“Forgetting Home” – by Bhoomi Sharma
I am an immigrant.
I am now sixteen years old and I have lived in the United States for three years. What an interesting three years it has been.
It was heartbreaking leaving home. I had allowed my roots to grow deep into the ground there. My life story is in India. I never thought I’d leave the playgrounds and loud traffic that would keep any foreigner awake at night. I never wanted to. But I did.
My first impression of the US was that it was eerily quiet. There were no children on the roads playing cricket, no cars were honking at each other, and there were no cows on streets blocking our way back home. The houses were all identical and neatly arranged.
I had never actually heard my thoughts before. They seemed too loud for my head.
On August 19th, 2016, I arrived at O’Hare Airport. Two days later, I started eighth grade, driving from the hotel we were living in to the public middle school that I would be attending for the rest of the year. The first thing that someone said to me was, “Hi! What’s your name?” The second, “do you speak Indian?”
I didn’t quite know how to reply to that.
I am stuck between two cultures that have housed me for different parts of my life. One way of life taught to me by my parents and grandparents, the second culture one that I have learned from my friends and the people surrounding me. I will never be “American” enough to fit in here. Even if my passport said “Citizen of the US,” it wouldn’t be enough. It never would be. But I am too white-washed to ever be Indian again. When I visit home, I know the whispers following me will not be kind.
I will hear “American” with disgust heavy on their tongues. Here I hear “curry breath” like laughter in the air. And I cannot escape it.
When I see my skin, the color of the earth, I feel white-hot shame rolling over it. I remember my name. Hard and chunky, that no one can pronounce despite it being only two syllables. I remember the feeling of wanting to crawl into my skin. Maybe then I’ll fit in better.
My parents never embarrassed me by saying I love you. My affection for my parents is not what used to make me wince in horror. No, it was the way they would trip on their English, the mispronouncing words they did not understand. Even more embarrassing was the way people would look at them. In my haste to protect myself from the mocking of others, I had forgotten to shield my parents. So I watched in pain as they got made fun of, the way they would address people by their first names and not their last, the way my mom simply did not understand that no, we could not just tell them they are wrong Amma, that’s not how it works.
To survive here, I had to purge all of my Indian culture from me. I would not wear tops too long with leggings, god forbid they look like chudidhars. I would not braid my hair, god forbid I look like my friends from the village. I let the hard syllables of my name fade away on my tongue when introducing myself. I stopped rolling my r’s, stopped annunciating my vowels, stopped dancing on my toes and began forgetting Bharatanatyam. The earth has always known how to hold me up. It had been doing so since I was a child.
I would scrub from my memory the summers and winters I ran from mosquitoes, how I chased after those insects with an electric bat. The feeling of my grandmother’s veranda under my toes.
I willed myself to forget the way my grandmother’s room smelled, to forget the way she spoke. I willed myself to forget how to speak my mother’s tongue, because no one else knew it, heck, no one could pronounce the name of it.
I had forgotten the way rain would fall on the temple stones. I forgot the way turmeric would stain my hands after prayers. I had forgotten the way Hindi sounded on my lips. It sounds beautiful.
I forgot the way sequins glittered in the sunlight, how lehengas float in the air when I spin as fast as I can. It looks like I am set on fire. I glow in the darkness. I feel like I am flying.
I forget how the earth feels under my bare feet. It feels like childhood. It feels like a dance, stability, and joy all at once as I step through the puddles and perform.
I had forgotten the way my grandmother would make buttermilk, the smell of burnt dosas. It smells like warmth. It tastes like late mornings with cousins sleeping over, and a stressed-out grandma who has to feed everyone. It smells of the large family I have left behind.
I forgot the smell of jasmine and oil, the smell of henna on my palm. It smells like the gardens in heaven have come down to give us a visit, to remind us all to leave the roses on the rose bush. It smells like the garlands we would weave into our hair.
I forgot the taste of ras malai and gulab jamun, the way Holi colors looked against my skin, the way my lungs felt like bursting as I raced down my street. I forgot the way my face looked, lit up on Diwali night with laughter.
I let the memories pile up at the back of my head, holding it all back with the tip of my littlest finger-like Krishna holding a mountain. Except I was protecting no one from the ruthless storm but myself.
I thought that if I forgot that I was Indian, everyone else would too.
Today I am trying to embrace my worlds. I am not fully there yet, but I am trying. The way my lehnga covers my legs is no longer a sense of embarrassment for me. I feel prettiest in Indian clothing. The color of my skin I wear more and more like a badge of honor. How beautiful it is. Like the soil I was named after. Bhoomi. The earth. Mother earth, the flowers the air and the life it holds. My country. It may be in shambles, but name one which isn’t. My history, covered in blood and magic and gods of all kinds, remembered by more languages than I can count.
What a wonderful place. Government, cows, temples, history and all. How lucky I am to call it home.