Trojan Postcards: Visiting India After a Semester Abroad

Last December, I watched as my roommates eagerly packed before they set off to spend their vacation at home. I couldn’t help but feel sad that I wasn’t. Staying away wasn’t new to me. I had lived independently before — for education and for work — away from the comfort of family. Looking back, moving for the first time had been a major upheaval. But even then, the initial homesickness had worn off as soon as I adapted to the hostel life. Eventually, I began enjoying it. I must have thought grad life would be no different.

Except it isn’t. I guess the thought that if need be, family is only a bus journey away is just so reassuring in your head, that the lack of it makes all the difference when you’re studying abroad.

So, when I finally got to visit India for a sibling’s wedding, I realized just how much I had missed the feeling of being home.

Photo from The Happy Page

Sure, today there’s Hangouts, Whatsapp and a plethora of apps competing to make sure you don’t miss even that tiny new bump that’s developed on your loved one’s face; but nothing could match the intimacy of seeing the animated sparkle in the eyes of my supportive spouse, for once not on a screen but as he welcomed me at the airport!

In Los Angeles, I am greeted by strangers all the time. I feel humbled every time a cab driver or a passerby asks me how I’m doing. But when my mom hugged me and asked me the same the moment I reached home, I realized how despondent I had been to hear it from her.

Initially when I had just moved here, I remember the nearly empty streets and the sheer silence of the neighborhood striking me as queer. For someone coming from a crowded country like India, it was very unsettling. It took the loud chatter of family and wedding house chaos to get me to admit how much I had missed it all.

On the other hand, at the risk of being branded as “Americanized” by family, I discovered how L.A. life had already changed me. When I first arrived in the United States, right hand side driving was very confusing for me, and I always assumed it would be the hardest to shake when I started driving myself.  But turns out, our brains are faster at unlearning than learning stuff. From the moment I hit the roads in India, the left hand side traffic made my mind send out confused signals. Just six months in the United States, and I realized I had started taking for granted, some basic necessities that are still luxuries back in India. I missed not having to bother about long power cuts, having central air conditioning everywhere and more often than I’d care to admit, turned faucet knobs the other way and wondered why there was no hot water. I realized just how much college slang had grown on me when I addressed dear husband as “dude.”

Saying goodbye to family felt more harder than ever this time, since the novelty of the “new life” that I had set out to seek earlier had worn off. I realized that as much as I loved having the newfound luxuries in my life and the freedom to explore new raw possibilities, taking on the world alone could get a little exhausting. I spent the first leg of the journey lamenting over how the anticipation of going home was more fun than actually going, since the days rolled by too fast! But a few pathetic in-flight meals later, I had made my peace with it; Sometimes you just have to suck it up, since happiness is only one small step outside of suffering.

I guess this is the grind for everyone living away from their families:

You value family more and slog to earn the chance to get back to them. And when you do get there, you revel at the luxury of being pampered by everyone and return loaded with the love and all the goodies that they so lovingly packed for you.

At the customs counter at LAX., the officer asked me if I was carrying chicken masala in my bag. And when I chuckled for a response, he remarked to the other passengers that Indians do get it.

I wasn’t really carrying chicken masala (I’m a vegetarian); but he was right, Indians can’t live without their spices! As I passed through the gates, I thought to myself — after those unpalatable in-flight meals, I definitely need to rake out that spicy chutney powder from my luggage for dinner tonight.

Shruthi Hiriyuru is a graduate student majoring in computer science. Her column, Trojan Postcards, runs every other week on Tuesdays.

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