The following guest post was written by Mahathi Gottumukkala. Mahathi is a confused, floundering “recent” graduate of the University of Buffalo (it’s been two years since she graduated with an Economics major and English minor). She likes to tell herself she’s just still exploring and adventurous. She loves to read and write and blogs very intermittently at Thoughts and Whimsies.
When I read Nanu’s post on reverse culture shock, it all came rushing back. The strange disorientation. The weightless feeling, as if in a dream. The familiar faces and places that seemed suddenly alien.
As I stepped off the plane in India, a fresh college graduate, I tried to understand that this was really it. That I was home for good.
I wouldn’t be returning to college and currently had no plans to return to the US. There would be no frantic rush to enroll in classes or get my I-20 signed. The future was upon me.
In the sparsely populated city of Buffalo, it was easy to romanticize the “colorful chaos” of India. It had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t fit right back in at home, that it would be difficult to find people I could relate to.
Reality was…a bit different from what I remembered.
It had been nearly two years since I’d come home. As I stepped onto the cold marble floors of my apartment, I began to feel anxious. I’d forgotten how high up I lived. I felt as if I were floating in space. But it was only the seventh floor, and I’d lived in apartments all my life.
I only vaguely registered the warm, joyful poster my mother had made to welcome me home.
Daytime came and I found myself picking out faults at home that I’d never registered before.
Communities were disjointed and insular—separated by class yet often living only a compound wall or window apart from each other.
You could live life in a bubble of privilege and travel in a fancy car while streets upon streets of poor people stared at you. After a while, the humanity and life around you subsides to white noise.
The dusty hot glass and concrete–relieved only by a few struggling, straggling trees–mocked my isolation and my urban servitude. I missed the open spaces, lakes and lawns of Buffalo like crazy.
There were other things. The concepts of privacy and personal space were non-existent.
The jostling queues and the way the person in front of you lets the swinging door hit you on the face. The complete lack of shame in pointed, intrusive inquiries and unsolicited opinions from someone you haven’t spoken with in years.
How did your parents afford to send you to the US? Wouldn’t it be better if they had sent you for your Master’s degree? Do you really think the Return on Investment is worth it?
These are all questions I’ve received.
And everyone stares.
This is a country of starers. I never noticed before because I’m usually absent-minded and pre-occupied, but people look at you as if you’re the next installment of Game of Thrones.
They tell you, point-blank, that you’re dark or fat or prone to acne. In fact, the first thing they do when they see you is comment on your physical appearance—whether you’ve lost or gained weight, become fairer or darker, etc., etc.
And, suddenly, you become hyper-aware that every aspect of your person is being judged. You begin to fear that, if you don’t answer their intrusive questions, you might be thought stuck-up.
I felt torn and guilty. I was dismayed by how much I missed the US, especially since I’d always been clear about coming back to India. But the reality of India—a landscape peopled with contradictions and challenges—was difficult to comprehend.
The process of readjustment was gradual and my understanding of the nuances and contours evolved throughout.
There are—of course—good things about India. The flip side of the loss of space is the warmth and a sense of community. You can feel it everywhere you go. People are hospitable and—while they sometimes cross boundaries—they are also quick to make you feel at home.
In the US, there’s something like a cult of individuality. People are too polite. They guard space and privacy so fiercely that it’s difficult to form the same informal and relaxed friendships that I have in India.
I love Indian classical music and dance and our beautiful, majestic history. And the country’s endless contrasts and ceaseless complexity pull me in, compelling me to understand and find answers.
After all, nowhere else could ever really be home.
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