India is becoming America. Imagine the squiggly border lines turning and twisting. No, imagine its spirit shape shifting to reach out and become another country. Every day, little things that I turned my nose up at in America turns up to taunt and mock me here. “Doors are always open in India,” I used to tell Tom when we would go for our walks in Berkeley and Kensington. I would count the closed doors as idle past-time. There, no one sitting on their porches, no grand-parents playing with children, no friendly neighbors stopping to say hi and catch up on gossip and news and impromptu discussions over chai, no faces at all there actually on those walks, solitariness amidst rows of houses, surreal amidst fogs and mists rising from the bay. Plenty of faces here on the roads, plenty of impromptu tete a tetes over chai, but now no open doors, not at least where I live, an upscale neighborhood with bungalows and security guards. Doors decorated with artificial garlands of marigolds, myriad colored chains with images of deities and inscriptions hanging around wooden frames and sometimes the deities themselves lording over from atop and center of the closed doors; all shimmering and faded in the dust and smoke from cars and burning garbage.
A Birthday. It took me a while in America to get used to the concept that siblings were often not invited. “What? Why? Splutter. Mean. Rotten. Inhospitable.” I never bit my words then, and now I have to unfortunately swallow them. ” S.. would like to have this birthday only among her friends,” wrote a mom in one of my daughter’s classes in reply to my husband’s question if we could bring her siblings, especially as this event was particularly far from our house. But, but… this is not supposed to happen in India. Athiti devo Bhavo, the guest is God, even India tourism uses the line now to entice foreign visitors who have presumably never been treated as a God. This is how we do it in the West, we do not accommodate beyond our perceived limits. This is how we used to do it in India, no one is turned away. Apparently not any more.
What do I do now with this new India, in this new India? One can never run away. To belong no where is the plight of the castaway who left child-hood homes, got lost in waters and stranded then in new lands, islands with unknown names, strange inhabitants, customs and habits, continents you try to call home, lands where you even build a habitat, where you pretend to belong until the pretension seeps your life force out slowly, gently, surely through your ears, through your nostrils, through your toes and the tips of your fingers until finally through your heart, you can feel life and love gently seeping out like… death and that is when you know you must leave. This happened in America for me. Such curiosity now for India, this land that was mine and now no more, for this country so old, so new, for myself who belonged and now perhaps no more?