And so it is the year is over and it is but a natural time to take stock. I am walking in downtown Palo Alto bundled up in layers and walking slowly because I feel I must. I have left a hip hop dance class in the middle, before it finished. It was loud, I was out of breath and it was New Year’s Eve, I needed some quiet time. Downtown Palo Alto is just starting to get busy at this time of the morning. Lots of stoic people in blacks and greys. Being an adult is apparently a boring business whether you can afford to live in Silicon valley or whether you are homeless — albeit the latter must be colder.
I slow my pace further, people cross me by, there is purpose in their steps. I am tempted to hurry up even though I am in no rush. I pass by Chico’s, a store I had visited with my mother many months ago and I stop. It must be lonely for those who lost their mother this year like my mother did hers. I think of how she still cries for her even though my grandmother who had had a stroke had not recognized her or her other children in more than two years. Yet, there was a comfort in her body present in the house, there was unity in the siblings who gathered to care for her, for a while longer they came together closer, even as age and adult children left homes and age slowed them down too. While my grandmother was alive, somewhere they were still children. I am still standing outside Chico’s and thinking now of my grandmother. The mannequins in the window in front of me are festive in whites and golds. I think of Didima and how she grew vegetables in her garden, how she loved her children and her prayers and how in the end she forgot them all long before she passed.
I start walking again and think of the three times we moved this year. From a big house to a small house, from Berkeley to Pune to Palo Alto. The movement reflects perhaps my restlessness more than anybody else’s in the family though the entire family reaped the joys and benefits of these migrations. India returned me to myself. As I have written before, being brown was so natural in India that it was only when I returned to India did I realize how that has often weighed on my behaviors and interactions in America, not just the brownness of my skin but the implications of a foreign culture that I carried on my back almost like an invisible hunchback. Returning to America made me realize how America was now irrevocably in my blood, how this was home and there was no escaping that fact either.
As defining as the exit was, so was the return. Life here means all the more to all of us now. I do not take for granted the securities and systems that define this country. I am grateful for the trash cans on the sidewalk, for traffic signals that work, for the assurance that my girls will grow up equal and free. I think of a friend who tells me how her aunt in India has had eight abortions because each fetus was a girl. Sex determination during pregnancy is illegal in India but it takes just a little bribe and abortions are readily performed. So many unwanted girls…
Such a pity. A country with so much promise, homes full of warmth, so much kinships and friendships and such easy open honesty, so much deep intelligence and history and traditions and rituals full of beauty and color and purpose and meaning. So much that is growing, so much that is not changing- still. There is no conclusion to this piece. No final last line that can neatly tie together this package, this experience of going back to one’s roots and coming back to one’s present. A new year is starting and there are no certainties, just hope. And in the closing of a year marked by violence around the globe, that hope has to be enough.