Home At Last
'I am supposed to be going home,' thought Aparna to herself. 'But why do I feel that I have left home behind?' She and her parents had visited India after twelve years. It was Aparna's first trip to the country of her origin. Financial constraints and visa problems had prevented her parents from visiting the country of their birth for so long. Finally, they had planned the trip and now they were on
their way back.
Aparna gazed out of the window into the blue sky stretching endlessly in front of her. Home to her had always been the city near Dallas, in America, where she had been born. As a child, she had felt no different from the other fair-skinned, blue-eyed children. Only when she had
entered school did she realize that she was not one of the majority. And as her horizons widened, she had found out that she lived differently from the rest of people who occupied her small world.
"I want sausages and eggs for breakfast like Susan," she would ask of her mother.
Her mother would patiently explain to Aparna that they were pure vegetarians and they did not eat meat. "Maybe when you are older and are able to make your own decisions you may decide to become a non-vegetarian," her mother had added gently.
Rice and other Indian food were her diet which upset her and she longed to eat the food her friends ate. They openly did not make fun of her, but she knew that behind her back they laughed at her. The suspense when she opened her lunch box embarrassed her! She would stare mortified at the 'idlis' or the 'upma', sometimes even rice. She would long to see sandwiches like her school friends brought! Daily battles with her mother did ensure that she got sandwiches, but only once in a while!
Her accent was faultless and American, but she knew she was different! Her colour was different; her name was different, and difficult to pronounce too! And when she filled in forms etc., she qualified under 'Others'. Why was she not just one of the crowd? She began to dislike anything related to her origin that made her different. She was ashamed that she was not an American! She refused to speak her mother tongue at home and always created a fuss when asked to join in Indian cultural activities and festivals her parents took her to. They all made her stand apart, and she did not quite like it! She really wanted to belong here! After all, she knew no place else but this, and this was her home!
Aparna was ashamed of her parents! They spoke English in such a different way. Even after living in America for so many years, her father had an Indian twang that never went! Her mother always wore saris and a nose ring!
"Why can't you wear jeans?" she had asked of her mother. "Mohan's mother wears jeans, and her hair is cut stylishly! You don't fit in with your long plait and bindi!"
Her mother had smiled gently at her. "It is difficult to change if you don't want to," she had said softly. "It is always so easy to give up your individuality and become a part of the crowd. To dress like they do, and talk and act like they do! But we are Indians and I was brought up in a certain way and it is difficult to give it up. Neither do I want to! Just because we live here, it does not mean we have to become like Americans! Like you have been brought up as per American life style, so you are different from us."
Aparna was mortified when her mother attended the Parent-Teacher meetings or when her father participated in the workshops with her. They both just stood out! They were not like the other parents who belonged! She was ashamed of her feelings about her parents.
She was proud of them in her own way. Her father had come to America to study and by sheer brilliance and dint of hard work had landed a job. He had sent money back home to help his family, not allowing himself the luxury of visits. He had gone only once to marry, and after that they had scrimped and saved to provide for their only child, Aparna. They gave her all the luxuries they never had! The trip to India had materialized after a long time and Aparna had been mortified as well as excited. She had been hugged and kissed and exclaimed over. But what had amazed her was that she felt that everything was so familiar! She was not very fluent in her mother tongue but could understand it well. All the same, the way her parents jabbered in, it amazed her!
Aparna had been surprised to learn that her father could speak five other Indian languages and her mother three. 'I never knew there were so many Indian languages and that Mummy and Daddy knew so many!' she thought. And her mother had never looked more beautiful to Aparna as she dressed up in exotic silk saris, with flowers in her hair, her diamond earrings and nose ring shining.
Her father's laughter and loud voice boomed at home in these surroundings! He was in his element here and how much her uncles and cousins looked up to him. They almost revered him, she thought!
The trip had been an eye-opener. She saw her parents in a new and different light. This was where they belonged.
This was their home! Here they were in their environment and they shone like bright stars! They were 'at home' here! And then, she understood how difficult it must have been for them to adjust and settle down in America. Especially when they were so different and had a different culture and different set of values. Yet, they had never stopped her from doing what she wanted to and had never forced her to feel that she was different! They had never tried to force her to do what she did not want to, and though they must have been hurt at her attitude and rebellion to anything Indian, yet they had never taken it out on her.
Aparna grew up suddenly, during her visit to India, and matured beyond her years. She was proud of her parents and realized that she had been unfair to compare them with the parents of her American friends or even of other Indian children. She was ashamed of the feelings she had harboured for so long!
Her mother leant over and smiled at her. "Glad to be going home? Missed America, didn't you?" she teased.
Aparna smiled at her in reply. She was determined that she would also be as Indian as her parents. And she would learn to read and write her mother tongue and actively take part in all the Indian cultural activities which she had shunned for so long! It should not be too difficult to fit into two cultures! Had her parents not done so? And satisfied she settled down for a snooze.