How do u explain being Indian to anybody? - by Mary Vadakkan Back     Home  

The smell of damp mud transcends my mind to the past, my childhood days in Bombay. Today is one such day in U.S that brings back memories both good and bad. I walk across the ped mall that reminds me of the long walks I used to take with my friends in India. The jokes we used to laugh about and the fun we had. My memories were baked old when I revisited India after being in U.S for such a long time. It was a trip full of experiences and moments to be unfolded. While I was away, time had stopped for me. And I had a lot of catching up to do in a month. I had missed a lot of experiences and stories being out of India.

Loud traffic, pestering taxi drivers and beggars awoke me from my long slumber as I stepped out of the airport. I was actually in India absorbing like a sponge everything that came my way. My first impression was that a lot of things (and faces) had changed. During the trip, I had been bragging to my brother, "Arre", wait until we hit Andheri, I know the locality. But before I knew it, Andheri had passed and so had the locality I grew up in. The entire "naksha" of the place had changed. I would not have recognized the area if it hadn't been for my Dad. As I stepped inside the building, all these peering faces went by like a slide show. Then one by one, I matched names to the faces. The long gone familiarity was back and I felt at home once again.

My very first goal was to do everything that I could not do in U.S. I was like a kid who had just got her dream trip to Esselworld and was eagerly waiting to try out every ride, but not knowing which to choose first. I definitely had to try "ganne ka ras"(sugarcane juice which was quite alien to the Americans I know). My friends in the U.S had assured me that things would not be the same when I go to India. But I was happy to find that my favorite drink still tasted the same. And of course, my friends and I had our long walks, flavored with stories of the past; chatting about "Rose" and the "Friendship" days that I had missed. I revisited Juhu Beach and tried out every kind of junk food sold there. It was a pleasurable experience since there were hardly any restaurants that offered Vada Pav, sugarcane juice or even Bhel puri in U.S. I was very fortunate that just like the sugarcane juice none of my friends had changed. They were still the same friends I had left years ago. My stay in Bombay would not have been as memorable if it hadn't been for them.

Oddly enough, living in the US taught me more about our culture. The rituals and the traditions that I never before had to explain now required clarification. My classmates in the US would ask me about the "dot" which was referred to our "bindi". Is it a Ruby or a Garnet? At first such questions would annoy me. Then I realized after all, curiosity is part of human nature. My American friends were just trying to learn more about my culture and me. At times, the questions seemed never-ending and it got tiring. The explanations were quite difficult for me. How do you try to explain to a person who has never been to India about cultures in India? How do u explain being Indian to anybody? There is no formula like our Bollywood movies to explain"Indianness". To me, it's an "aviyal" (a kerala dish that has all kinds of vegetables in it), a mesh of different colors that each has their own uniqueness. To some India brings to mind lots of jungles, snakes and unending poverty. To others, India means something more spiritual.

My trip to India made me realize that everyone in India seemed to be trying to become more western while Indians in the US were trying to be more Indian. The Diwali function at our college is like preparing for the Oscars. Everyone is deciding which Indian outfit to wear to the function. It's the one time of year when you actually wear the ghagra -choli or the sari that has been lying in the closet dry -cleaned for months. It's the one time of year, where both Indians and non-Indian students come to the event to learn more about Indian culture.

We realize the worth of an object only when we lose it. Its like taking simple gestures, customs for granted. You miss them only when they are no longer in your presence. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I have changed a lot going to places and being among different cultures. One admires the beauty of other cultures thereby achieving a new respect for their own. It makes you feel Indian at heart not guju or malu or gulti and so on.

This article, published in explains the feelings of an Indian..who is still an Indian.. even after leaving India. I am eagerly waiting for my trip to India this December. God! I miss India sooo much!