“Did you go home this summer?” asked a friend who was meeting me after a long time. It took me a few moments to catch up with her train of thought. Of course, she meant India! I told her I had had a great time with family and that I was glad to be back home, in America.
Home. To many immigrants, home is more than just a physical house with four walls, it is a representation of all that is familiar and personal. Visiting home means making a trip to our former homeland. Home, to many of us, means a familiar country, culture, people, streets, smells, sights, sounds, and food. But home also means a place where we feel we belong—where we are accepted and understood, without any effort.
I remember a conversation I had with an Indian friend who had just returned from a visit to India. He talked about how he could not relate to his friends in India anymore. He sure did love them and wanted them to be part of his life, but he also described how he felt incapable of connecting with them in the way that he used to. His experience resonated with me.
When I go back home, my first reactions are relief, excitement, and… just relief—relief that I don’t have to put in an effort to assimilate and that I am free from the stress and tension of adapting and conforming, and excitement that I can be reunited with my family, hang out at my favorite ice-cream place, talk to old friends, and eat unlimited amounts of unhealthy Indian snacks and sweets. But after the wave of exhilaration recedes, I begin feeling disconnected in conversations with my family and friends. I hate to admit it but I feel like I don’t “get” my own people anymore, and that they too, have no clue where I’m at.
I started my life journey with them, but along the road, we parted ways. We live in different worlds, worlds that are, literally, opposites—West (America) and East (India). In one world, food has to be eaten hot. In another, lunch is bagged with an ice pack. In one country, privacy is nonexistent. In the other country, personal space is a highly prized cultural norm. I don’t do life the same way they do, not anymore.
On one hand, I feel like I belong. But on the other hand, I don’t feel like I’m one of them. Is it even possible that these two feelings can co-exist? Yet they do.
I have been away from the East for too long–too many birthdays have passed, too many connections have been strained, too many memories have faded, too many new memories have been formed, too many family milestones have been missed, and too many tears have been wasted. The gap between them and me has widened. And this is a source of underlying sadness that is difficult to explain or ignore. It also frustrates me because I don’t have control over it. It’s simply one of the natural side effects of migration.
Going home always overwhelms me. I’m bombarded with contrasting emotions and mixed feelings. Imagine feeling hot and cold at the same time. Imagine feeling lost and found at the same time. Imagine feeling accepted and alienated at the same time.
Home is a confusing concept for immigrants like me. And the more I try to comprehend it, the more it eludes me. I’ve learnt to let go of all the heavy thinking and rest in the fact that even though I don’t fit in anymore, I am always loved and welcome with open arms.
I cannot NOT keep going back to India and I cannot NOT call it home. It is the home of all things familiar and personal, and all things love.