A friend once wrote a little bit about how he goes home every 4 to 6 weeks to see his parents and feel grounded. I had a chance to do that recently, but in a different context. I traveled to India for 2 weeks (1 week in Bangalore and 1 week in Bombay) after 4.5 years. As an Indian citizen (OCI) of Indian heritage who has never lived in India, I’ve traveled to India multiple times when I was younger. This wasn’t the first time I had traveled to India by myself either. While the first time I was plagued with a sense of worry that I would say or do something wrong, this time I had a much clearer idea of what to expect.
I’ve written a little bit about not being able to fit in neither here nor there. Constantly questioning whether I’m Indian enough, American enough, or too Indian or too American. My cultural identity has been called into question as a reflection of my competence as a person. And I’ve definitely judged people on it as well. My trip to India brought this to mind again. My great-aunt asked me if I would ever consider settling down in India if I met someone “suitable” (she was hell-bent on getting me married off) and had a stable job. My immediate reaction to her was “no”. I had a hard time explaining to her that while crossing the street was the simplest challenge I would face, I also had a hard time understanding how things worked in India. From the slang to the bribery to the mess, I couldn’t understand what people liked about it (and I’m speaking specifically for Bombay here). Not to say it doesn’t have it’s own beauty. I had a chance to go to art galleries in Bangalore and Bombay this time around and was able to see some incredible talent (both old and young). I have a hard time understanding why “people take it”. I know that I live a privileged life where I have more control than most people do, but still.
I took a friend to a movie in the theatre and the national anthem played as part of the movie. The entire crowd stood up and started singing along. I’ve seen the sense of patriotism that this country has, but what provokes it? In “the land of the free and home of the brave”, people are so much more privileged but have maybe half of the respect and patriotism displayed by Indian citizens. Maybe deprivation (and I say this loosely in the sense that there is a great divide in classes) provokes solidarity. India is one of the purest examples of the human condition, in my opinion. It’s the reason I get annoyed at tourists (namely American). I wish they could see past the facade of colorful clothes, spicy food, and loud traffic. I wish they could see how people here are creative – they make do with what they have in a way that all Americans do is complain. You see human connection at it’s finest when you have to get something done – someone’s uncle’s aunt’s son’s daughter knows a person to get that done (wink). Of course, I’m exaggerating but you get the point. From the long list of uncles and aunties I have to call when I land (which I find excruciatingly annoying) to being FORCED to eat something when you enter someone’s home (or they take offense and literally don’t let you leave), there is an attachment built that I rarely get to experience. I sat around playing cards with my (second) cousins and thought about the cousins I have in the US and how far apart we are (emotionally, mentally, physically). Having the opportunity to grow up with family seems insurmountably important.
A large part of my visit was spending time with my dear grandmother (Nani). I didn’t get to see my grandfather before he passed away, and seeing Nani was a kind of consolation for me. Hugging her felt like hugging my mom. Spending a week at home with her made me understand what it would feel like when my mom comes of that age. Nani has lived a full life, but aging is part of the human condition. It makes the concrete rough even if all the marbles are there. I am happy I got to take care of my tiny human as long as I could. She is strong, has spunk, and is as stubborn as ever – qualities my mom definitely has and I’ve been told have as well.
On my way to the airport, one of my grand-uncles asked me how my trip was and if India has changed since the last time I was here. I had a hard time answering this question because I have a hard time imagining living there. Things progress, but at a pace that frustrates me compared to the US. If anything, I think I’m a little more unsettled after going to India. I definitely feel like I don’t fit, but I can pass by in the culture that I originate from.