December 25, 2010 Mumbai, India
I was nervous about coming to India again. Worried that revisiting this country where I have so many amazing memories and experiences could somehow be erased. I wondered if being a tourist in India would change my perspective; cause me to only see the negative aspects and miss the beauty I saw in the subtle things during my initial trip.
During the relatively short plane ride from Bahrain to Mumbai, as much as I thought, I could not remember India. Though throughout my time in the Middle East, I compared all my experiences to India, I could not take myself back to what it felt like to actually be there.
The moment I stepped out of the airport and took in a deep breath of the humid, stuffy, Mumbai air, all the emotions I felt 15 months prior came rushing back to me. The people, the culture, the emotions, and the complexity that makes India was suddenly so vivid in my mind and I was so excited to experience it again through a new perspective.
In the following days, I spent some time in Mumbai and Pune, the cities I would escape to anytime I needed a bit of western modernization. I reunited with old friends and the organization I worked at in Rajgurunagar. I visited the site of the coffee shop that I spent many weekends in to sadly find it was bombed last year and now is nothing but ruble. I walked through the same markets I bought my sarees and shalwar kameez in with the vendors and tailors yelling out to me, “You are the girl from America. We remember you!”
There are times in your life that you think you can never recapture or go back to. I would often think about my ‘Indian’ family in the village and know that even if I went back to visit them, it would never be the same as it was during the monsoon summer I spent there. Yet, during this trip, somehow I had transcended this impossibility and transported myself back in time.
Together with my friend Smita, who is now pregnant, and my cousin Haleh, we made the trek up to the village of Pargaon to reunite with Uncle, Savita Tai, Kunal and Neelam. Though I jumped up to embrace them with excitement, initially, they just stood there and looked at me with a blank stare and nervous smile. I was not sure how to read their reaction but soon after realized that they were still in disbelief that I was actually back in the village. After taking a few moments to let it all settle in, the distance disappeared and suddenly it felt like time had stood still as we quickly reverted back to our old ways.
Little had changed for them since I had left over a year ago other than a new computer they had acquired for Neelam’s studies in computer science and a wooden desk that houses it. They took a major loan from a friend in the village to purchase it and are the first family in Pargaon to own a computer. Although their electricity is quite unreliable with frequent power outages and a computer was not only way out of their budget but so far from their reality, they believe in their daughter so much that they are determined to provide her with any educational opportunity. Kunal has also enrolled in a trade school for mechanics in Pune and the family scrounges money together each month to pay for his tuition, room and board. Other than that, their lives have continued as normal. They still wake up each morning at 5:00 am and wait in line to bring water from the well and tend to their daily chores. Savita Tai still lunch at the elementary school every day while Uncle tailors saris for the local families.
While I was there, we embraced every single moment we had together. During the day we made our rounds through the village, visiting everyone from the school children to each family who invited us for Chai and Pooha (a special yellow colored rice dish made with turmeric, peanuts, coconut and green peppers that is served to guests). Smita and I would talk about our days wondering the village and how life has changed since receiving our MSWs. Once dark set in, although we neatly laid our blankets on the floor to sleep together in a long row like sardines, we would stay up all night dancing, laughing and reminiscing about our time together. Much of our conversations were not understood by either one side or the other yet the emotions that transpired were so clearly felt by all of us that words were not needed.
At one point Savita Tai, my Indian mom, turned to me (with the help of Smita translating) and said, “I never actually believed that you would come back. I thought it was just a fantasy I kept alive in my mind. Now that you are here, I feel like I am dreaming and I don’t want to let you go again.”
Though the time was very short, and saying goodbye again was so hard, this time I was not filled with the same sense of sadness I felt the first time I left. Seeing my family in the village reaffirmed how deep of a connection and bond I have with them that miles, years and even silence between us can never break. The overwhelming caring and feelings of love filled with purity and genuineness reminded me of how much they taught me about life and myself while I was living with them. I felt a different part of me, one which I now see as a really significant part, come back to life. I know that no matter what happens what I have there, with this special family, is irreplaceable and will not disappear. Last time I said goodbye, I felt like I was losing something so special and leaving it behind. Coming back I realized that I have this special bond, and this family’s presence in my life, ALWAYS, and it is something that cannnot be lost. I no longer wondered IF I would ever come back to them and this part of my life again but knew it was only a matter of when.
To read more about my time and experiences working and living in India please visit my blog: http://www.roxanaindia.blogspot.com/
I really really missed reading your blogs. When I read them I feel it all. So beautiful.