Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reverse culture shock


Coming back from a month in India and a 22 hour flight that left me completely disoriented and jet lagged, I experienced a reverse culture shock quite badly this time. It was almost as if I was coming home for the very first time.

Am I really from here? Am I really from this cold, dark, forest-y land? It was like landing on a different planet. I felt like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.

The airplane landed over the dark green misty forest, and we were blasted with cool damp air as we got off the plane. My feet and my neck and my nose were freezing. The fresh air smelled like pine cones that were soaked in saltwater. 

We drove back to the house in what was supposed to be the start of rush hour traffic - you call THIS traffic?!?! No horns, everyone calmly waiting in the queue, nobody running red lights, and no need to keep an eye out for wandering buffalos roaming about. Darkness descended like a sudden blue cloak, already pitch black at 4:30pm. I was starving. I was looking for Pani Puri stalls on the road. The only "roadside" food we passed was McCrappy McGrossy McDonalds. Oh Hyderabad....how you have spoiled me!

We arrived back to our cold apartment and I had to turn on the heat in all of the rooms. It was so freezing and dark. It took nearly an hour for it to get warm and livable. Where is the cook? I wondered. A harsh reality that we actually had to cook our own food! 

Maya was asking for her favorite "rice and bindi" so I drove to the grocery store, only to find that okra was out of season. It occurred to me then just how far we were from our other home. Even our produce is completely different! While everyone was picking up their broccoli and winter squash, I was trying to look for something remotely Indian.

The neighbours didn't even realize that we were gone this whole time. I looked out of my window to what was supposed to be one of the busiest streets in town, only to see a few cars driving by. Where IS everybody?!?! Vancouver's 600,000 population felt like peanuts compared to Hyderabad's 7.75 million.

I missed my relatives. Even though I was left out of conversations, at least somebody was chatting away. I missed the constant warmth and the sunshine. I missed the smell of red onions and chai, with my chat stalls on every corner, open 24/7. 

At my family's Christmas dinner, I almost wanted to eat on the floor with a banana leaf, like I had just done for so many weeks. Everyone was eating quietly with their silver utensils clanging against the plates in an orderly fashion. My college-aged cousins were eating their own food and not being hand-fed like our college-aged cousins in India. I kind of missed that.


Living between two countries has me in a constant state of feeling like a piece of driftwood. Where IS home for me??? Is it India or Canada? Our life is so blended that sometimes I forget which place I was even born in. Did this country really produce me? How come such a quiet place can produce a girl who feels so comfortable in eccentric chaos? Was I born in the wrong country...?

Of course, husband-ji was relieved to be back home in "quiet and serene Canada" as he likes to call it. But I felt a little homesick for India - like I left a piece of my heart some place else... 

It is times like these when I experience culture shock - coming back to my own country - that makes me understand how husband-ji must have felt coming to the U.S. for the first time, for college. How he must have wondered where everyone was, why it was so dark and quiet. That too, he arrived in the U.S. on Christmas Eve when everything was closed for the holidays. How strange he must have felt it was, how homesick he must have been....and how brave he was to have fly to a far away foreign country where he didn't know a soul...to risk everything for a dream...


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15 comments

  1. I loved how you described the difference!

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  2. @alexandra

    It is beautiful that you feel so strongly about India. You really put things in perspective. BTW, you were planning to write a post on Hindu funeral rituals sometime back. It will be intresting to read you observations.

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    1. Thank you :) It was a great trip this time.
      I know, it has been a while....thatha's 1 year ceremony is coming up soon already, can't believe it.

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  3. Yes I also felt like that so many times!! But I did not considered 1 thing! I felt like that for India when I was a visitor. Without giving it deep thoughts I agreed to settle here in India and unfortunately I somehow regret it now. Charm of Indian chaos is gone after so many years. It is really better to be a guest, love India deeply while visiting and missing it badly. Than staying here, facing daily difficulties and getting used to India so much that you forget how much you used to love it here....

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    1. I really agree. Towards the end of our trip, I was like "maybe we should go home now" LOL. Visiting India frequently is the ideal....if only it wasn't so far!

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  4. Aww this is really touching, so related to me for now , we moved to US six months back and I am still in the process of adjusting though I have my husband and kid with me , I feel left out and alone most of the times , definitely understand what you mean ..

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    1. I know how you feel. In the Winter is is the worst especially because everyone is indoors. It is also hard to make new friends.

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  5. You captured this feeling so well! I definitely felt like this when I came back from Nepal! :) I forgot how to get on the bus in London instead of the micos and tempos! haha :)

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    1. This time I got it quite bad! I was ready to come home but then I wasn't...you know?

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  6. I never imagined I would ever write this but...I felt the same when I got back in the US after my first trip to Chennai! I felt so lost and alone, and the streets seemed so empty. Having mehndi helped me through the first weeks...looking at it constantly reminded me about the amazing trip!

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    1. Awwwwww sweet! Yes, it just hits you when you least expect it! Did you have a nice trip?

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  7. what a beautiful post....tugged at my heartstrings...alexandra you shd wrte a book...

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