Tuesday, December 22, 2015

See you soon, India!

Today's the day! In a few hours, I'll be on a fifteen-hour flight straight to Mumbai. How do I feel about this? Well, excited for one; this is incredibly important to me for so many reasons. But I'm also nervous, unsure of what to expect, and worried about missing my friends and everything at GW. More than anything though, I feel really, really ready for this. Over the past few days I've been home I've been thinking about this trip and all it means to me and I'm more sure than ever that I've made the right decision in choosing to study abroad in Hyderabad.

A few weeks ago, my friend Mansi and I were in my dorm room, making cookies late and night and pretending we didn't have our internships the next day. We had both been talking about how much Madrid meant to us, reminiscing over old photos and metro maps and memories of dry heat and cold sangria. I told her how sad it made me to miss Madrid. The very act of missing something suggested it was part of your past, and even when I looked through the photos I had printed out from my trip I felt weirdly detached, removed. It wasn't that Madrid meant any less to me than it did while I was there; on the contrary, it means more and more as time goes by. But it felt like it had all happened so long ago. I've been back for four months and I miss it every day, but when I look at pictures of bus rides and cathedrals and my host kids, I'm looking at my memories, at my past rather than my present. 

There is so much pain in missing something. Isn't that where grief comes from? From missing a loved one and what they meant to you and how they made you feel. From missing a relationship and knowing that your significant other will never be what they once were for you, that you've moved from a place of loving them to learning how to hate them, to learning how to feel nothing when you hear their name. In the same way, I've been grieving Spain. I hate that I don't live there anymore, that my metro is the DC Metro and not the Madrid Metro, that I don't eat patatas bravas and take weekend trips and live with four amazing people and spend way too much money at ZARA. And sure, some of these things can be recreated here, but it's just not the same. It's not my life anymore, it's not my present anymoreit's my past.

As Mansi and I stood in my kitchen talking about Madrid, I told her how missing Madrid worried me because it reminded me about missing India. I moved away from India when I was only two, but because I have family there, I visit quite often and to some degree, I think of India as home. Not a constant home in the way that New Jersey is, but a home nonetheless. Because of that, I've grown up with the ever-present feeling of missing it. I remember having a conversation with a classmate in a middle school art class about how much India meant to both of us, and how missing it manifested in the form of flashbacks. We both visited every other summer, and after the one-year mark, we'd both start having flashbacks of seemingly random images and memories—the rickshaw ride to a relative's house, the storefront of a sari shop on a crowded street, the way the highway looked on the way back from the airport, the view from your grandmother's window, the smells of the dirty streets. These aren't necessarily emotionally-latent memories, but they mean so much because they remind you of how much you miss home, miss place and the people in it. 

One of my favorite movies is Swades, a story of an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) who goes back to his village. He reconnects with place, and while the relationships he has with a mother-like figure, a love interest, and various other people in the village are all meaningful, for me the movie has always been about what returning to India feels like. At one particular point, the main character decides to quit his job at NASA and move back to India permanently. He tells a fellow-NRI friend about it, but the friend tries to dissuade him from doing so.

At this point, in classic Bollywood fashion, a song begins to play. But the movie is so well-made that this starts with a flashback just like the ones I often have. Image after image passes by and the lyrics (this website includes the English translation, too) at this point are just so poignant, so heavy and exact and they pinpoint just how the pain of missing people and place manifests. 

You see, missing India has always been a part of me. I've always missed my grandparents and the home I grew up in and the streets and the food and the sense of family and belonging. And although I lose that sense of belonging the older I get, the more "American" I feel, I can't help but think it's time to get that back. 

Because I was born there, because I could have so easily lived there and grown up there, I often wonder what my life would've been like. It's crazy to think of the hundreds of people I would never have known, as well as the countless people I could have. So in a way, I guess I'm returning to India to explore the life I almost led, to learn and grow and live the way I did in Spain, to reconnect with family and place and myself.

At the same time, I'm looking to dance again, to become better at Hindi, to reconnect with family, to learn more about the history and culture that are part of my own hyphenated identity. I've been reading the Karma of Brown Folk—which is absolutely blowing my mind, by the way—and I'm looking to consider orientalism, colonialism, imperialism, and the Indian-American experience from the other side of the world. I included this quote on my post before my trip to Spain and I'm including it again because of how relevant and true it is: "Travel not to find yourself, but to remember who you've been all along." I'll only be there for five and a half months, but during this trip, I hope to better understand who I am and what I am and what I've become and who I want to be.

Have you got any advice or words of wisdom to share? Please let me know in the comments below! Wish me luck and I'll see you in June, America!

~ V


  1. Good luck Virali. if you find time spend some time in Kerala and Karnataka.

    1. Thank you! And yes, I will definitely look into your suggestions. :)