About eight months ago now, Aparna (the Associate Director of CASI Student Programs) asked us to write blogs during our time at our internships. The last blog, she told us, was to be written after our return home from India.
Although it’s been a long while since I’ve said my (temporary) goodbyes to India, I’ve yet to return “home.” Studying abroad in Morocco this semester, at times I’ve felt suspended in a strange limbo–my time in India and Morocco has in some ways bled together. I mentioned to a friend this morning that looking back, these seven months have been characterized by a constant state of not being at home. And while it’s been exhilarating and empowering, it’s also come to be exhausting.
When I was traveling throughout this semester, or struggling with something new and unfamiliar, I’d often ask myself where I felt “most home.” My current home stay in Rabat? Our room on Sarjapur Road, in Bangalore? My old apartment in Philly, or my parents ‘ home in Georgia?
In many ways, I had come to believe that home is a feeling more so than a place. At the beginning of this summer, I told myself I was coming “home-ish” when I was coming to India. I had always felt comfortable there. Yet, ironically, my time in India only showed me how much I don’t know about it, how in many ways, India is in fact not home for me.
The first few weeks I spent working in Bangalore, I realized I knew next to nothing about Indian history. I had rarely read any South Asian authors that were not American. I scrambled to find books and recommendations to educate myself. When I spent time with Indian friends, I would constantly hear “you’re so American!” Despite the fact that I knew Telugu, which gave me some comfort and validation, my Hindi speaking skills were almost non-existent and I knew no Kannada.
When one of my friends visited me at the end of the summer in my birthplace of Hyderabad, he was amused that I didn’t know much of its history. “Aren’t you from here?” he asked.
So what exactly was my relationship with India, my relationship with “home?” If home wasn’t a place and it wasn’t entirely a feeling, what was it, then? What was it for me, as a child of immigrants and an immigrant myself? As someone that has so often felt pulled in both directions?
When I was younger, as each summer holiday approached, I would excitedly ask my mom, “Amma, are we going to India this summer?” My mom would say yes, and if the answer was a no, then it was presumed that we would visit the summer after. If not, at the most, the winter break or summer after that. (We were privileged enough to be able to afford these frequent trips–a privilege that not all South Asian immigrants possess.)
In the years after the passing of my grandparents, these conversations subsided. There was no longer as much excitement on the part of my parents to visit. After the passing of her own mother, my mom would often tell me she had “nothing to go back to in India.” Although she was born, raised, and spent a portion of her adult life there, my mom’s feeling of home in India was very much characterized by being with her parents and her family.
To a much much lesser degree, that resonated. It wasn’t the fact that I was born in India that made it comfortable—it was the summers spent there in my grandparents’ small town in Telangana. It was the muggy evenings spent on their terrace swing, eating hot pakodas and playing games with my aunts. It was the mornings waking up to roosters and Ammamma’s dosas. The sound of Tatayya’s bellowing voice and Ammamma’s jingling bangles–this was what “home” in India sounded like. Their infinite and gentle love, their endless patience for my antics–this is what it felt like.
With their deaths, much of that disappeared. A lot of my family emigrated from India or dispersed within it, and India was no longer the same. It was no longer home in the same way.
Yet within the shadows of that loss, a new relationship with India emerged. Two years after my Ammamma’s passing marked the first time I visited India on my own. More recent visits and working with CASI this summer have afforded me opportunities to form new relationships, forge new friendships.
When I think of India now, I imagine monsoon days in Bangalore or hours spent in autos in the city’s traffic. I think of chai chats with co-workers on the office terrace, evenings out in Indiranagar, or long nights spent in my friends’ apartment in Koramangala. I think of visiting my mom in Hyderabad and her teaching me how to buy groceries in an Indian supermarket. I imagine sitting in my aunt’s new apartment far away from Telangana, eating her amazing alugudda vepudu and annam nevertheless.
As with anything, my relationship with India has been fluid. Feelings of home there have shifted. Yet, the fact that it is people that make me feel loved and welcomed there remains the same.
In the process of these seven months, that lesson has been more explicitly reinforced. It is communities–of family and new friends in India, and of immigrant and fellow South Asians in America, that make me home. It is people, more so than the place, that generate that feeling of home.
So while I often crave to come home to India, right now I also yearn to go home to America. I go home to my parents, and to my family. I go home to the people that make it home, the people that have carried bits and pieces of India with them that they’ve passed onto me. And despite the fact that I am returning to a country that has told me, after this November 8th, that it explicitly does not want me, I go home still.