The voices of my son’s friends running around in the compound, calling out my name and running to me to say ‘hi’ is an image that I long for here, knowing fully well that it isn’t possible. Sometimes I wish all those people were here, then I know I would feel at home. It’s a strange place to be in, because I have lived here in Toronto for over five years but I don’t necessarily feel this is my home.
After being here, I have realized that home is not just my husband and my child, it is the extended ethos – those chaatwalas on the streets, the crowded markets, familiar sounds and smells. There are all of those here too, but they don’t know me nor do I know them well enough. I want to be stopped several times by familiar faces after having parked the car, just to have a chat about the day. I want to take two hours to get home from the parking lot because of the number of people I have to chat with!
This transition just wasn’t easy for me and still isn’t because those memories are so vivid in my head. I think it’s my age; I moved here in my late thirties and I have found that people become quite rigid by then, at least I have. I have very, very specific choices in friends, in food and just everything and the number of years in India made sure that my expectations were met. To start over in a new place is really tough – getting a new license, finding work, making new friends and making a history!
All of us have a history in our countries and specifically where we were brought up; our school, the places where we hung out with friends, our neighbourhood, picnics with our parents or siblings and these small memories are unlimited. All of this together forms our history and creates a sense of belonging. But today’s generation seems more comfortable making a new history every few years or may be they have several histories. I am quite surprised when I see them assimilate in the new culture, because they turn around and ask me why I want to go back! “Do you not miss everything back home?” I want to ask them, but I see it being redundant, it seems like they don’t.
It is during festivals that I miss India the most! If it’s Diwali, then it’s Diwali for everyone. The whole city is lit up! My friends and I discussed the sweets and savouries made, talked about temple visits, visited relatives and that really is the essence of any festival. Here first of all, the festival is not celebrated on the day of it, then when I go to work I can’t tell anyone what I made or where I am going, because nobody cares. They don’t know about the festival so what can I possibly tell them? So if I could recreate that atmosphere here, along with transporting all those people, this could feel like home!
It’s not that there aren’t any friends here, there are, but my relationship with them is very similar to the unfamiliarity with the place, they don’t know my history! I can’t just pick up the phone and start complaining about something or I can’t just call to gossip – that takes making history together. Here there are fewer opportunities too, because people are so busy doing chores and they have so many responsibilities that it is tough to make time for each other. Even catching up is a scheduled routine, I can’t just spring up on people and nobody does that with me either. This kind of lifestyle ends up making relationships formal and then they lack the flair of spontaneous relationships in India.
In India, we have a very integrated social system, you always have people to depend on when things don’t go right, unlike here. Everyone is really insecure most of the time because if there is a crisis there is no one really to fall back on and somehow there is a feeling that no one is there for you. The social system here seems weak right now, we probably have to make it as we go along.
Sometimes people ask me if I want to go back in spite of all the chaos in India, it does scare me, but my answer is still yes. My mentee from Egypt sort of reinforced this for me, because I had the same view of Egypt due to all the media projections but he confirmed that his country was doing fine although some parts of it has problems. I think it is the same with India, there are problems but which country doesn’t have problems, that can’t hold me back. I would go back any day to experience my part of India again and again!