More than half a century ago a man left the green fields and farm lands of western Maharashtra to try his luck in the glittering city of Mumbai. His mother had passed away a while ago and he left behind his father and younger brothers with the promise to bring them to the city. In Mumbai he found friends, a small place to live, got his degree as a certified accountant, and a job. Eventually he started his own company that manufactured chemicals and trained his brothers to manage that company. That man was my uncle, who brought his younger brothers from a small rural village in Maharashtra to Mumbai, give them better education and to give them a chance at a better life. Once he came to Mumbai, he never went back to the village except to visit the other relatives there every now and then. He got married and found matches for his brothers one by one, including my father. Everyone started their families in Mumbai and nobody gave a thought to return back to the village. The second generation of my family (my cousins and myself) decided to come further away to improve their lives and a few of us immigrated to the USA. Like our elders before us, we have not given much of a serious thought to going back to our lands. Like my uncles and my father who were immigrants to Mumbai and eventually became citizens of Mumbai (called mumbaikars), we have slowly become Americanized.
People all over the globe move from their home towns and home countries and become immigrants elsewhere. Mostly they move for a better life, better opportunities for families, and sometimes just for the sheer adventure of living unmoored in a new place. I moved away from my home when I was young to find a life different than the one I had back in India. Maybe like my uncle I thought this was the right move to have a better future; but unlike my uncle I didn’t have to bring any of my family here with me.
When you move far away to make your life better, you leave something behind…usually elder parents, other family. You lie to yourself saying you will be back one day but you never get back. Whether it is moving 350 km to Mumbai or 10000 miles to US, it is a move where eventually you will never look back. You have to make a life where you move in order to be successful, but the happier you are in new place the guiltier you sometimes feel about all that you have left behind.
I don’t know if my uncle ever felt the guilt or worry about his move decades ago (he wasn’t the kind of person to talk about his feelings), but he was very happy when his daughters moved to US, he felt that like him they were moving on to something better in life. I just wish I had asked him about all this when he was still coherent, I wish I had talked to him about how to immigrate when you leave half your life behind.
Listening to old Hindi songs one evening I felt I was missing something terribly. After a while I realized that my heart was craving simplicity. The song was “Jaane kya baat hai….” featuring Amrita Singh who is singing about missing her lover. The song is sweet and simple. I am not 16 years old anymore to project the feelings that are portrayed in a song but some songs are sung beautifully with perfect lyrics and you cannot help but be touched by it. Such songs make me wish for a simpler life, simpler aspirations. I wish the heart and mind were not so full of aspirations and unfulfilled dreams and I could go back to those days when it was so easy to fall in love. Back to those days when it was so easy to imagine spending your life with someone special, when you felt the world was at your command.
I am amazed sometimes at the rose colored glasses I wore as a young 17 year old girl. I was a practical and pragmatic person even then, but life seemed so easy and simple when you didn’t have to worry about a thing. It was so easy to judge others for their transgressions when you were so smug about your own life. While growing up I was a big fan of the concept that “right things should happen at the right time!” I was of the opinion that one should marry early in order to get the good pickings!! Hah little did the sensible “old” 17-year old me know that love was going to kick me in the hind and provide me with common sense on its way out!
But sometimes the sensible, pragmatic 30 year old me, craves the teenage years and the foolishness that comes with it. I won’t call it youth because by my standards I am still young, but alas not foolish anymore. Sometimes I get weary with all the thoughts and decisions that I am expected to take just because I have am an ‘adult!’ I am usually a very independent person but just for once I wish someone else would take all the decisions for me. Someone else would tell me if I am supposed to worry about my visas, my immigration status, would decide which guy was good enough for me to marry! And I wish, that that someone was my younger foolish self, who used to brave enough to tell a friend that she was being dumb and who used to be dumb enough to tell a boy that she liked him a lot!! Ahh the courage that comes from being young and dumb.
But wishing and hoping doesn’t tell me the future anymore than it changes my past. All we can ever do is play the cards we were dealt with, and pray and hope that we can survive them. Though my favorite prayer from a cartoon strip is: ‘God grant me the courage to change things I cannot accept, serenity to accept the things I have changed, and the wisdom to know I am different!’
Most people don’t like saying goodbyes. They are tough, emotional and heart wrenching. And I think most people are not very good at it. There’s something final about a good bye because you will probably never be that same person again, and in some cases you know you will never meet that person again.
My major goodbye was when I left India to come to US for education. It was my first time out of home, out of country and coming 7000 miles away was a very big step. I still remember the hot August afternoon when I said my byes to my parents before stepping into the terminal to check in my bags. I don’t remember what was going on in my mind at that time, other than stress and panic about the flight ahead. I have thought about that afternoon a lot of times since then and I think I never quite understood the magnitude of what I was doing at that time. I have been to India numerous times since then but I never returned back the same person that I was on that innocent august afternoon.
I hate saying goodbyes. I have had to and still say it every time I come back from India. A part of me doesn’t want to leave home and a part of me knows that I have to go back to the new home. But the main reason I hate good byes is my aversion to change. I believe most of us find safety and haven in familiarity and that’s why don’t like saying good bye to that familiarity. For me, everything that is familiar is safe. I always wanted to be a doctor, but since I couldn’t get an admission in a medical school in Mumbai or nearby regions I opted to go to Pharmacy school. I could have got an admission in a far flung town in a different state, but I never even thought of applying to those places. It was a big change and I didn’t want to make it at that time. But fate decided that I had to move further away from home and despite of my misgivings I applied for MS program in Boston; almost 7000 miles away from home.
While being one of the toughest decisions, I think it was the best one for me. Good byes are an indication of an incoming change and changes are good for you. Life was not meant to be lived always in familiar surroundings and safety. While saying a good-bye is difficult and making changes is difficult, that’s the only way to grow and flourish. Being in Boston for last 8 years, I have again found my familiarity and comfort level. I have grown complacent and once more afraid of changes. If I ever end up saying good-bye to this city, it will be as bad as saying good-bye to Mumbai all those years ago-if not worse!