Once the initial wonder of the swachh USA passes you by, taking up a whole week and a whole lot of phone calls, back home, relaying your experiences with the lack of abandoned plastic bags, stairways sans the thookna mana hain pleas, and back alleys smelling of lilies instead of the stench of generations of pee, there comes the lull and the consequent homesickness (Read My experience of moving to USA from India).
The community of Indian students, freshly arrived from their homeland, are faced with not just the geographical shift but rather a transformation of society, their familiar network, and the harsh realization of an uprooted existence. Time usually takes care of filling up the existential gaps, but certain feelings, of the home connection, are never really expunged from their system.
Here are the most common causes of desi nostalgia, we will henceforth call purani lungi aur sitar…
What Indian students miss the most about India
1. The Festivals
Indians spend a whole year recovering from the last year’s festival celebrations. And there are more season’s greetings than there are seasons, with most Indians looking for the smallest excuse to take the revelry on to the streets.
Be it multicolored faces during Holi, the brightly dressed Bengalis celebrating the week long Durga Puja, the exotic food during Eid, the sweets and patterned lights in Diwali, or the various shapes of Santa at every street corner during Christmas.
We are famous for our exuberance, taking every festival to a Bollywood level of extravagance. While most veteran NRIs manage to create a community that does play a somewhat happy substitute for keeping up with the ol’ country traditions, Indian students often find themselves hugging a pillow, instead.
The memories of families getting together, old chums hanging out and mixing fake bhaang, are all too fresh to be replaced with the poised international version, arranged quietly over the weekend, in the local public school gymnasium…
2. Relations Relations
Speaking of families getting together, a lot of desi students land up in small campus towns, far from the usual metropolitan glamour, and hundreds of miles away from the New Jersey vale Gupta uncle.
Naturally, socializing becomes limited to other wide eyed fresh off the boat freshmen from all over the world. While a great way to open your global wings, it does leave a void which was once filled with invading relations from everywhere, back home. Cousins, cousin’s cousins, padosis, padosi ke padosis, and so on.
What may have felt like a gross nuisance suddenly seems like a fond recollection. After all, when was the last time any average Indian teenager ever realized what privacy is all about? The mere translation from a full house to an empty nest is enough to yearn the discomfort of having eight people to one bathroom!
3. Chaat and Chatni
Food is an integral part of an Indian’s existence. With a country as multicultural, as it is, its food does a great job of keeping up with variety. Street food is ambrosia and we have golgappa water running in our veins.
You can take a young hot blooded Indian out of the chaat street corner, in India, but you will never be able to take the desire for the chatpata out of an Indian. As some wise desis have been known to say, “What is street food without the sweat, dirt, and grime of the streets mixed with it?” Amen.
So when young Indian students desperately wander foreign roads in search for their spice fix, their mind often travels back to the happy days of sneaking out to grab a plate of the forbidden bhel puri on a first date.
4. Cricket and phatta
When you are far from the maddening cricket crowd, the fever usually passes by tangentially. Being away from a billion some population, crazy about national level sports, your own craze has a tendency to pale and fall off from your passion list.
Leaving home also often means leaving the neighborhood club of phatta players, joining in to translate Kohli’s latest moves onto the colony park. Of course, there are exceptions who stick to the game like a religion.
However, when the majority of people, around, only speak NFL, NHL, or the Baseball World Series, world famous in America, you tend to get left out with no takers for Cricket, or people eager to understand why its lovers are willing to spend days watching innings after innings between the same contesting teams.
5. The Chaos
The problems, that Indian students face, are usually coupled to how much exposure these students have had to the American culture, prior to their move to the US. That being true, what they often don’t realize is that what they see, in the media, is the glitz of the big American cities, and not the tiny little mid-western town that they usually end up in, studying for the next two to ten years.
They are hit by the sudden silence, tranquil enough to listen to their own heart beating, often for the chaotic noise that they have left behind. Miles and miles of corn fields, or quite mall parking lots, envelope their surroundings, replacing the familiar picture of streets full of people.
And when the lack of human contact becomes a bit darn much to take, the child in them makes that call back home to Mom. Who else could one wake up in the middle of the night anyway?
The pangs may come in waves, but the thoughts remain constant. Of course, each passing year takes away a shade of longing with it. Humans are creatures of habit. Once the nature of the newly adopted lifestyles begin to sink in, the pangs begin to become less frequent, surfacing back only when the homesick pining is triggered by some lost, but not forgotten, memories. But, however seasoned you may get, ye jo des hain tera has a peculiar way of pulling your heart strings east ways, even making some of the hard core firang converts seek out the Indian in them.
So, come festival season, when your emotions come rushing back, do as the Good Witch said…
Close your eyes. Clap your heels together three times and think to yourself…
…There’s no place like home!