Worlds Apart

It’s a complicated thing to shift base from where you have stayed all your life and move to a foreign country to start life over, anew and clueless. Except, I wasn’t really starting over when I moved to the United States in August, 2011. I couldn’t see it back then, as the excitement of independence and adventure loomed large over my head, overshadowing every other emotion. But, one thing I would come to miss the most over the next couple of years were the people I loved that I had to leave behind. And of course, thanks to globalization, the Internet, and the American sitcoms that get aired in India months after the actual release, I thought of myself as not so clueless about the culture here. The cafes, parks, Christian weddings, street musicians, high school dramas and pop music – pardon the clichés, but this is the America exposed to those of us in the Third World, and I looked forward to every bit of it!

A lot has changed since then, both in terms of how I see the world and how the world sees me (I think). Sometimes, when I try to recount the things that I do differently as a consequence of getting used to life in America, it seems to me that I have picked up a way of life that I never would have back in India. Right from the littlest of things such as keeping the bathroom floors dry and liking Balsamic vinegar, to major changes in opinions and mindset. For instance, I now believe that it is sometimes okay to put long term goals at risk to have a good time right now – indeed, America lives in the present!

Quoting something I wrote when I was just a month into life as a graduate student in Pittsburgh:
“I suppose there are lots of things one can write about in a new country, especially when it’s the United States. There are perpetual joggers, carpeted floors, two-pin plugs, electric stoves and shower curtains. The 7:00 p.m. sunlight is an understated delight and the mandatory small talk a little less so. And like it or not, 13-gallon trash bags, flavored yogurt and morning cereal soon become a way of life. Also, that feeling of utter smugness when you are registering yourself on a site online, and find that you don’t have to modify the default country and time zone settings.”

That was then. I’d probably come up with subtler observations today. I find it interesting how a lot of things have become second nature to me already. Things like not feeling the need anymore to do the math and convert from U.S. dollars to Indian rupees when judging if something is reasonably priced. I’m now an expert at converting between time zones. Agreed, I don’t really understand what daylight savings is all about, but hey, I’ve learned to live with it!
Yes, apart from the pangs of missing family and friends back home, I’m in love with life in the States. The independence, prosperity, opportunities, and the respect for individual opinions here is commendable.

India, on the other hand, is a mess of charming chaos that wins brownie points for its sheer beauty and warmth, but still has a lot to learn from the West. It is a country rich in culture and traditions, yet not above their misuse to satisfy individual whims and fancies. It’s a nation plagued with the woes of being labeled “developing” for more than 65 years. I cannot really comment on the political and social issues in the two countries as I’m neither qualified nor very inclined to do it at this point – but little everyday events are enough to see how stark the difference is.

To be honest, even as I write this, I am thinking about how I’m neither here nor there. I feel somewhat guilty to be expressing opinions on either of the two countries. To one, I’m an “alien,” and I abandoned the other, even if only temporarily. But sometimes to console myself, I think that perhaps in a way I belong to both. Every morning in gorgeous Boston, as I swipe my Charlie card and board the T to work, I am thankful to America and the life it has given me – the job, the friends and the wisdom. However, I’m also convinced by the truth in the statement that you can take a man out of his country, but never his country out of him. Like the other day, when the nice lady at the cafe handed me my coffee in a paper cup marked with the words “Caution: Hot beverage,” I was surprised to notice a wave of nostalgia wash over me, taking me back to the filled-to-brim hot steel tumblers you’re handed in a hurry at cheap restaurants on Indian streets, so crowded that you’re shoved out from in front of the counter even before you manage to get a grip on your drink. Indeed, a lot of times people ask me, and sometimes I have wondered myself – how much do I miss India, and do I at all? I usually respond by mentioning that my computer is still set to Indian Standard Time, and hope that answers the question.

—Sadhwi Srinivas

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