I open the calculator on my computer and type in 2018 minus 2001 and the answer pops out as 17. Of course, I knew the answer and didn’t need a calculator to do the math that my second grader can do in his sleep. But one feels the need for validation when the brain tells one thing but the heart feels something else. It simply cannot be 17 years, says my good old heart. But of course, it is, refutes my sassy brain. God, 17 years is a long long time, it does not feel that long ago. It absolutely does not! So goes my heart, utterly in denial, that I have been away from my home country for 17 years.
In the initial years, I remember meeting an Indian who was away from the country for a long time and did not know about Sachin Tendulkar when I spoke of him. I fell off my chair. How could you not? He is practically a God for a nation of over billion?
Fast forward 17 years…
I am very much that person today. I know very little about what is happening in India. Having lived most of my adult life outside of India, I feel disconnected to the dynamics of day to day living in India. The excitement of visiting India is overshadowed by the anxiety over logistics and practical difficulties. The India of today feels so alien to me.
I go an extra mile to go to sunday school to be on time for special assembly to sing the Indian national anthem. I tear up every time I sing Jana Gana Mana. Yes, Every. Single. Time. No rhyme or reason, no exaggeration. I hang out with the desi moms from Hari’s cricket group, and can’t help but notice that the conversation feels intuitive and effortless. I swell with pride when Hari quizzes me on Indian states and capitals and knows more than what I do or when Ram sings, oodi vilayadu papa. I go out of the way to stay involved in the local Indian American organization so we can bring exposure to all things Indian to the broader community. When conversations on Whatsapp revolve around how NRIs, and non-citizens, do not have the eligibility to complain or comment about the Indian state of affairs, it stings. All I I want to say is, I still care. Is that not reason enough?
Being an Indian has become that intangible feeling that does not scream out loud but a subtle and comforting presence that I carry with me at all times.
Happy Independence Day India.