(Written in July 2018)
The plane was suspended between the ground and the sky, so was my mind between what has been and what will be. I wanted to leave everything that had been; clean my mind of everything I knew, for the new. It was my first flight to a foreign country.
I intended to leave my Indian-ness behind to take in this new-ness and assimilate. I thought I would be open to this new experience – never quite knowing that being open does not means letting go of all your past memories and things and experiences.
I wish I had known…
Trying to find my way through the web of stations – camera on my shoulder, a backpack, and a confused face, people could tell I was a traveler. I was lost. Giving up, I asked a local for directions. He looked up from his cell phone, gave me a blank look, told me the directions and went back into the phone before I could thank him for his gesture.
It felt odd, instantly. Such a cold reaction? Did I disturb the guy? (No, I didn’t. He was playing Angry Birds on this phone – and yes, I peeked!). “Things are so different in my country”, I wondered.
Shaking off the thoughts, I explored the city – hopping from one place to another, capturing the world through my lens. The mind was getting its fodder in the form of new sights. But the tummy grumbled. It needed food. Being a vegetarian, I knew my options were limited, so I chose to ask the locals again.
And, guess what? I received the same reaction. Again. They were kind enough to tell me which way to head, even though they didn’t have an extra word to spare. Maybe, things worked this way here. “At my place, we bond over food. Even with strangers – especially foreigners!”
My expectations were slowly shattering as the big picture became clearer.
I was alone. This wasn’t an issue as I am used to traveling solo. What was nagging me was… that I was utterly lonely at this place. I was feeling lost… looking for something to hold onto. But what?…
…That what I had left behind.
See, I don’t consider myself to be a person who judges people or a place based on a few incidents. But if the same thing was happening over and over again, there was definitely something very weird – either with me or around me. Less interactive, I understand that. Aloof, introvert – okay! But everyone? I even convinced myself that.
I had got what I wanted: Open to the new. Right?
I don’t know!
Every country is a different place with its own experience. I cherish that. And I was grateful for having had that different experience. I experienced new people, new culture. It added on to my memories.
But, why was all of this so much weird for me? Was I home-sick? Was I craving for the interfering yet warm nature of strangers that I received in my country? Was I missing the noise and the mayhem? I was used to some other reaction.
Used to… Home… India!
Hell Yes! I was missing home. And I wanted to be back into its comforting madness. My every question, every problem led me to one solution – home!
And during all this time, something in me had changed. Drastically. Things which I had often taken for granted, I now knew their true value. Everyone was the same. I was different. It wasn’t late until I came to a realization that this Indianness was making me unique.
I knew a language different from them. I had eaten food different from what they enjoyed (and I could very well cook food that was different from theirs). I knew of my flavors. I knew of my diversity. I knew of my vastness.
But more importantly, I knew of madness. I knew of noise. I knew of warmth. I knew of the Indian hospitality: ‘athithi devo bhava‘.
I wish I had known. I now knew!
The point was: why assimilate when you could stand out from the crowd? Trying to find my place in a foreign world, I had jumped too high, thus forgetting my ground. I had forgotten my touch, my grounds, my roots.
And amidst the loneliness of the foreign world, India was what I was lacking, what I was constantly searching for – in food, in faces, at places. An Indian face signified warmth, communication, family. It was home. Home is where the heart is. Home was where India is.
Wherever I went, India was never far away. It was in me. It was me.