A little blue booklet sits tucked behind my passport. Cover reads: Certificate of Registration, Overseas Citizen of India. I look up. Matt and Madi: two familiar faces, one seasoned, one infantile. We are currently on the way to Jaipur, our fourth stop in this sub-continental journey.
Goats patrol the concrete. Cows meander the fields. The occasional monkey claws its way across the dusty terrain. This is my homeland.
How many times I’ve thought this since stepping foot to the soil. Often comforting, often sorrowful. I am a foreigner all the same. Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Ahomese: our bloodlines intersect in ancestry. Yet, I look out to all of them and feel so much difference, so much dissimilarity.
My first full day in Mumbai, I watched the local youth stroll through the endless courtyard of Phoenix Mall. I was eating at a restaurant; between us stood a huge pane of glass. I thought to myself: this divide will
I fell asleep on Madi’s lap on the way from Delhi to Agra. Drifting into unconsciousness, childhood memories of India flooded in: 6th grade. We were visiting Tamil Nadu to attend my oldest uncle’s-first daughter’s marriage, exploring the sights of our state after. In the back seat of an SUV, I was resting in my aunt’s lap. It was right before I had a major growth spurt. Air conditioner blowing in my face, I tried to sleep, but my mind raced with uncertainty. Each morning and each evening, I hopped in and out upon other’s whims.
Now over six feet, I was scrunched into a weird cousin of the fetal position – feet pressed against the window glass, knees brushing against the front passenger seat. Lying in her lap, the same feeling plagued my mind: uncertainty. We had all planned this together. Even if Matt was 100 km away, each stop, each journey, it had all been
36 days of desensitization to animals eating roadside garbage: June 2. Perched on a black plastic chair, I eyeball Belgian Fries Co. and Baker Street Bistro Café. Madi and Matt are beside. While nostalgia is coming full circle in the former, childlike infatuation characterizes the other. I’m somewhere in between… I think. Actually, no, I have no idea. Over the past couple days, I’ve found myself absorbed in the sights and landscapes, yet, the more and more I see of my country, the deeper this sense of isolation grows.
United States of America is printed on the black leather binder that I clutch. Reaching inside, I pull out a small blue booklet tucked under the cover. It reads: Certificate of Registration, Overseas Citizen of India. I flip open the cover and there I am, smiling in early pubescent glory. I turn back to my passport, spreading the binding. There I am again. My mustache has seen better days since.
Reconciling cultural identity was the biggest crisis of my adolescent development. From one to neither to both, I continually oscillated alongside a spectrum of Indian and American. The color of my skin, the familial customs, the difference in diet: the endless differences seemed to exponentially compound. Yet, I talked like an American, my influences were Western, and I often prefer steak to tandoori chicken. The wheel continued to spin, and I eventually came to believe myself as both: an Indian-American.
I look out now to the myriad of people seated around me and wonder how much we really connect. The symbols, the clothes, the colors, the customs, they all conjure up familiar memories and ideas, but the people have never felt so distant.
What is it to know what makes a people tick? Is it simply to know their customs, their beliefs, the environment in which they exist? Or is
Taking a rickshaw back from Sparsha – the NGO at which Madi interned – I thought only of the children. I’ve never been with so many in such close quarters; I can understand her motherly attachment. The thought of them makes me smile: the youth are rising, one by one. Little Raju fell asleep in my lap while some girls acted out the Jungle Book.
I have forgotten innocence.
While part of that excites me, deep down it pains me. Adulthood often lends itself to unnecessary complications. One of the girls asked me what I studied. I told her philosophy. She didn’t know what it was.
None of them did.
Ideas, concepts, laws, principles, thought experiments: I perceive the world as constructed from all these little premises and conclusions, together compounding into one never-completely-comprehensible whole. As John Stuart Mill would emphasize, it is our duty to cultivate the minds of those who are not yet in the maturity of their faculties. Carrying Raju around and swinging him through the air, I saw little pain in his eyes. The absence of questions has given him so many more answers.