Ok. 677 miles to be exact.
Joining the workforce, especially in the organized service sector, in India today is synonymous with breaking away from family and friends and moving lock, stock and barrel to one of the overcrowded cities. So about a decade a half ago you did the same.
For new-age migrants like you this new home is always temporary. ‘Home’ is always 500 miles away. Phones and now increasingly, internet, make it easy to keep in touch with ‘home’. Travel budget, frequently is the single biggest expense item for homesick immigrants who head home at every half opportunity/ long weekends and are the primary source of passenger traffic for buses/ trains. You seek out people with similar cultural leanings on Facebook, Yahoo groups and the like try to ensure that ‘your’ culture is protected in this alien city. They say scarcity drives up the value, and so it is with this cultural fascination.
You routinely find people from the previous generation who were ‘posted’ in a remote part of India by the Indian Govt (most of this generation were either civil servants or bank employees owned by the govt.) and now can speak the local language, and can effectively preside over their festivals.
For your generation, the ‘home’ hotline means we find less and less time and inclination to assimilate the culture of this new home. Its not rare to find people who even after a decade in a new city can’t speak the local language and know even less about the cultural nuances and festivities. You are content with the immigrant status, permanently.
The toll such a move makes to your relationships with relatives, friends, siblings and parents who are back ‘home’ is however, permanent.
You have reached an age where acquaintances in a generation or two higher than you suddenly start dropping dead. Gentle people who commanded immense respect and love during childhood and early youth, the gran-mom and her siblings, an uncle here or a neighbor there….
As a child, you played with this uncle’s kid and were responsible for breaking half a dozen of this neighbor’s windows with a tennis ball. The gran-mom’s jars full of pickles, afternoons full of stories, cricket games with your best friend are just the best memories you will ever have.
Today you are at a loss to find the right words to say to this bereaved friend. The trains are full, you will never reach in time for the funeral and lend a shoulder. In any case, you are saving up on your vacations. The phone and the internet is fantastic to send frivolous ‘smileys’ and ‘likes’, but it sucks at impressing such delicate emotions.
Actually, these ‘delicate’ emotions evade you altogether. You feel cold, distanced, a little ashamed even, but not compassionate enough. You worry more about the loss of emotion than the loss of the dear one. When did she stop being dear to you?
It all started about a decade ago when on a ‘home’ trip you skipped visiting her due to other pressing engagements. Then one year you forgot to wish her on Diwali. Somewhere along the line you forgot she still had a birthday once a year. On phone conversations with parents, minor updates of the extended family were slowly omitted. Only major life events were reported. You didn’t know she stopped making pickles five years ago. Or that your old neighbor changed his windows for the new aluminium sliding variety. All you knew was the neighbor’s son post pictures from the Niagara falls last month. You ‘liked’ 5 of them. Somewhere during this the connect broke. You just didn’t hear it from you noisy city perch.
I stop looking at the mirror. Suddenly realize the walls of my new home are bare. I make a mental note to buy some local art I saw at the neighborhood exhibition. I pick up the ‘learn a language in 30 days’ book from the bookshelf.