I want my India back.
It was a 1950's Tamil song. Malathy and I sang out of tune with the youtube video. This is 2015 though, we are in America, not India and Malathy is my two year old. As I sang, a familiar wistfulness crept within me and I thought for the millionth time in my life about moving back to India.
This year will complete my fifteenth year in the US. Soon, I would have stayed longer in this country than in the country of my birth. Nature vs Nurture. India saw me growing up as a toddler trailing closely behind my mother’s saree and peeking at the world outside. India saw me as a girl who preferred to live amongst words in books during summer vacations rather than cycling down the streets with the neighborhood kids. India saw me grow up to be an unsure and studious teenager who followed the rules.
And then, I found myself in America. In this new world, the rules I had memorized and lived by did not help me. For the first time in my life, I had to figure it all out. By myself. My parents’ protective blanket no longer existed within a two feet radius. This gave me a bunch of opportunities to do something I should have done since childhood but I had not, which is to make mistakes. Plenty of them. This part was tough. I felt insecure, dependent and unsure of what to do next. But strangely, this was also the awesome part because for the first time in my life, I had the freedom to make choices including stupid ones, and learn and make some more and actually become one of those people around us that we call ‘adults’.
In the process of becoming an adult, I also explored other concepts that adults talked about a lot such as “finding your passion”. I experimented with what I really enjoyed doing. What I really enjoyed doing when other people were not telling me what it is that I ought to be doing. I wrote and I danced. America helped me become ‘me’. I ought to be thankful to America and yet, here I am planning various incredulous schemes like living in India for a year as an experiment. I don’t think anything will come of my planning though. I have been doing it for years now. I have subjected my daughters to high doses of Indian culture immersion over the years. They have taken it well so far. And that brings me back to the song we were listening to.
I still cannot place my finger on why this song evokes any feelings at all inside me. I did not grow up listening to this song. I can’t think of memories associated with this song. I don’t have the memory or level of interest that my brother has for Indian movies and songs.
I think it’s what the song represents that I miss.
The song represents an India from my childhood that I can no longer grasp. Gone is that time. Gone are these old black and white Tamil songs. Gone are the days of Sivaji Ganesan and M.G.R, Karthik and ‘Mike’ Mohan, soon even Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan. Gone is the Chennai of my teenage years.
I want to return not to Chennai of 2015 but to the place and time that existed as I grew up in Chennai. To a younger me in a different world. I want that India back but no set of experiments in 2015 will satisfy that need.
So, I do what I can. I try to recreate glimpses of that world within my daily life in America. We finish the song and search for another old black and white Tamil song. The search continues.