I have been living in my adopted country for almost ten years now and Neel has been here for more than fifteen. Here, we have attended grad school and made a life for ourselves after much hardship and long periods of uncertainties (like almost every other grad student!). In a way, this is ‘home’ now though we are yet to take any definitive steps towards realizing that goal, and keep on exploring possible options of ‘going back home’. As I was typing the previous sentence I realized the two different ‘homes’ I had mentioned, and that is probably what this post is somewhat about- trying to explore the dichotomy that surrounds us, a constant emotional struggle between the place that has become home over time and the one that we have left behind and much of which probably is more of an idea, fond memories of which we keep on weaving and adding to the tapestry of dreams of an ideal world, where past and the present merge.
We visit India, Kolkata (in the eastern part of the country) to be specific, whenever the opportunity arises and it is always with a lot of excitement and new found energy. Everything, from booking the tickets to making countless trips to the mall (which inevitably lead to marital squabbles), packing and unpacking suitcases (since, I apparently, according to some one always over pack!), adds to the bounce in the steps in the days leading up to the trip:) This happiness however, we have noticed, also gets a bit eclipsed by anxiety that grips us thinking about our aging parents and things that might have changed back there which would undo the ideal ‘home’ that we keep on envisioning while living abroad. I read somewhere a while back about how NRIs lead a ‘life of dilemma’ and I think that this does quite a good job of describing the situation many of us can identify with. We ponder over things like whether we are losing our cultural authenticity (for lack of a better term), whether we have become less susceptible to the needs of our aging parents, whether we are out of tune with family and friends who had been an integral part of growing up, whether we have gotten so used to leading our cushy lives that potholes and occasional power outages start bothering us, so and so forth.
For Neel and I, it is important that we go back. It has been the plan always. And with every visit, this feeling gets stronger. Life there is bustling with energy and love. And while that can feel suffocating at times, especially when all you need is a bit of privacy but everyone, including your local grocery store guy will probably rush to give you his suggestion, it is also hugely rewarding to realize that people are still invested in you. They care, and that care is genuine. While India is developing quite a bit, which has also brought about a socio-economic change that is fairly noticeable, the way of life has remained more or less the same. And that tugs at our hearts. Not to mention the sight of aging but spirited parents who continue to encourage us in every which way possible and give more than they can.
After soaking in the joys and comforts only one’s home town and people can bring, it’s ususally time to stock up on the memories and leave. The goodbyes at the airport get harder every time and our tears flow more freely, while our parents hold us and comfort us with a smile on their faces. And our resolve to go back home secures a bit more stable footing in our minds. Back in the US, we immerse ourselves in our clockwork lives and the memories from the latest trip, sadly, take a step back. While we revel in all that can be gained if we move back, we also ruminate over if that would be the best option for our growing family since this still is the land of opportunities (current political scenario is making is much harder for people like us, but I believe there is hope). It is an incredibly tough choice and something, I am sure, many of us find ourselves faced with.
We are still in the middle of making a decision and we are procrastinating. And while we love our country and our home town and the incredible family that we both have back there, we also have fallen in love with our adopted country. It has made us more responsible and provided us with opportunities to grow. It has given us memories which we are building on now along with the ones we have from when we were growing up. I am in love with the seasons here and the festivities that surround each almost as much as the ones I celebrated growing up, a slice of which I get to experience living here. Halloween, Durga Puja, Diwali, Christmas, Holi, Bengali New Year (and other Indian regional New Year celebrations) all exist in harmony with each other and we celebrate every one of these in our own way. And that’s refreshing. We have made friends here who have stood by us in the darkest hours and we have had mentors who have guided us and helped realize our goals.
And so for us, like many of you, home is a bit here and a bit beyond the big blue ocean. It is a place of memories past and present, a feeling that calms your mind and soothes your soul. We still, probably, have some time before we absolutely need to decide and I hope we can decide wisely. Till then, I will keep looking forward to our amazing trips back to Kolkata and don my little ones in their Halloween costumes and in their traditional Bengali attire during the Durga Puja, go on Easter egg hunts and splash some color around during Holi, make Christmas cookies and patisapta pithe( a traditional Bengali dessert that’s typically made over the holidays, around New year)!!