Snippets from India

By Adilah Ismail

Do you know what I miss most about home? Well, apart from the countless public holidays, that is.
It’s a silly, mundane thing and even writing it down seems ridiculous - but I miss the stars. I miss looking up and trying to spot Orion’s belt amidst the constellations or just standing out in the garden and gazing up at a star strewn sky.

By day, the skies are clear enough but at night the city I live in is enveloped in thick, smog which paints the polluted skies a murky grey.

Bundling your life into bags and moving to a new country for the next few years isn’t (to state the glaringly obvious) easy. You’re leaving your family, friends, four legged companions and all things familiar and venturing into unknown territory with the uncomfortable knowledge that you’ll have to survive alone.

Before I moved to Delhi, my knowledge of India was solely limited to a holiday in the South a few years ago, a few of its writers, a handful of Bollywood movies and snippets in newspapers.

I’d read of India’s turbulent history and its politics and of course, A.R. Rahman had introduced the world to ‘Jai Ho’. When I arrived, Delhi was head first in preparations for the Commonwealth Games. Everything was in the process of reconstruction and was coated with a layer of the finest dust.

As we weaved our way through the traffic, listening to our talkative cab driver illustrate the many virtues of Mr. Bachchan, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the nagging feeling that I was ill-equipped to spend the next few years here. The sweltering heat, the sprawling city and the hustle and bustle that the admission process heralded did little to alleviate my nerves. But before I knew it, I was in possession of a slip of paper that proclaimed that I was enrolled in college and so began my chapter in Delhi.

Adjusting to a new country has been a rollercoaster experience. The media tells you about the dust, the pollution and the poverty, and they exaggerate the country’s fondness for masala and cricket, but they tend to brush aside the minute details in the picture. I’m discovering the subtleties in its culture and growing to marvel its intricacies. Delhi is a city of contrasts and discovering it in the capacity of a student (as opposed to a tourist with time constraints) has been enriching.

Its cultural opulence is every traveller’s dream and the fact that I can oscillate between the best of the modern and old world with little effort never ceases to amaze me. Taking a spoonful of my first chaat (a type of savoury snack) bathed in its mint and tamarind glory; strolling down the streets during Diwali gazing at houses decorated with lights and draped in strands of marigold; my initial astonishment at seeing a camel solemnly plodding through a traffic jam; watching a jalebi walla in Old Delhi deftly drown the crisp, brown concentric circles into a pan of too-sweet sugar syrup; discovering a fantastic art exhibition or a simple gesture by a friend - It’s a potpourri of these little things which have enriched my experience abroad.

Of course, it’s not all roses and rasagullas. My inability to speak Hindi (one of the few Hindi sentence I have mastered is ‘I don’t know how to speak Hindi’. No, the irony does not escape me either) is a significant disadvantage in getting about and communicating with people.

Moreover, the socio- economic gap is particularly pronounced in the capital and Delhi, despite its charms, is not a safe city for women. What surprises me is the homesickness. I knew it was inevitable; I just underestimated how much I would miss home. Hopping over to the beach for some much needed soul searching when the occasion demanded, family, home cooked food, friends, spectacular sunsets, my cat, kotthu, Tipi- tip – I could go on all day about the little things which tug at my heart strings.

If anything, it’s also taught me to appreciate everything I would happily take for granted before I left.
It’s been almost eight months since I’ve left home and as clichéd as it sounds, each day I still discover something new (yesterday I learned about wedding rituals, today I was educated about the art of perfect parathas.) The past few months have been months of illumination, learning, unlearning, discovering, self-reflection and introspection.

Who knows what the next few months will bring?

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