Posted by maansi
Last weekend was an important anniversary for me.
That date, in all of its bittersweet glory, is indelibly marked on my brain.
It was the day that I set off on a very long journey, embarking on a fresh, new life to a different continent – with fear and confusion uppermost on my mind.
It was an India that was before economic reforms, its first “shining”/”rising” periods and before we had the emancipated Indian youth of today. Oh yeah, it was also definitely before personal computers, the internet and global connectivity had made their arrival on the scene. I know, I know, that’s tough for some of you young ones to imagine.
And social media meant tea and a newspaper with your neighbor. It was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye. (Hint: Mark Zukerberg – born: May 14, 1984 – had not been conceived. In fact, had his parents even met yet?).
In case you didn’t get it, I’m giving you just enough information so you can guess at the general time frame and visualize that environment. Got it?
So, this girl was a typical teenager but one who had led a fairly sheltered life with a loving and protective family, and therefore you could say that she was not quite grown-up and certainly not worldly yet, especially when compared to similar aged kids of now. Or then.
Before she knew it or could absorb its impact on her future, she found herself engaged to be married to a person that her parents had picked out for her. He happened to live and work in the United States of America, an Indian immigrant in that too-faraway land of dreams.
When she got engaged, she had completed her tenth grade and done a few months of “Pre-University-PUC” in college, essentially the beginning of what would have been her junior (11th) year of high school.
A few months after the engagement and right before the wedding, lo and behold, for the very first time, she actually met the guy who would be her husband. [I know, I know – its simply mind-boggling how this sequence of events unfolded, like it was the dark ages – which it most certainly wasn’t. Even I’m bewildered whenever I think about it! ]
And then, before she knew what hit her, the wedding festivities came and went.
She was left in a complete daze, this teenage bride.
The process to get a green card when you marry a legal immigrant living in the United States takes a protracted amount of time today – a couple of years. If you’re lucky. I have met many people in this situation, always, always complaining about this delay.
That year, however, it took only a few weeks. That young bride, she just wanted to weep in frustration at the speed!
I still remember how she prayed that this milestone would be delayed, wishing that it would take much longer – so she would not have to leave behind her parents, her friends, her family, her country so soon – everything that she was familiar with in her life.
At that point in time, the very last thing she wanted to do was to abandon her comfort zone and race off to that distant and mysterious country and a brand new life.
To make matters worse, an entire army of family members came to the airport in Madras to wish her Bon Voyage. I mean, she was actually leaving all of them! And everyone and their mother (literally!) were weeping away to glory. 😦
How could this have happened?
As she sobbed and boarded her maiden flight (fumbling with her seat belt, not knowing what that contraption was there for, or how to unobtrusively figure out how the darned thing opened and closed…), there was no hope, no joy and very little expectation
Uppermost in her mind were fear, uncertainty and confusion – about what turns her life was about to take.
Landing amid the ocean of chaos that was JFK airport at the other end of the journey was not designed to calm her either. Pure culture shock!
The feelings of that journey are all so strongly etched, that no matter what happened afterwards, the heavy-duty emotions of October 13th endure still. Even more surprising – smaller memories such as the smell of that Air India aircraft when I first entered – even these have not faded away!
Fast forward and retrospect.
Yet, without that unwanted journey many years ago, there’s so much in life that she would have missed out on. (Yes, it’s so easy to say. Now).
Little did the young girl of that time realize that this journey would be one of the best things to happen to her!
That she would reach adulthood away from India and all that she was familiar with, but that everything would work out just fine. That she would survive. And that she would embrace (practically inhale!) each and every break that the land of opportunity would throw her way. And even some that it didn’t.
And that her most precious coup would be creating and nurturing a family, together with that long-ago stranger.
Little did she know.
[Hmmmmmmm…I guess my parents knew what they were doing after all. 😉 ]
Emotionally, that was one heck of a wrenching experience.
Which is why October 13 is such a red-letter day for me. It’s one that I will never forget.
Leaving her ties to India was truly heart-breaking for that green girl. Yet what wonderful cards life dealt her after the fact – with so many ways in which to learn and grow. Not all ups, mind you, but ups and downs.
The yin and yang.
What did I tell you? That’s what this life of ours is all about!
P.S. And who ever imagined that I would be back as an expat for any period of time? To experience and savor the yin and the yang of (a new) India…I’m soaking it up like a sponge! Lucky me.