on romanticizing “home”

Quick note: After an extremely long hiatus, I am once again back, and hopefully will be more consistent with writing over the summer! There’s a lot I want to write about my first *actual* year of college, having completed sophomore year, and I hope to return to that at some point, but for now I’ll focus on my summer in India. :))

I write this hours before I depart for India. I’ll be spending the rest of my summer in the “motherland,” interning for a social equity organization in New Delhi and living with family friends. The plan is to dig deeper into my academic interests, have lots of fun, and also unpack some of my “diasporic” thoughts about identity and belonging. Here are a few of those thoughts, I apologize in advance for being extremely cringey.

I have dreamed of this moment for years at this point. Ever since childhood, India– as an abstract, distant idea– has held utmost importance to me, and I always remember regarding my cultural heritage with deep pride and enthusiasm. After years of processing my identity as “Indian-American,” my gap year in Morocco, brought a heightened awareness to the way I self-identified. My disillusionment with American policy– paired with my reconceptualization of America as “empire”– occurred alongside a new understand of my racial and cultural identity owed to living in a place where brownness was the norm, and where the values I grew up with at home were reflected by the society around me. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter that I was a “hyphenated” American, because I no longer felt like I aspired to fit a category of “Americanness.” Subconsciously, however, my detachment from the “American” label, and the standards required to attain it, were supplemented with a deeper longing for connection to a “motherland,” a supposed “home” where I was meant to truly “belong”: India, or South Asia more widely.

The last two years of college have complicated my understanding of the “Indian” label, as I have dissociated from “Indian” as a national label as I learn more about the violence and exclusion that is necessary for maintaining national projects, but regardless, the past few years have led to the development of a deeply romanticized understanding of an abstract “motherland,” a projection that I have created with memories, stories, and my own imagination. The “motherland” to me, is shaped by memories of hearing the sabziwala (vegetable sellers) call on the street, eating Chole Bhature at Bengali Market, and going for walks in the park with my grandmother. It is frozen in time, informed by my parents’ stories of street cricket and childhood pranks. It is conjured, made up of the “main character energy” that accompanies my countless Desi indie and hip hop Spotify playlists that seek to imagine the “real” homeland, beyond hegemonic Bollywood narratives.

The truth is, I have absolutely no idea what the “real” homeland is like. And that’s why, despite having waited so long for this trip– a long-term opportunity to go to India without my immediate family– I am suddenly so nervous. After years of creating a romanticized projection on which I have deflected feelings of identity confusion, I am at the point where I will have to see India for myself, and it will not be what I have imagined. I am worried that my Hindi– the part of my heritage that is most important to me– will fall short as I am surrounded by native speakers outside of my family. I am worried that I will feel out of place and uncomfortable. I am worried that the version of India that I see for myself will be in stark contrast from the India that I have created in my mind– an India partially suspended in the 1980s and 1990s of my parents’ childhood, and partially formed through what I arbitrarily want it to be.

But that’s why I’m going. I know that the “motherland” I will see is different from the one that I wish to “belong” to, but I hope that this summer will bring learning, growth, and a new understanding of myself. And maybe, despite the surprises, it will feel like “home,” in some sort of way.

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