Traditionally, an immigrant’s heart is in his/her homeland. He/she grapples with the anguish of staying in a distant land. But, for Sukanya, USA is as much her home. In 17 years, she has become a naturalised citizen. Her search for her identity, the essential ‘me’, is indeed interesting. Here we see her ‘voyage within’ – the journey of one woman in two countries.
It has been over 17 years now since I left the country of my origin to move to the USA. How time goes by, so much is a blur, since being here–happy, unhappy and somewhere in between. Living in a foreign country makes us think about things we would have not pondered over normally.
Then again, what is foreign? This is my country, now. I am a citizen here. Still that does not stop me from thinking, does it? Would I have been a different person back in India? Or would I have been the same? I would like to think I would have been the same. The essential me is the essential me. It’s what I am, my thoughts, beliefs, values and the lack of it.
A country changes us to some extent culturally, socially. We imbibe what is around us. We adapt. It does not change us completely. Back in India, I would have had a social support, a maid, a chauffeur…maybe not–I might have been taking public transport. I could have ended up being a toughened person or a whiny one, depending on my circumstances. However, thinking of me as a whiny person is a big no-no. I can’t stand nyakamo (sorry, there is no equivalent English word for this Bengali term), even if it’s mine!
A tough person is perhaps my only option. Now, how tough depends on circumstances. And that is precisely my point. Life and experiences changes us. I am who I am because of what has happened in my life. Lack of dependency has made me independent and largely self reliant (Of course, I do need help a lot of times and I get it).
It is not the country. But, life that changes us. Would I rather sit on my couch, looking pretty, staring at my nails, sipping something nice and cold? Nah! No, I don’t like the idea. I like my frazzled self, keys in hand, rushing out of the door. Backing out the car, practically running red lights (I don’t –the operative word here is ‘practically’), having to reach on time. Looking into paperwork, managing finances. Fixing dinner in a rush, hungry kids can be impatient.
Then I spray cleaners on the wet spot where my old dog must have emptied his bladder. He never did these things in the past, but now he is old. When he slips and falls and looks helplessly at me, I have to bend down and pick up his 100#s body, and help me up. I do not weigh much more than him and it needs a lot of fortitude to help him. And then the kids have their homework, their little and big needs and demands that has to be catered to.
Still I cannot speculate who I would have been. I am not that (read other) person, so I have no way of knowing. All I know is that I am still an Indian/American citizen, living in the USA. I love this place to bits. As much as I love India. I know I am a Bengali but at the same time I do not have the need to be around with Bengalis all the time to validate my ‘Bongness’.
I am not one of those parents, who push their kids to excel. I have lots of respect for those parents, just that it is not me. Of course, I want them to live up to their potentials. I want them to be responsible and live their lives on their own terms. I speak Bangla to my kids and they answer in their American accent. I don’t push them to answer in Bangla…they don’t have to. Knowing another language is always nice, as long as they understand and can communicate, more or less. Not having a total knowledge of Bengali won’t kill them. Living in Texas, they rather learn Spanish.
I love visiting India. It’s not out of a sense of duty. My immediate family is no more. But, I love it there. I love the warmth, I love seeing my extended families and friends. I love my country, where I was born and where I grew up. Would I like to live there? I want to think, yes, in a heartbeat….deep down I know the answer is no.
I have got used to living here, in the US. This is my home now. I like the preciseness here, the lack of chaos, the silence. This is where my kids will be, and I want to be near them. Then again, if I have to go, I can always adjust. India has been my home. That is where I grew up. I don’t give my kids shots when I go to India. My pediatrician did not think I have to, depending on the time of my visits and I go with her thoughts on this (and yes we have visited India many times). I don’t carry hand sanitizer. I believe the kids do. And when they were little they had boiled water, but since the last couple of times we had water from the Aquagard (water purifier) that is installed in our house. We did just fine. They ride autos, rickshaws. They have mishtis (sweetmeats) from the local shops. They even had puchka minus the water (no point in taking stupid chances), and rolls.
They roll on the floors. They get wet in the rain. They get muddied. Let me clarify, I am not careless when it comes to my children. I take the basic precautions and nothing beyond that. I do complain about the heat, the humidity, the pollution, the dirt, grime and the traffic. I don’t like customer service there.
After living in the US, customer service in any other country sucks. I love the return/refund policy here…nothing can match up to it. This me, when in India. In the USA, I am still who I am and who I would have been (depending on whichever hand that fate dealt me). I have never tried hard to fit in the American society and culture. Why try hard? Just be yourself. I live in the suburbs of Houston, mainly a White Republican neighborhood. I don’t speak with a fake American accent.
Yes, when you come to this country as an adult and have a strong accent–that is indeed fake… I will not even get into that—little accent we develop, depending on the pronunciations, enunciations and having to make others understand.
Fitting in has never been an issue. Agatha Christie had once written human beings are the same everywhere. Most have the same sensibilities, most react the same way. So the general Americans are indeed the same. They are warm, they are kind and they are human. Culturally there is a difference, thinking may be somewhat, but the larger picture is that we are all the same.
When I run out of sugar, I text my next door neighbour and he sends me some. When I am exhausted and want some company, I can run into my neighbour’s house and spend time with him. When dirt accumulates in the side of the house and it is too high for me to reach and clean, my other neighbor cleans it for me. The dog I so love and the cat are not mine. They are my neighbors/friends’. Knowing how important they are to me, she allows them to stay here–forever. When my kids need to be picked up, and I am not around, I know a friend will do it.
I am glad I have loved and lived in two countries. The living experience has made me, ‘Me’. I might now have the liked the ‘me’ in India, with a sense of entitlement and expectations (I could have been that– or otherwise–but I will look at me as ‘that’ for the sake of writing). I might not have liked the ‘me’ being a very typical American, with no concept of what real life can be outside the security bubble (perhaps I am stereotyping for the sake of this write-up).
Life and its experiences in both the countries have helped me to evolve into the ‘me’ that I am now. I have no complaints. I have two homes.
Pix and Text sourced from Author
Sukanya Juno Biswas grew up in Kolkata, India. She did MA in English from Calcutta University. She loves books, Bob Dylan, Baez and Boxer dogs. When she gets time away from two human kids and two animals, she writes. A complete realist, off and on romantic, an atheist – in the present climate of uncertainty, would have loved a perfect world, though aware it’s not possible. She has been living in Texas for last 17 years.