Saturday, October 18, 2008

Travelling in a palenquin..

This year I tore off a page of my diary and set it off in a palenquin.

A ride down a long-ago lane.

From the diary of a remote Indian

My first memory of the US is the strong fragrance of coffee at the Cincinnati airport. Excited and full of hope, I dreamed of making it as a woman in the male dominated field of physics. I guess I was running away from the negative images I had whilst living in India. Over the years the coffee fragrance became a soft linger and time smoothed away the jagged corners of my negative memories. It was a slow process.

Being in Bombay all my life I was familiar with the cultural, linguistic and religious differences in India. But it all landed on me on a bigger scale when I was so far away from home. I gravitated towards other Indian students. Several had never been to a cosmopolitan area and did look upon me as if I were from a place a bit farther away from their town, for example, say, Mars. That I could speak four languages and understand four more did not help me more than it would if I had four legs and three arms. Sigh!

And then came the various usual student activities which threw you together with other students from India. Overall, it was wonderful; just once in a while, one got to hear strange comments:

Science is not a field for women, what are you doing in Physics!

Oh, we just dropped by, because we didn’t want to cook

Oh! You’re from Bombay… That explains it!

Er… What?! However, slowly as all turbulences, this too came to equilibrium. Amidst our tortures and struggles of getting used to a new country and procedures, and a new system of education, amidst all the personal problems, a set of students came together.

Starting in Fall was Raksha bandhan, and girls scrambled all over the place to find something resembling a rakhee. I dare say, some of the boys were not happy with it! Then came Ganesh Chaturthi, the Maharashtrian celebration of Lord Ganesha. This was a festival promoted by Lokmanya Tilak during the independence struggle. Onam came along with the Keralite students, and then the Pooja celebrations from our Bengali friends, Deepavali and then Christmas with the Christian friends. Easter, Holi, Sankranth, Pongal. Sigh. All the year through. Festivals or not, it is an unending cycle of camaraderie, modaks, shorshe bata maach, pongal, aapam, mm… Awesome regional foods.

Through the struggles of student life, interacting with the city community, the India that I remembered from books slowly leaked through. Oh, some chauvinism was still present. Most community parties were polarized with the men in the living room with their drinks and the women either in the kitchen area or with the kids. There were people who became overly patriotic being away from India while being unbearably American in India. Yet, all is good. It is all a part of who we are – a people so different from each other, trying to find a balance between preserving the unity of the country and preserving their own identity. It is not an easy task. All these festivals spoke of the individual, yet when 15th August came along, all voices rang out ‘jaya he!’ with the same fierce enthusiasm that I was used to back home. All were hit with a huge shot of nostalgia. “hum to hain pardes mein, des mein nikla hoga chaand” (I am in a far foreign land, the moon must have risen in my country). Sigh.

So it was that, seven seas and twelve hours apart from India, I woke up to the India that is.

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