to like it too much she’s clearly going to become another of the illegal hordes leaching dry the Western teat. The patriotic border control officer threatened to terminate her application with extreme prejudice.
But, argued the sister-in-law, the quality of life in India for your buck is far higher than in the West; I’d be a fool to move to your miserable country. We’ve all seen The Wire* (or at least, the cheekily pirated Indian soap version, in which Omar is replaced by a crack-shooting nonagenarian called Auntie).
Is this true? That’s one of the great questions I’m going to test over the next few months. (Unfortunately, my benchmarks are a bit warped given that at home I haven’t made my own bed for three years, and sometimes my toilet paper magically folds its end into attractive shapes. But anyway.) Let’s try out a couple of preliminary hypotheses.
1. Everyone secretly wants servants
In India, unskilled labour is cheap. ‘All mod cons’ uses a century-old definition of ‘modern’: it definitely includes a maid, and maybe a cook, guard, and driver too. This is quite handy—and almost exactly like being in an Oxbridge college. It also means that I feel disproportionately aggrieved when chopping my own onions, and feel a little horrified at the thought of taking the bus. At least I get to practise the beautifully colonial imperative-laden Hindi that the missionary-training schools still teach up in Mussoorie (Drive faster! Stop, imbecile! I shall have a salwar sewn!).
2. You’re automatically part of an embattled expat team
Other perks are a bit more ambivalent. Because I’m whiteish and don’t wear those hideous Aladdin pants, I automatically appear to be part of the Gora Mafia. This is great in that I keep being introduced to people far more interesting and senior than I am, the sort of people who generally treat me like a benign but sentience-deprived amoeba when asking me to waft the claret back home. I imagine they’re all having cutting-edge affairs and own pearls. Fairly odious when conversations degenerate into whinges about mosquitoes and the level of football, though. Note that not all these people are videshis: the Gora Mafia especially welcomes wealthy Indians who are willing to moan about their own country, its recalcitrant natives, and its lack of good pesto.
3. It’s just like back home, anyway
Lest you need reassurance back there in the UK, upper-middle-class life in the two countries is weirdly similar. Families here in my bourgeois suburb grow organic food in their allotments, teach their kids French, bitch about the triteness of Bollywood and the absence of cheese varieties, employ landscape architects, holiday in ‘the States’, sip Laphroaig, buy their underwear at M&S. In the tiny neighbourhood market, for an insanely antisocial price you can buy Pedigree Chum, used to feed creatures like this particularly redundant canine specimen. When he wasn’t running in circles trying to befriend his own thoroughbred arse, he was bemusedly being tortured by a particularly innovative Franco-Indian toddler. Given the amount of attention he paid me, though, it was clear that I’d sat in something unpleasant earlier in the trip. As I seek to expand my haute-bourgeois circle, this was probably worth knowing.
* Disclaimer: I have not in fact seen The Wire. This Charlie Brooker-baiting avoidance might stem back to my youth, when we were banned from watching Power Rangers because it was too gritty. In fact, I might as well come clean: I’ve also never seen The Sopranos, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or even really The Office. I grovel for forgiveness, and will now retreat back into my ivory tower. Toodlepip.