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I remember a British neighbour I had befriended when we moved to New Jersey. We were both feeling our way around in this country, getting licenses and discovering stores. She left within a year. She said it was “too different”, and that people here “do not even understand English”. I was amused. But I now realize how significant what she said was. Different cultures have different languages, however similar the script and words are. It seems disorienting when other people understand a thing differently because of what their cultural compass dictates. So here I am today, struggling to make sense of my own confused feelings. I really do enjoy the ease of life here in the developed hemisphere. But I am also aware of the thrill of sheer joy that courses through me every time I think that I have to start packing for India. I have been a weasel and have accepted the citizenship of USA. But happily that has had no effect on anything within me. I had always assumed that taking the oath would reset my DNA in some insidious way. I go back to India on a reduced status of PIO, or its glorified version of OCI (it does sound better with the word ‘citizen’ in it!).

However, what is confusing me is a sense of déjà vu, a feeling of distancing myself again from people I love; of starting anew again. I have no home to start off from, and it is a new city. I am leaving friends that have filled the void of family and leaving a country whose founding ideals I cherish (Freedom does ring here, not correctly all the time, but it does ring). But I am so content!

Is being born in a country enough to permanently make you its own? I doubt it because, I know of many who moved to the West in adulthood and have that disgusting, warped personality of a tree, that neither knows its roots nor its flowers. I cannot call them Indian, and I am sure they do all they can to avoid that association.

I have lived here like an outsider, which I am. I have enjoyed it, most certainly. I have learnt about different cultures. But most importantly, I have learnt about myself. I think every Indian should be sent abroad for sometime to develop patriotism! You realize what a phenomenal country we are, and how resilient and progressive we are. I have learnt more about what it is to be Indian than I did in India itself. I think if you are proud of your heritage you will put your best foot forward when you stand as its symbol, and then the best becomes a part of who you are. Also, I have made friends for life from all over the world. But all those friends, each and everyone, is loyal to the country they were born in. I think that has unconsciously been a make-or-break issue with me. My Indian friends, of course, envy me for going back home! My American friends think I am crazy to be going back because, to them this is the ideal place to be. My Egyptian friends think it would be understandable if I was going to Egypt because that is the best place in the world. And I admire them for that. They, in reality, in their own way, understand perfectly why I want to go back. Home is always the perfect place to live.

So what is it that I love in my country? There is dirt, power cuts, corruption, a severe lack of civic sense, language changes from state to state. But life is so much more than matter of convenience. It is living to be yourself, to live your hopes an ideals and work towards to your goals. It is living when your day has meaning for yourself, and for others. And you cannot come into your own unless you live somewhere you can call your own. A place is your own where you find that sense of belonging I spoke of in my blog. It is a place where people share one’s values. Who understand your jargon, who need no explanation for what you wear, or why you cry.

To be specific, what I love is that ability to stop the car and just ask anyone on the road for directions. What I love is the security of knowing you talk to the autowala or the driver next to you in a traffic jam. You can yell at them or ask to borrow the cell phone. What I love is that if my neighbour’s child is misbehaving I can be the ‘aunty’ and scold him without the fear of prosecution on weird charges.

That involvement in each other’s life is what a community is based on. Of course it is not a perfect community. And sometimes when it is manifested in nosy gossip it does get intolerable. But I would not trade that feeling of familiarity for anything in the world. And certainly not for what passes for ‘politeness’ here. I have lived with the silence of neighbours which is broken by that very artificial ‘Hi’. I fail to understand what kind of people crave this distant coldness. Psychopaths, maybe. A stranger is not a danger in my home; rather, someone to be helped or welcomed, unless proven otherwise. Here it is the other way around. Of course the Americans are lonely people. How can you make friends if you start off with mistrust?

So excuse me if I am not falling apart because I will have to deal with unruly traffic, or with someone selling me ‘fresh’ vegetables a few days old. I will have that unique, wonderful option of venting with my dhobi, or dropping by unannounced for ‘chai’ at a friend’s home. I cannot wait to be home!

Sarah Alam

The author began writing seriously when the Editor of Deccan Chronicle was kind enough to allow her to submit a story for her paper. She freelanced for the paper and wrote across the spectrum – children’s stories, reports, controversial viewpoints. She continued to write when she moved to the US. Her fairy tales were published, and she began her blog. Like most women, she juggles a lot of roles – wife, mother, teacher. But her qua writer is the one she cherishes the most!

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