Tips for NRI’s Traveling Back to the Motherland: A Series
Part Two: Kryptonite and Fighting Guilt with Compassionate Truth
This is Part Two of a series on the lessons I learned from traveling solo in India, my mother country. In this post, I address guilt, and how letting go of responsibility for human migratory patterns lets everyone have a better time. Enjoy.
Wherever I went in you, you asked me if I would forget you. I wondered if you would forgive me for leaving. You loved me and recoiled in hopelessness. “One thing? You won’t get mad will you? I just wanted to say, when you go from here, you forget us, and that should not happen.” This was from my Mausi. We had just left dinner, on our way to coffee, dosas and sambar still sitting pretty in our warm bellies. Jaipur air was brisk. Mausi, mausa, little brother Sweetu and me in the Maruti van.
After she said that, I sat there boiling in shame, anger, strategy, and come back kid energy, respectively. I responded in many ways, the kryptonite of guilt worming its electric green poison through my body, you’re right Mausi Ji, no, you’re wrong, see the thing is its only 3 of us in the u.s. and so many of you here so tell me who forgets who, i dont call you and you dont call me, so to me, that’s it. But I didn’t want to be mad at her for what she said and how she said it. I just wanted to get to the truth of the matter.
Over coffee at her friends house, I asked how to say “to blame” or “to project” in Hindi. No one could tell me, they just offered me words for the state of actually being “guilty,” as of a crime. Till my lil Sweetu piped up with the expression “bali ka bakri,” someone who has to eat from their boss or a superior just because that superior needs a person to vent into. We filed back into the van to take me to the train station. I told my aunt that I’m glad she shared her feelings with me, but “your bali ka bakri I am not.” She thought about it, agreed, we laughed a shared relief, she kissed me good-bye, and I left to wait in the AC lounge at the Jaipur train station till 1am, alternately conversating, trading curious gazes that turned willingly into smiles after a while, I got sleepy rocking to MIA, DJ Rekha, and Alicia Keys, but caught up with my train when it came and I was off, relieved to be moving, again.
Dear Non Resident Indian,
Whether you claim first generation, second, third, you are an NRI. It is a parallel identity, seperate from the political boundaries which held the moment of your birth, it is a strategic identity, important to access for those of us who represent rapid new entries in the Indian diaspora family tree.
Here’s what I want to say to you, fellow NRI’s who travel back to India: You are forgiven for the fact that your parents left India. You are forgiven for being born in the U.S. You are forgiven for having tutti futti Hindi, or for thinking you don’t want to learn your language. You are forgiven for not knowing quite how to wade through layers of internalized racism. You are forgiven for being taller or freer in your body language. You are forgiven for not knowing how to communicate with scores of family members you love who live across the globe and, in some instances, worlds away.
You are forgiven. Now act like it. I promise you, it will be a relief to everyone, if you refuse to be a bali ka bakri. Compassionately refuse to be a vessel for their or your misplaced guilt, and watch as you lighten the mood everywhere you go.
It was at the end of my month in India. My cousin brother Manu’s wedding was going smoothly, the Ganesh puja and Sagai/engagement were already behind us. Another cousin, Gooda Bhaiya had just come in on the train. His mom, Bala Mausi, and my mom were the eldest and caught the most abuse from Nana Ji. Years ago, I used to ride on the back of his motorcycle through the streets of Udaipur. He was a teenager, I was a grade school kid. Wind in our faces, grit from the street in our teeth, he would gun the motor, and point out homes of the girls he had slept with. Now I’m seeing him again for the first time in years. We began to say hello and catch up, he immediately snickered and corrected my Hindi. Not listening to what I was saying, he was looking instead for a way to position himself vis-a-vis me, the American born Indian cousin. My instinct was to feel shame, guilt, but this trip was different, I’d heard it before, and gotten so many compliments on being born and raised in the U.S. and still speaking so good, and I was ready with an honest and assertive retort. “At least I’m trying/Kum se kum mai kohshish kar rehi hu.” And Gooda Bhaiya immediately agreed. “Yes, you are trying and that is a good thing.”
NRI’s going back to India, keep your head up, balanced, we aren’t better than anyone else and we aren’t worse than anyone else either. Fight the guilt kryptonite, and I promise, everyone will thank you, especially your Self.
Stay tuned for more from your favorite journalist with a twist.