I got back about three week ago and I am readjusting to life in the United States. There are many things about America that I missed but I would rather talk about how Indian has changed me and why. Here’s the link to Part I in case you missed it.
Since January, I lived with my parents and had been a part of their daily lives in a way I had not been for many years. Adult children do not often get to experience the daily lives of their retired parents or even see them as regular people. My parents have full and rich lives in India and are very active in their faith community. During my extended trip, they took me to see many relatives. Some I met for the first time and others who, unfortunately, may not be alive for my next trip to India. In some cases, we were visiting graves and lighting candles. Despite the sadness, I felt quite blessed to make these connections. Many of my relatives were just names to me. Now I have faces, names, childhood stories, and in some cases, I am Facebook friends with them too. Thanks to my parents and their generosity, I traveled across some parts of India for the first time. I had the opportunity to study Malayalam and Hindi and to just be an Indian girl hanging out with her parents drinking hot chai or kappi and eating masala dosa or parotta and egg roast during road trips.
While I enjoyed myself and the adventures with my parents, I also learned a great deal about myself and who I am. It is often harder to be true to yourself than it is to move across the country or take a new job. Believe me, I have moved across the world and the United States for different jobs. None of that was harder than being honest with myself about who I am, what I want, and most importantly, what I do not want for my life. Because of my time in India, I know and accept that I will always be a modern Indian woman no matter where I work or live. Modern, because I deeply respect our values but I, respectfully and sometimes not so respectfully, object to some of our cultural practices and expectations. Part of my journey was to explore my motherland as a woman in her forties, and I have done that. I will never be the traditional Indian woman with a husband and children perpetuating gender assigned roles or embodying the typical (sometimes stereotypical) submissive and accepting quiet female who does as she is told by her male relatives. This is not for me. However, I will always be my parents’ oldest child and Leenamama or Aunt Sue to my nieces and nephews. In addition to knowing and loving who I am now, I look forward to the next part of my life journey.
Before I left India, I was excited about starting the new PhD program and moving on to the next phase of my life. Now that I have been back in the U.S. for three weeks, I am even more grateful for these last five months in India. Without India, I would not be who I am today. Without my culture and history, I would not be who I am today. My family may joke that I am still a FOB (a Fresh off the Boat Indian) in many ways, and I will agree with one modification – I am a modern FOB and I am damn proud of it.