Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Back in India

I’m back home.

selfie from the elevator in my Nani's apartment
Home being India, though these days “home” is a word I use often when referring to Los Angeles, where I’ve now lived for over a year and half. But India is of course home in a way that no other place will be. The homesickness I have for India, the literally painful yearning, isn’t something I feel for anywhere else, and truth be told I wouldn’t want to. The love I have for each city that means so much to me — Washington, D.C.; Madrid; L.A. — is unique, and I like that the love for Mumbai and India is singular, special. For India alone.

And that’s not to say that I’m the only one that feels these things, of course. My good friend and former roommate Adriana, who was born in El Salvador and lived there for much of her life, feels the same love/pain for her own country of origin. We know each other’s pain, we see it when we talk about homesickness, and the years it’s been since we’ve been back home to visit, and the feeling of getting off a plane and crying and walking toward the airport’s exit and anticipating all the people who have been waiting for you.

my cousin Dev + me :))
The anticipation and knowledge of the fact that before long, those same people will be back at that same airport to see you off.

Return is inevitable. And though I always have to leave, I try to remember that I can always come back. That India will always, always be there. 

I’m so grateful that my parents took me and my brother to India over alternate summers growing up. They made it a priority in their adult lives to revisit, and I make it a priority in mine to do the same.

This is my first visit to India as an adult, or “adult,” if we’re to be more honest and accurate. It’s my first visit post-college in any case, my first return post-study abroad, when I was here for five months, now 3.5 years ago. Now I’m back for five and a half weeks. Here for my first Navaratri and Diwali past the age of two, too.

my Mami's cooking :)
In that time I’ll be doing a teensy bit of traveling, though I expect travel to be minimal. I used to be more of a planner, more type-A. And that’s not to say I’m not those things anymore, just that I have learned the joys of doing less, being more open, and remaining flexible. What I will be doing a lot of though, is eating. So. Much. Eating.

(You guys I’m going to eat everything. I don’t plan much anymore but I do plan food bucket lists. I’ve never been to Taco Bell in India! I haven’t had a proper falooda/kati roll/pav bhaji/dahi puri in LONG ENOUGH! I’m going to absolutely lose my mind eating all the things I can eat. Ugh. It’s going to be great.)

And I’m going to be spending time with family of course. By now I’ve reunited with some of my favorite people, surprised a few as well, including my maternal grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. I’m most looking forward to just being in the same room as some of my people I love most. I’ll save the senti-ness for IRL interactions with the people receiving said feelings. Because another main goal of this and every trip to India is to just be here. To just soak in everything around me and de-Americanize my brain a little.
view from my Nani's living room window

Anyway, stay tuned for all the food and non-food posts to come. I don’t know what you’re here for, but I assume it’s for the food. Or maybe you’re bored in the middle of a workday. I don’t know.

But since you are reading this, thank you. Thank you especially if you’re someone who read this blog back when it was active, back before I felt comfortable calling myself a writer. This blog taught me how much I loved to write, and some days when a deadline is looming over my head and the words that come out don’t feel right, I think about this blog. It feels wild to be writing this post with a few bylines under my belt, because when I wrote here last, it very much felt like that was never going to happen. And while I’m still very much in the throes of professional self-doubt and feeling like my career is never really going to happen, this blog is a bit affirming. Not of my career necessarily, but of me — why I write, what it feels like to write for myself, what it feels like to have an idea that I don't have to pitch or fine-tune or tailor to a publication. 

I missed this. Thank you for reading.

stopped home in NJ during a quick layover + saw my parents
my Chachu <33333
view while leaving L.A.
view from Chachu + Chachi's new home

Saturday, August 6, 2016

One More Saturday Turns 2 Today!

~2 happy 2 b celebrating year 2~
Remember that scene in Gilmore Girls where Lorelai wakes up Rory on her birthday and snuggles into bed with her? (Here's the clip if you want it; have tissues nearby.) Lorelai whispers about how on this very day, many moons ago, her lil nug was born and her life since then hasn't been the same. Picture me, getting out of bed for the sole purpose of getting back in again to recreate this scene, snuggling with my lil Macbook and quietly whispering, "Two years ago, on this very day and in this very room, you were born."

Gilmore Girls references aside, OMS was the brainchild of a series of interactions with wonderful humans. It started with my high school economics teacher, who was supportive and encouraging about my writing and suggested starting a blog back when I was a wee freshman in college (and an econ major, nonetheless). I talked to my wonderful and supportive friend Danielle, the only blogger I knew at the time. And I bounced ideas back and forth with Alana, with whom I first started this bad boy. Two years later, this blog is all mine. 

And this sounds cliché, so sorrysorrysorry, but this blog would be nothing without all of y'all. One More Saturday has allowed me to write about the things I want to write about, and it has been an outlet for pieces that I can't really put anywhere else. It's helped me to write better, present my content better, photograph better. More than anything, I'm grateful for how this blog has helped me to connect and reconnect with all the wonderful humans around me. Over the past two years, I've received so many personal messages from friends, family, and strangers. Just as much as I value the friends who understand and value and appreciate my words enough to read and share them, I appreciate the strangers and near-strangers who do the same. I've had people I only met in passing message me years later to simply tell me how much my posts meant to them. That's nuts to me, and that's one of my favorite things about being a writer.

I love it when I read something  a novel, a poem, a blog post  and immediately feel like I connect with the writer. I want to be their friend, I want to buy them coffee, I want to thank them for just doing what they do. The fact that I can be that writer for anyone in the world, never mind multiple lil humans out there, is just so crazy cool to me. 

So thank you guys. Really. Thank you to all of you who have read any number of posts in the past few years. Thank you to my generous, loving, caring friends and family who read and comment and share over and over. I've said this before, but you really don't know how much your support means to me. Thank you to all the strangers, the friends' moms (I know you're out there!), the former classmates who care enough to click on the posts I share on Facebook, and everyone else. You guys have made this experience so rewarding for me. It's so gratifying to learn that someone appreciates your labor of love as much as you do; just know that I appreciate you guys, too.

P.S. Here's the song that inspired our blog name. I'll be out turning this blog birthday into a lifestyle. Hope you enjoy your Saturday, too <3

~ V

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sinking and Swimming and Other Things I Learned Post-India

In the weeks since I've been home, I've had dozens of conversations that all start the same way: "How was India?" 

My friends from abroad and I have bemoaned this amongst ourselves, sometimes getting a bit salty about how lazy the question can feel. One said, "How's India? How are we supposed to fit so many months of experiences after such a simple question?" And this is fair. But one thing I've been thinking about is that people tell you how much they care. Both in the general sense and in the context of the post-India, manic-depressive readjustment phase, it means that sometimes people are asking just to be polite and other times they really want to know.

In regards to the former, it's pretty simple responding to, "How was India?" You manage to shorten five months of experiences into a short, 30-second spiel, one that gets more direct  and reductive  each time it is told. Just like that, five months of traveling and taking classes and learning (because while the two aren't mutually-exclusive, they're certainly not necessarily linked either) and laughing and dancing and yoga and riding bikes (both with a motor and without) are diluted. And sometimes this is a warm welcome; it's nice to momentarily pretend that this experience wasn't as wonderfully exhausting as it was. It's nice to imagine my life as some cheesy Bollywood film with just a few themes and characters and outfit changes and musical numbers and even a dramatic montage thrown in for good measure.

Then there are those who when they ask about India, really want to know. After more than six months away, I went to D.C. last weekend and met up with some friends. When my friend Medha asked, "How was India?" she followed up with some more direct questions. "What was it like adjusting there? How were the other students? What was your daily routine like?" And my response, while a bit more rambled and messy and verbose, was more honest.

But as I recounted details and experiences of my time abroad, I realized that it all felt so far away. My friend Shanice recently wrote to me, "India feels like a far-off dream most days." And while India is undeniably far with respect to geography, I hardly think a few weeks is enough to explain how distanced I feel otherwise, how disoriented I sometimes feel in this post-India life. 

When Shanice and I spoke about how we both miss India but are happy with what we've got going here in the U.S., I said I was "good at the moment," something that rings true because missing India comes in waves. There are moments of tranquility where everything fits and you're just flowing along in your new routine. And then something will happen to trigger what it feels to miss India. Something will remind you how much you don't fit in here, not that you fit in there either, because you don't fit in anywhere. And that wave will pass, and you'll try to make sense of whatever you can on the sodden sand, but it's just a matter of time before the next wave comes along.

The good thing though is that the waves are getting smaller.

So, how was India? I don't know. It's hard to say. Ask me when the tide shifts again.

~ V

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Last Hurrah in Sri Lanka

I've been home in New Jersey for a few days now. Whether I'm meeting up with old friends, reconnecting with family, or alone in my room working through the seemingly endless process of unpacking after five months abroad (and five months of shopping), it seems like my mind stays focused on one thing — my time abroad. Of course, this comes as no surprise. When you've spent so much time away, it takes time to readjust. It takes time to wrap your head around all the things that are no longer part of your routine, all the people you miss, all the "new" aspects of your life at home. And of course, people are interested in hearing the stories you have to share. The people you met, the places you went, all of it holds some novelty. But just like I learned after my return from Spain, I'm sure this won't last (peep numbers 3 and 4).

A few days after I got back from Madrid, I was going through all the things in my room. I'm one of those people who actually really enjoys packing and unpacking, and anytime I return from a big trip, I sort of do a major reorganization of my entire room. I reorganize my closest, bookshelf, and desk and in the process of doing so, I always find old journals and photos that slow down the unpacking even more. I was pretty sad after leaving Madrid, but seeing old photos from different points in my life inspired me to print out photos from my time in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. I'd have something physical to hand to friends and I'd be able to put real photographs in a real album, something I hadn't done in maybe a decade. 

I haven't gone in full-on reminiscing mode yet, and I'm trying to focus on the good things about being back — friends, family, and pizza. As such, I haven't started to sort through the 6,000+ photographs from India, Sri Lanka, Oman, Dubai, and Amsterdam. But as I try to move forward, looking back just a little bit is comforting to me. It makes me feel like the space between me and India isn't so wide, that the time that will pass between now and my next trip won't create an even bigger distance. So I began sorting through the photos from a trip my friends Jesse, Alena and I took to Sri Lanka.

To celebrate the end of our semester and as a sort of last hurrah, Jesse and I went to Kerala for two days before spending ten in the Lank, as Jesse calls it. Our time in Kerala was pretty low-key. We spent the first day exploring Fort Kochi — enjoying great food and tea, walking around, taking photos — and the second doing a backwater village tour around Viakom. By some miracle the heat was worse than what we'd been dealing with in Hyderabad, and the humidity wasn't helping. Luckily, we only spent one night in our homestay, where we had no AC, and spent the next night commuting to Colombo.

We got to Colombo very early, around 3 AM, and after killing some time with the free airport wifi, we headed to the Maradana train station for a 6 AM train to Unawatuna. After a four-hour, incredibly scenic ride along the shoreline, we reached Unawatuna, where we spent three nights at an amazing homestay a short walk from the beach. In all honesty, I've been to better beaches. There were plenty of big rocks along the shore, which made it hard to go anywhere further than waist-deep when combined with the slightly rough tide. But the waters were still beautiful and we caught a stunning sunset our last night there. We ate a huge and incredibly delicious breakfast at our homestay each morning, and ended up eating a late lunch/early dinner on the beach each afternoon. We also spent one of our days there exploring Galle Fort, which was a short tuktuk ride away. There we met a Canadian couple who had been traveling for quite some time. They told us about their travels around India, but once they learned we were Americans they started asking us about the election. I swear, you can't go anywhere in the world without someone bringing up Trump.

After our stay in Unawatuna, we headed to Colombo, where we spent one night and met up with our friend Alena. After a pretty disastrous experience with two different tuktuk drivers  — seriously, the one thing I definitely don't miss about being abroad is having to constantly haggle or having to deal with difficult auto drivers — we finally got to our homestay, where we were greeted by FOUR ADORABLE DOGS and our wonderful friend, who we hadn't seen in weeks. Our host made us all chai, and we gathered around the table catching up and swapping stories of our travels thus far. I was exhausted, sweaty, and frustrated after our experiences that day but puppy cuddles and good conversations with even better friends cure everything.

We woke up very early the next morning and headed to the train station for a 6 AM, five-hour trip to Palugaswewa. From there, we took a tuktuk to Sigiriya, where we stayed at a slightly-gross but very hospitable homestay. The owner's son, who was our age, took the family tuktuk and showed us around the area, and the next morning the three of us hiked up Pidurangala Rock before a safari in Eco Park in the evening. The next day, we headed back to Colombo and spent a couple hours in the city before a late-night flight back to the Bad. I'll be honest — by this point I was pretty done. I missed clean laundry (all of our clothes smelled like wet dog), I missed not being constantly hot and sweaty, and I was very ready to spend a last couple days with my family in Hyderabad. But I got some pizza from Pizza Hut, which was significantly less atrocious that I'd anticipated, and Jesse found a pretty cool tea cafĂ©, where we spent a couple hours before heading to the airport. I'd started Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger earlier that day on the train after Alena passed it along to me — crazy book, but undeniably well-written — and passed it along to Jesse at the airport.

Quick thing about the Colombo airport: this place is weird as hell. The wifi log-in requires you to put in your passport number (although any pseudonym and passport number will do; at one point I wrote that my passport number was 7); they sell washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other large household appliances in the arrivals section, as if anyone in the history of the world has ever gotten off a flight and decided to purchase a microwave; they don't accept credit cards in the arrivals section (which turns out is pretty common throughout Sri Lanka); and everything in the departures section is priced in USD. This isn't necessarily weird per se, but since we were so close to the end of our time abroad, and not 100% ready to be back in the U.S, Jesse and I found seeing American pricing pretty jarring and uncomfortable ($6 for a latte?! That's over 400 rups!!!). Alena pointed out that I was experiencing a bit of culture shock throughout my time in Sri Lanka, which was true, and by the end of our trip I was just so ready to be back "home."

Would I go back to Sri Lanka? I'd like to. There's so much that country has to offer, and we touched upon just a little bit of it. It was so beautiful, and the people were so nice. Next time, I'm just bringing more laundry.

~ V