Twelve years ago this day, I landed in the United States to begin graduate school. It wasn't my first time to the States; I'd come on vacation when I was 10. But I couldn't have been more excited if it had been my first. Finally, at 21 years of age, after being more of a spectator than a participant in my life, I was ready to live. Woohoo! And what a life I wanted to live! One that primarily involved being away from any protective influence, being away from all and everything I held dear. Now I would figure out what I was about.
Life until then had seemed too easy. I had grown up feeling mostly detached from family members and friends. It was a defense mechanism -- if no one got close, no one could hurt me. I see that now; then, I was just uninvolved while I watched the lives of all my family members unravel. Extreme emotion was strange to me, and I often thought rather wistfully how nice it must be to feel strongly about something, anything. Trial by fire was essential to build character, I thought, and if I didn't feel anything, how was I to build my own?
So, although I came to the U.S. ostensibly to study, I mostly came to experience life. I came prepared to be vulnerable and open to new experiences, willing to feel disappointment, anger, sadness, hurt, loneliness all the negative emotion that thusfar seemed to have eluded me. Knowing them, I could finally realize what would make me happy.
Well, I got what I wanted. I made the best of friends -- one of who brought me the loneliest, saddest times I'd experienced. I felt the hurt of being misjudged by people I cared for. My confidence in myself ebbed away as my personal life deteriorated in tandem with my academic life. But I was right about one thing -- my unhappiness forced me to take control of my life. I made some hard academic decisions, like switching from broadcasting to print journalism. I took up a job in a small U.S. town where I was one of three non-white folks. I didn't know a soul.
And along the way, I made some right decisions, like starting to date P, now my husband.
Yes, it's been 12 years since I first met my husband. At first, we were acquaintances who'd occasionally bum cigarettes off each other. Then we became friends who'd go dancing in a group once a while. More than 10 years ago, we began to fall in love.
I chucked my dream of going back to Bombay with nary a thought but to be with P. And though I've missed my city, I've grown to love other places too: some small unassuming Midwestern towns, other big Western cities. At all places, with all experiences, I've learned and grown as a person beyond my wildest expectations.
And by growing, I've eventually discovered the key to my happiness (drumrolls please): It's not about finding out who I am. It's about changing myself to who I want to be.
A dozen years from now, I'm probably still going to live in the U.S., a mommy to one ABCD teenager and one ABCD pre-teen (heaven help me). But few things I hope will remain constant: my need to learn, my desire to grow and to do both with my husband always by my side.