Published in Times of India on 22nd August 2010.

No one from far off lands asks the popular question of yore ‘What should I get you from here?’ any more.

With everything under the sun available in the India of today, the USP of the NRI relative has plummeted dramatically. In years gone by, our Chacha-Chachi, Mausa-Mausi, Bua-Phupha etc. used to visit us every two years accompanied by huge suitcases laden with goodies and gifts. We used to go gaga at all the chocolates and candies that we were presented with.

In fact we as kids used to be quite wide-eyed at the sight of our ‘phoren’ cousins flaunting their electronic gadgets and trendy clothes. Our Mausis used to dazzle the locals with their hip attire and designer accessories.

Innocent and uninitiated as we were in those days, we were verily prone to being impressed by everything that our NRI kin used to do or say.

Times have changed drastically in recent years, however. We do not feel shy of anything Indian anymore, barring a few aberrations. NRI relatives are members of a tribe that has undergone an unimaginable degree of transformation along the way. Relatives from foreign shores just do not possess the same levels of pomposity any more.

With the tables thus turned, Indians have revved up their lifestyles and have taken to traveling abroad frequently. The irony is that ethnic delicacies like achaars and chutneys are much sought after now by desis who live abroad. While it is true that several Indian stores have opened up in foreign lands and they sell everything from charpoys to hingoli, exotic imports from India still carry value for the poor deprived non-resident. The time has come when foreign-bound Indians carry much heavier suitcases than those traveling to India.

One reason is that, try as they might, Indian restaurants abroad can never quite reproduce the same tingling taste that is an integral part of dishes like ‘karhai paneer’ or ‘daal makhni’ when cooked in India.

A recent incident amply highlighted the levels of desperation to which Indians living abroad can go in order to satisfy their longing for authentic Indian food. What happened was that a jar of achaar prepared by a traditional home maker in Delhi was meant to be sent to her sibling in the US.

A crisis occurred when the poor nephew who was to carry the golden load left it at home inadvertently. Not wanting to land up at the house of his formidable aunt without the yummy stuff and without advance intimation, he sent her an email from the airport stating the facts as they stood.

Not one to be defeated easily, the said motherly figure decided to call up a friend who was slated to travel the following week to bring the prized stuff with her.

The nephew was spared a severe hiding when the said friend agreed to get it along but more drama was in store. A baby who was due weeks later decided to arrive in a hurry and the lady had to advance her visit with the result that achaar like substances were forgotten.

Finally resigned to the fact that the tangy stuff would not be hers till next season, the said aunt made do with salsa sauces and the like for a while, but when she’d had enough she rescheduled her winter visit. She landed up in Delhi just in time to devour the contents of the jar before they got spoilt.

One thing is for sure. Expert cooks that housewives in India are they would be more sought after in foreign lands if they apply for permanent visas than are young men with multiple degrees. Such young men would do well to learn an achaar recipe or two, for they may just bolster their chances of working abroad as a result.