Have you ever lived on two opposite sides of the globe…exactly at the same time?
I have. In fact, I have been living that way for a long time now.
I want to keep it very simple this time. Look at this map. I’m talking about USA and India. They’re precisely on the opposite sides of each other on the globe.
Look at the dots and lines. On the U.S. map, it points perhaps to New York or Washington. On the Indian map, it perhaps points to Bombay, now called Mumbai. It could have pointed to New Delhi…or Kolkata (better known as Calcutta) where I left behind my father, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces…teachers…students…and hundreds of friends…literally hundreds of friends…and neighbors. These are people I grew up with and spent quality (or lazy) time with. In India, friends and neighbors are often like your family. In Kolkata or Benaras, you call your next door neighbor uncle or aunt; their daughter comes straight into your living room (they call it drawing room) — often the only room in the house — every morning to read the second newspaper or pages of the one and only newspaper you’re not reading; your mom would even treat her with some breakfast. Your childhood friend would show up and yell your name from the street; then he’d come in and have some tea and snacks with you before dragging you out to another friend’s house for a second round of tea.
I know of a few people in our North Calcutta whose children grew up believing their neighbors were their family members; they were heartbroken (and got very sick) when the neighbors moved away. There is a society in place, unlike here in America, where the society there was even thirty years ago is practically non-existent (now don’t tell me Facebook or Google Chat is society: that’s pure crap).
In the country where I grew up, if you needed help, and asked for ten people, a hundred would easily show up, causing you much annoyance. But that’s how it was. Calcutta and Bengal, particularly, were more like it (I have some knowledge to believe the entire Indian subcontinent used to be like that). There’s a society you could count on; there was a society you soaked up life from. Of course, with the neo-colonization of young minds and invasion of Facebook, Skype and online chat, it’s changing fast. But it’s still somewhat like it, especially in poor and low-income neighborhoods — like the one where I grew up.
India doesn’t have a time zone system. Unlike USA, it also doesn’t turn its clock forward or backward twice a year (here, I’m not using a metaphor, just in case you thought so). Therefore, roughly, discounting those zones and small time shifts in the U.S., when it’s nine o’clock in the morning here in the U.S., it’s approximately nine o’clock at night over there in India. When it’s five in the afternoon here, it’s five in the morning over there.
You think it’s fun that way? Like, imagining what people are doing back there at nine in the morning — getting ready to go to work or school when you’re about to contemplate a night-time reading or on weekdays, perhaps crash early? Do you find it exciting to imagine what if those people back there are thinking about you exactly at the same time? In fact, if you ran your imagination wild, and especially if you had imagination in the first place (or did not go brain dead after being displaced and isolated-exiled for so long), you could see mental pictures that nobody else could even dream of. That’s what I call imagination. Try it! I did.
Well, ah…maybe not: don’t try it if you can’t handle it. Many people can’t handle it. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend you lived your life like that. First, you’d fast slip into depression out of those rocking back ‘n forth emotions; secondly, you could either run somebody over here if you’re driving, or get run over by somebody if you’re walking. See picture below.
That imagination is academically exciting and nostalgically romantic. But not fun…especially the run-over part. Be stoic, be indifferent, and get rid of all your fluffy, corny, soppy, weepy, wimpy emotions. Live in one world only…at a time. Life will be peaceful that way…and you’ll have your bones where they’re supposed to be.
I am a first-generation immigrant. That means I came to America myself as an immigrant from India some two decades ago. I originally came as a foreign student to do my Ph.D. in biology; later, after being in science for many years, when I could afford time and money, I switched careers and got a second graduate degree to move into humanities. I also have no relatives in America; unlike many other immigrants who come here from various parts of the globe on family reunification, my small nuclear family and I lived here all by ourselves for so many years. Now, after being here for so long, we have found many wonderful friends; some of them have become like our family. Yet, the longing for India and the place and people we left behind still haunts us. Sometimes, the longing becomes unbearable.
Now, I’m not writing about it to sound like a cry-baby — a whiner. I’ve lived in America long enough to get rough and tough (in fine language, they call it acculturation). In America, you couldn’t survive as a first-generation immigrant if you’re not rough and tough: you’d plain wither away. I’ve seen a lot of whiners and whimpers especially from India who simply perished because they could never adjust to this new land that asks for nerves and muscles. I’m just glad after the first couple of years (when there was a constant urge to return to India), we got used to it, and made the best out of it. This new land had a lot to offer — good and bad — and we took advantage of both: the good to make us better, and also the bad to make us understand what is good and what is bad. In India, in Calcutta, Mumbai, Karachi or Dhaka, nobody teaches you the bad unless you grew up bad; immediate result is that you snap and buckle and break down at the first encounter of bad. Or, you get sucked up quick in the bad quicksand.
Anyway. I shall come back and write more. You come back too. You’ll like it. Promise.
I know you will.
Brooklyn, New York