Friday, December 18, 2015

Hello From the Other Side: America Diaries

17th December 2015 | Columbus | Ohio

My good people,

It's been a good 133 days since I relocated for my Masters to the United States. One hundred and thirty three days. It has taken me as long to get back to writing here as well. There are those loose, shaggy scribbles in a little poetry book that takes the beating of my ambivalent being that I can't quite share here for it's not the most understood pieces I have ever written, even to myself. I'll get there in a bit and resume that side of writing but tonight, for some strange reason, I thought I'd tell you about the little things of my life here. The little things because they are always the most important.

This country is beautiful in many ways. I have a great bunch of department friends who have been nothing short of lovely and helpful. I'm biting into this new dessert of independence and as incredible as it is, sometimes I take a step back and stare at the sweet cake for a while because too much of it makes me delirious in confusing ways. This tryst with earning one's own bread, making one's own bed, home, academics and thoughts is overwhelming. I'm making friends across different age-groups and it's absolutely engaging to see how differently they think, design, draw and formulate their thoughts. It's interesting to see their priorities, their opinions and their life goals. For someone in her mid-twenties, it pushes me a step back to rehearse and look through my own life, shuffle through my memories and throw away unnecessary ones and concentrating on my life ahead. I have been advised on how to network, the kind of boots to buy, to get home early and suggested the restaurants with good food. I have people who help me by telling me how many layers of clothes I should wear in the winter because well, coming from Madras, one is clearly incapable of making a rational choice in the face of the deadly cold.

There are the little intriguingly alluring things about my own self reflecting off of my ethnicity that I hadn't realised is beautiful until now. I had two cops asking me where my accent is from when I was making peace with a personal pizza place down my street. As stupid as it sounds, I didn't think I had an accent when I spoke English in India even as we could make out the state from which a person is from based on their 'accent'. Now, I represent a whole. My downstairs neighbour on the first night that we met on the porch of our apartment, cracked up at the way I pronounced some words (in a good way). He'd type a word on his phone and ask me to pronounce it. And then he'd laugh and I'd laugh at the way he'd laugh. That was a very good introductory night with no airs or complexities.

A lot of my American friends found it weird that you can make tea with ginger in it and asked me what it was called, the beverage itself. I would say it's tea and they'd go on to ask what chai is. It makes me grin when they say chai-tea, the redundancy tickling me and the great cultural and linguistic exchanges we have had over the last three months is nothing short of adorable, learning cultures off each other and rubbing off each other's minds with so many conversations. I sometimes hit the nearby bar that has a great number of same-sex couple turnout and I've had some very happy and freeing conversations with some of them. There are so many new sights, sounds and happenings! Some mornings, there is a bagpiper on my university grounds playing his music as I rush to my department. He just stands in the middle of the large central grounds called 'The Oval' and plays it in no rush, no hurry and in so much momentousness of an ordinary day. On that note, there is something very liberating about dancing to soul music between 1960-1973 at a bank-turned-club too. Dancing with a random stranger that night, it took me almost fifteen minutes to explain my name to him and you know what? They find the name and its meaning beautiful, fully. I can't remember the last time I felt a new sense of indulgence in my own name.

As much as the music, sounds and noises make my day, I am also making peace with my own silence and of late, Frederic Chopin has been my most musical and emotional aide. This composition in particular has pulled me through so many nights and I have been cramming my diary with so many thoughts that this new country offers, making so much art as the first Fall brushed by and now, I can't as easily sketch in the cold as my fingers get numb too quickly but I attempt still, as my lines fail to be straight. But since the wavering has a story in itself, I let it be and let myself go ahead with the colours and the imperfect lines. I'm consciously documenting my life here and it's simply amazing to see how different everything is and how it's just as similar too. People care, people love and people are nice. My building's janitor is a lovely lady with a timid smile and it takes me back to times in school where our 'ayahs' would smile at us with so much love and a sense of responsibility. My professors are a fun bunch and I even play soccer with one of them and some other new people of late; and most often, even if I'm probably the worst one on the field, I can't stop myself from smiling simply because this experience is exhilarating and joyful.

Does all this replace home and India? No. It doesn't. I miss being back home. I miss my parents, my marvelous mongrels on the road and the roadside tea shops. I miss that Cheta and his tea, the Marwari chaat shop and the fresh juice shop at Annanagar Roundabout. I miss Ayyapan temple and my charming grandparents, my best friends' houses I barge into after they tell me specifically not to come and their families. Oddly, I miss that hot humidity too. I miss how I knew people and dogs on every street, Bhai's grocery store and my college mates who are all now in different directions. There are nights here that runs on a thin line between being alone and being in solitude. But tonight is one of those nights I'm thankful for all the newness that has found home within me. I'm glad for the experiences that is chiseling me into a stronger, hopefully better and more evolved person. The word 'home' is going through some beautiful transitions and I can't wait to see its more morphed and understandable state soon.

A belated 'Hello America!'. Life is beautiful tonight with Chopin's nocturne in the background, yellow lights warming me up even as the temperature hits below zero outside.

Until next time!

My apartment currently :) 


  1. It was enjoyable reading all of this, almost like a window into your life and times there. :) I could relate with much of it for I was far too young and impressionable when I left home too. Trust me, we all find our way somehow. Love.

    1. Thanks Yashas. I guess I'm just grappling at the edges of this because it's my first time away from home, and so far. I should come around soon. I am enjoying this experience though, a lot. Can't wait for you to come here too, soon! We can do so much!

  2. He a beautiful way of expressing transition from one milieu to another.Nice keep it up

  3. Can I just say that you have written everything, I mean evrything that one would feel leaving from home (read Madras) and shifting to a all new country. I have been out for 77 days or so and I could relate to every emotion penned down here.. It is like one those bitter sweet window into the life that you cannot avoid!!!!
    I am sure we will find our way somehow :) :) Cheers and Lots of Love :)

    1. Hey Kini!
      True that. Sometimes I wish there was a portal that could magically take you back to Madras for a long night. It's a very interesting part of growing up and I'm sure we are going to emerge stronger! Love!

  4. Reading this, for me, was like a page in a novel that unconsciously soaks me into it giving me the feeling that I am present in whatever you are thinking and doing. It was an excellent journey, dear Hemu and thanks for leading us with you. I also feel a peculiar kind of ache for home after reading this post -- a part of me wants to be at home and a part of me wants to experience solitude and quiet which one feels in a faraway land.

    I wish you all the best. Cheers to newness and fresh perspectives. Looking forward to reading more of your America chronicles.

    Joy and love,

    Susan Deborah

    1. Hi Susan!
      Thank you so much. I'm enjoying this experience a lot but I am also missing home. Makes me wrestle with what makes me: travel or being home, in a place that knows you so well. Thank you so much for letting me know what you think! Hope I get to meet you guys soon.



What do you think? Go on and write it away!