Searching for Home: Stories of Indians Living Abroad by Simran Chawla- Review

Title: Searching for Home: Stories of Indians Living Abroad

Author: Simran Chawla

Publisher: Hachette India

Pages: 224

Price: Rs 399

Simran Chawla traces the arduous journey undertaken by Indians, both physical and at deeper emotional levels, from their country of origin to the promise of a better life, albeit in unknown lands. She, through her well-researched short stories, explores the ordinary lives of Indian immigrants abroad, who in spite of the ‘vast geographical distance’ continue to keep their traditions alive and stay strongly connected with their roots, perhaps more than ‘the Indians in India’.

This is particularly evident in the story of Alaska’s immigrants where the Indian community has built a temple dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu deity, Lord Ganesha, and has maintained it all these years. Besides, the grand, larger-than-life and challenging Alaskan landscape renders persistence, tenacity and resilience to the Indian immigrant experience.

Throughout all the stories, there runs a common thread insofar as Indians travel abroad to ‘make money, save money and retire in India’. However, after staying for a sustained period of time, ‘returning’ never really happens. And so, in a way, people are confined in a space which isn’t really their own, unable to ‘go back’ to the space wherein they are born and raised. For instance, the Indian business community in Antwerp is bonded together by a deep connect with India, robust global family ties, as solid and as sparkling as the diamonds of their trade, and an ongoing chain of migration whereby families help to settle in newcomers and pull them in their family business.

In the same vein, the author writes about the work of the Sikh Welfare Awareness Team in England, meant for such Indian immigrants who in their quest for a better life arrive through illegal routes, and instead earn an ‘illegitimate’ status for themselves.

The author’s painstaking effort to capture voices, experiences, challenges and even the silence of those whom she meets is evident throughout the book. Ranging from the language barrier story set in Montreal, Canada, to the profit-making wedding industry in the UAE, she weaves an intense story within a story and allows a glimpse into the human side of the Indian immigration experience. The deep-rooted angst of staying away from one’s motherland in order to lead a ‘better’ life and test one’s fortunes is suitably represented in Lucky’s story set in Washington, DC. At the same time, it becomes amply clear how ‘your entire background is erased the moment you enter a country where your reputation and credentials don’t precede you’, bringing to light the ugly truth about an ‘engineering major turned taxi driver, the law-school student making do as a Blimpie sandwich maker’, and the like.

As Indian immigrants in their sunset years grapple with their two lives, before and after, she explores the lives of the retired community-based in Florida, USA. The entire burden of leaving behind loved ones in the motherland and growing old and dying in a foreign land forms the crux of this experience. The author, through this timely book, deftly takes us through all forms of human emotions and presents the reality behind Indian immigration abroad, much beyond the glamour and glitter of a life in a foreign land.