This is a little piece I wrote for Time Out Delhi. Hopefully people took it in the spirit in which it was intended.
I'm not an expat. I'm a white Indian. I don't brunch at the Hyatt. I don't skip town every June. I don't have kids enrolled in the American school. I don't have a housing allowance, driver or a cook. I don't say, “India is a difficult place to live, but frankly I don't know how I'm going to survive without all the help when we go back.”
It's not a point of pride. I'm just broke. I drive an eight-year-old white Maruti 800 with a massive dent in the driver's side door (don't get me started). I fly Air Deccan. I drink IMFL. I pay a little more than 10,000 a month in rent. I wobble and say yaar. I know a shameful percentage of the lyrics to “Mindblowing Mahiya.” I even have the Person of Indian Origin card. Designed for non-resident Indians, it's made me a resident non-Indian. Sometimes, in the depths of despair, I contemplate buy property in some wasteland on the road to Faridabad or beyond Ghaziabad or Rohini—places I've never been. I may never leave.
I don't know how this happened. It had something to do with quitting my job as a drone at a “financial newswire” (I used to dream of inventing a computer program to replace myself—it seemed so obvious). I was in Hong Kong, which was too expensive a place to be unemployed. I spoke Chinese, but my fiancee (now wife) did not, and China's notoriously inhospitable stance toward journalists made the simple crossover into the mainland seem much more difficult than migrating to India. Here, I've discovered as a white Indian (and freelancer), the rules are flexible. You don't comply; you do jugaad.
I don't want to complain about the country that embraced me. But it's not easy being a white Indian. Most people think I'm rich and don't know what anything costs, that I have a direct line (like the Bat phone) to the visa officers at the US embassy, that I must be finding Indian food too spicy, or that we have a deep personal bond because they have a cousin who is working in Houston. These things are trying. My neighbors know better. They think I'm a bum, or a shamelessly overgrown trust fund kid. I don't leave the house; ergo, I don't work. I'm always carrying crates of Kingfisher up the four flights of stairs to my rooftop lair. There's loud music and doors slamming at odd times of night (3 a.m., 4 a.m.--even when the puja hour begins and the guys show up for the laughing club).
And I do love the place, albeit in a repressed, white Indian kind of way. There is something wonderful about the smell of Delhi's burnt air in the summer, something inspiring about the street kids who laugh and smile when they see my newly shaven head. Indians are much wittier than Americans, whose humor relies on a sarcasm that belies an essentially naive view of the world. I revel in snatches of overheard conversations: “He is a sportsman... but only at night!” TK, TK. I like running red lights, driving like a prick and cursing at the other drivers for driving like pricks. I enjoy Delhi passtimes like drinking late night whisky in a car parked outside Salim's and booking future drinks at happy hour prices just before deadline. I “white guy” my way into things—a variation on the old Delhi version of the “do you know who I am?” I earn in dollars and spend in rupees. I ask you: For a hack, what could be better?