What stood out in her miserable confusion was the thought of losing what had become her caste status. NRI was a hated being in India, she knew. But hearing complaints about NRIs had always brought the pleasing confirmation that an NRI had leapfrogged the caste structure to the top. You had only to leave India for good to become a super-Brahmin. Returning for good meant she would lose that status when she landed in Ahmedabad in about nine hours.
Like the rest she had complained often about heat and flies in India. But how much they all talked about this at home, at weddings, at celebrations at the 27-gam Charotar Patidar Samaj. Wasn't it that sense of being better off than Indians in India that had helped them all survive England? She thought of all the incompetent whites who had been promoted above her in her 28 years at the bank. Those attitudes, those looks, those things left half said. The British had become such masters of insults within limits of correctness. British? English, she should say. Because she too had been British, at least her passport had said so until it all changed.
The newspapers had still not stopped screaming about it, but was it such a surprise that just after winning the election the Conservative Party had declared itself actually to be the British National Party? In this last election the racist thug, who she had never really encountered, had become one with the polite English she encountered every day. The House of Commons had passed a law to evict all non-whites, and the House of Lords approved it in record time.
Prime Minister Nick Griffin who had unanimously been invited to lead the Conservative Party had Big Ben painted white the day after he took over. "They should have had a white scaffolding as well," her sister had said when they went to Westminster like so many others to see what was going on.
Strange, but how the British seemed now to love Asians with a one-way ticket out of London. They were at their civilised best. "It's this awful democracy, dear," Mrs Smith had remarked in the lift. "We shall so miss you." She had not replied. She did not feel the need to be polite any more.
She could see that the Air India woman in the blue printed sari was shuffling some last-minute papers before the departure announcement. They had flown in staff from India to handle the rush; two million passengers in just a few weeks. And how 800,000 of them had turned out to be illegals; finally they had to surface since they couldn't bleach themselves. Maybe it meant something to them that they were returning on discounted tickets, they were not entitled to government of India benefits under the FNRP (Forced NRI Returnees Programme).
The government had its reasons to subsidise tickets, even though flights back to London were all coming empty. No one wanted their pictures taken by a white Big Ben. The returnees were bringing billions of dollars in hard currency. Special industrial programmes had been set up where this money would come in handy.
The returnees had been offered a share in a choice of promising trade and investment enterprises. Smart new housing had been set up with '24-hour water and electricity guaranteed with own security'. Anjali Patel had bought a three-bedroom flat in one of these new airconditioned buildings in Ahmedabad that everyone was talking about as NRI Nagar. But she could just hear the Gujus add in the same breath how they are not really NRIs any more.
Her two teen-aged boys had been given admission at a new expanded college. She had read about all the opportunities they'd have. How they could do better and have a better life than in England. And she had read how the new white economy of England was heading for collapse. But that wouldn't help her, just as the collapse of the Ugandan economy hadn't helped them after they had all left in 1972. True, the pound was down already from 80 rupees to 68, and falling. The Asian exodus had tripped up England, and the rest of the world was turning away from it as well. This was the broad silver lining. If the pound was not to the rupee what it used to be, then what was the point of England.
India was rising in relation to England, but not so fast that the old associations were all gone. She could hear what the sniggering of resident Indians already. Nothing like India, they'd say, just because they were there. How long could they stay in that airconditioned building? People would make fun of her boys' accents, she felt scared there would be fights. Did she imagine it, or did everyone in the departure lounge seem to have similar thoughts. But it was too late now. The woman in the blue sari had taken the mike; "This is a boarding call for Air India special swadeshi flight 999 to Ahmedabad?"