By Harshita Mathur
In the airport departure section, there are the overly large families with the overly large baggage, using their overly large voices to be exempt from the overly large baggage charge. From the moment I step onto the plane to India, I feel claustrophobic. The hectic, loud, crowded feeling surrounds me and I am automatically stressed. Whether travelling to Jaipur or New Delhi…it feels the same: hectic. This is amplified as I step off the plane into the overpopulated city of New Delhi.
I am baffled by the sound of car horns, people screaming and yelling – but no, that’s just the way they talk – most probably to be heard over the car horns. The swarm of bodies, pressing against me like I am a malleable piece of clay, make me feel like a tiny speck within a giant universe of beings. I feel physically violated. Is it me? Or is it simply because there is not enough space for personal space!?
India…the time for weddings, the time for seeing family: everyone who has ever known me, cared about me, and loved me unconditionally. The feeling is unreal, and can be quite exciting at times. However, I feel overwhelmed. When we have family get-togethers in India, they are large.
I am not used to the people here. Always rushing to get things done…and somehow they still have no sense of time. Here people don’t stand in line patiently and wait for their turn; they push, shove, ignore and can be ruthless.
I feel subdued. I feel minute in the midst of madness. The lack of freedom coupled with the intense love by family members ensures that I keep quiet and smile and nod. Here…I feel like my identity is part of a collective…part of a culture that I don’t fully understand…part of a family that I don’t always feel a part of, and certainly not an identity of my own. With my Western clothes, my Western mindset and Western lifestyle…where do I fit in here? To India, I travel back less and less frequently. Will I eventually stop? At what point did I stop travelling back to India as an Indian, returning to my alleged home…and become a tourist, visiting India to see the sights and experience their culture?
There is a strangely bittersweet familiarity about this country…a home I’ve never lived in.
The glamorous, glitzy, golden city. Growing up in Abu Dhabi was completely amazing. But it’s travelling back after moving away which alters my identity. Firstly, the sheer sense of space in Abu Dhabi is fantastic. The bigger rooms, the higher ceilings, the open endless space between stores in the mall with not enough beings to fill it up…contrasts completely with India. On my way to Abu Dhabi, I feel restless, excited, ready to reach the comfortable realm of home. But this place seems all spacious and free from the outside. What about the inside?
I have to consider what I wear carefully. It has to reflect and respect Arab norms and culture. But I am not Arab. I try to figure out what conservative ‘covered-up’ clothes can be deemed appropriate as well as considering the logic behind wearing more clothes in the 50-degree heat (Celsius, that is). I would feel more comfortable in a sleeveless shirt, in a pair of shorts, but simultaneously, the judgmental stares from women and glaring disapproval from males as well as the utterly bewildered faces of the male laborers ensures this comfort diminishes immediately. Whether wearing jeans and a t-shirt in the mall or a large garbage bag – the stares remain. Here, I do not like being a woman. How does this visual harassment compare with the physical violation I feel in India? Where can I feel truly liberated in my own skin?
Travelling from Abu Dhabi to Toronto, I feel free. I feel comfortable in my own skin, a feeling I learned to feel only after leaving Abu Dhabi at eighteen. Toronto – here I walk off the plane and feel confident, attractive, more outspoken and wild.
The people here – so sweet, so genuine, so helpful. Multiculturalism is key here, and whilst each place has its fair share of issues between races, Toronto tries to merge everyone together and create an inclusive atmosphere. But while feeling included, I find I can be so excluded at the same time. I see blurs of South Asian people all together. Blurs of Chinese, all together. White, black, Latino; all within their own clusters. Was I missing something here? I feel there is such an individualistic focus here, that the sense of family, of familiarity, can be found within these groups – creating a sense of division. Have these cultures traveled here to experience the new only to cling onto the old?
My experiences here have consisted of many close friendships. Most of my friends have developed a strong sense of personal identity within Canada – they were either born here, or moved here at a very early age…but more or less grew up here. Went to high school here. Are going to University here. And will eventually get married, have kids and spend the rest of their lives here. I seek more. Is it because I am unsettled here? Is it because my childhood occurred elsewhere, and thus my personal identity does not gel with Toronto solely?
My collective – my family – my sense of familiarity is missing here. Growing up convinced that my friends were the equivalent to my family, I felt that living alone in Toronto would be completely satisfying because I’d have my friends and my own freedom to do as I please. But I now find myself using the word homesick, without actually realizing what this means.
Toronto holds the key to my future – I can spend a lot of time exploring the city and feeling more free than I can or ever could in India or in Abu Dhabi, but there is still something missing, and that will lead to my travelling elsewhere, eventually. My thirst for new places, new ideas of home, and new beginnings ensures that I remain mobile and keep searching for an identity which will eventually consist of all of these places.
I am a traveler, but I travel to find home. The notion of home changes as I travel more and experience more, the sense of home for me has unequivocally become blurry. I can’t feel completely at home in any of these places, but I feel like what I am looking for, what I yearn for, lingers in between.