It is now exactly two months since we have left behind American shores. Two months in India. Normally in years past, this would be a summer vacation to India and then time to return to Berkeley, to schools and jobs and mists. And every year, when we would see the Golden Gate Bridge from the airplane, as we taxied down to what almost seemed into the blue waters of the San Francisco Bay, I would feel a surge of joy and relief to be returning back home.
I loved my vacations back to India, to the little town I grew up in, to giggling warm afternoons with girlfriends from my childhood, to ice creams and milk shakes shared with them while we talked non-stop, about our lives as adults in a world we seemed to have trouble navigating. I loved the warm air, the walks by the beach, the quiet meditations in the ashram I grew up in. I hated the child I became with my mother, about how I should or should not spend my time, I hated the close scrutiny from childhood teachers, mentors or adversaries. The look up and the look down at how I dressed, how I looked; that it was obvious that I worked out, that it was obvious that I was doing ok. “One can never go home again,” my husband often told me and for a while I disbelieved him.
A lot had changed in India, I had changed and that changed person just about fitted into those India vacations. I judged the very people who judged me while growing up and I was in turns pleased and bemused that I could now do that. I was proud of my choices, controversial in an Indian traditional set up, and I felt I had to stare down at my detractors. At those who believed that the ideal woman lived a life of self sacrifice.
Now, we are here in India for a year. Is this home? There is no clear answer but I feel myself slowly waking up. Writers I have read and admired, I find that they have been residing in my neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland. Some teach courses in colleges I could have commuted to. What was it about my life in America that had put me to sleep? That had numbed me to the possibilities? And why do I find myself walking up here in India?
I enjoyed great freedoms in my American life, in many ways much more than life here but those freedoms to some extent were external ones- the ability to wear a bikini or a pair of shorts. One of the crucial freedoms I enjoy here is a sense of kinship that has developed more naturally than it did in my previous habitat. As a mother in India, there is space to be that person who struggles to express herself, because other mothers like me who are also artists and writers reach out and offer support. Why did I not find this in America? Was it my own sense of alienation and difference that kept me away or was it a broader social set up?
Many or most of my friends in America worked full time jobs and after their children were born, worked doubly hard to handle their homes, care for their children and be successful at their carriers. Unlike in India, where families especially grandparents step in to care for grandchildren willingly, wanting to spend their time with your children; in America, my friends and I had to ask for help and often pay for expensive help. Here in India, reliable help is more readily available and affordable even if grandparents live far away or are not present. The joint family structure is certainly breaking down as our abilities to adjust with differences has a lower threshold,even here in India, yet there is a certain willingness to try which was less commonly found in my American life.
Two months into our life here, I often find myself speaking about home. Sometimes I mean the home here in Pune, sometimes I mean the home back in Berkeley. What do I mean by that word? Maybe I mean the physical structure of where we live, maybe I mean my children and husband, maybe I mean memories built together. Home, home, home. I love the sound of the word. I still do not know what it means- really.