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.
I returned back to Boston this Saturday. The six weeks at home flew by with amazing speed with time well spent with family and friends. I was a tourist in India after such a long time, and realized that I should probably see more of my own country while I can instead of cribbing about not being able to visit other countries due to visa delays!
While Mumbai will always be home, Boston is my second home now and there is a constant battle between life/job in one country and family in other. I probably was too young to realize this struggle when I decided to move abroad for education and job. But it’s for the good, to make the best of what you have been blessed with and enjoy your privileges! So welcome back to Boston!
India Series I
Last Saturday I landed in Mumbai after 4 years. Before my trip I was very anxious because I felt I had been out of home for so long I had forgotten the ways and manner of Indian living. But I could feel tears prickling behind my eyes when I saw the twinkling lights of the Mumbai skyline as my flight started descending on the Mumbai airport and I started looking forward to seeing the sea of Indian faces. On landing, the immigration was a pleasant surprise as it has been really streamlined with lots of counters and the international terminal has been completely revamped. While I didn’t find it absolutely rave worthy, it is definitely lots of steps up from the previous terminal and at least on par with the international standards.
Being at home initially was a very surreal experience, you know when you don’t believe where you are sort of a feeling! For me it felt as if I had never been away, everything that was familiar to me was still the same, and at the same time some things felt so very different. As long as I was home it was familiar, but stepping outside, I couldn’t remember some of the street names with the new constructions and new streets cropping up everywhere.
But the best part about coming home has been celebrating Diwali in India; spending time with family, gorging on good food and meeting people I hadn’t seen in years. Though there was a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t remember one of my relatives’ name, thankfully though my mom was next to me and addressed her by name so I could save my face!! Other best part was wearing all the fancy Indian jewelry and sarees which I hadn’t worn in a while and what better occasion to wear it than Diwali.
Though I am trying not to feel nostalgic, it is difficult to avoid the memories when you come home after a gap of 4 years and have been away for 8 years. I am going to avoid my blog posts from becoming maudlin so will be doing a series of posts on my India trip, from my initial impressions, to changes, to travel and food posts. This will also help me get over my nostalgia because sometimes memories serve no purpose other than to bring you down and ruin your present.
When you are far away from home and haven’t been home in a long time, there comes a point when suddenly just some things and smells remind you of home. Perhaps your subconscious is subtly nudging you and reminding you that it is time to go back for a spell. Usually the things that remind me of home are food related! No surprise there! J Just an imagined whiff of something while walking down the street and instantly my mind starts craving home. This is my small list which reminds me of home:
1) Smell of slightly burnt bread crumbs on the pan while making veggie cutlets: reminds me of my mom cooking cutlets at home.
2) Aroma of freshly squeezed orange juice: hot summer evenings in India being pampered by mom during the exam season with freshly squeezed orange juice.
3) Aroma of hot scorching earth when it receives the first drops of rain: Nothing can beat the June heat in Mumbai like a soaker coming down from heavens which will drench and flood everything and then some.
4) While traveling on a bus with foggy windows on a rainy summer evening, the slick roads and tree lined street teleport me to my home streets on such a similar rainy evening many years ago.
5) Re-watching a movie seen all those years ago with group of rowdy undergrad friends! Oh the joys of zero responsibility days and numerous friends!
6) Fragrance of Ponds moisturizing cream in the CVS aisle. I swear just a whiff of it, and it transports me back to childhood days of using it.
7) Waking up from a dream about home and thinking for a second you are in your childhood bed and waiting for your mother to yell at you for being late for school!
As you might have noticed the olfactory senses are so amazing. Without realizing it, we remember so many smells and associate them with different things in life. Though sometimes going home is a bit disappointing, because all travelers hope that their home hasn’t changed in their absence. And with every visit, there is a bit of you which gets disappointed and disillusioned because the home isn’t what it felt like in your mind. Sometimes the anticipation of home-just the way you had left it-is better than actually going back and breaking your illusions.