Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'Born' Identity - grad.student or human being?

I really shouldn't be writing this right now. As I sit on the 4th floor of the journalism building on campus and glance over my shoulder at the leafless trees and thick grey clouds in the background, I can't help but write. What I should be writing is my thesis. Instead, here I am, punching away at my keyboard with a look of serious concentration on my face like I have something important to say.
It's the last semester of my Master's degree. In less than 2 months, I will (fingers crossed) be graduating with a degree in journalism - something I would never have imagined even 3 years ago. Coming to graduate school seemed so obvious. Like the prescribed next step. That's not why I came here though.
I didn't know when I accepted the offer to be a journalism grad. student that I was signing an unofficial, invisible contract to have absolutely no life at all. My social and personal life has been all of non-existent these last couple of years and now is probably the worst time to be feeling awful about it.
In October last year, I remember strolling on the lawn outside my apartment in the evening fall breeze, talking to my dad on the phone. It's not very often that I have long, heartfelt conversations with him especially when he's on a different continent in a different hemisphere. During our chat, he asked where I liked to hang out in Missoula and what I did in my "free time". It hit me. I no longer had any idea of what 'free time' was. That aspect of life had completely eluded me for months and I hadn't even noticed.
I never hung out anywhere. My life was restricted to being on campus and being at home. Those were the only two places I had the time to be in. My days were desperately trying to expand themselves beyond the 24 hour limit and would more often than not, spill over into the next day, forming one giant mass of time with no clear demarcations. There were no weekends. Everyday was a working day. Everyday was a new deadline.
It may not be relevant but apparently Geminis are people who get bored very quickly and always need to have variety on their plate. And boy did I have variety. Four graduate level classes that were driving me insane. Whatever time I did get when I wasn't studying or writing, I was working with international student groups to put things together, or I was cleaning a house that would start to look uncannily like the pig-sty my mother always threatened me my room would look like someday.
Bottom line, I had NO idea about what were the 'cool' places to hang out in, in this tiny (compared to Pune) place in the most obscure corners of America. Naturally, these thoughts raced through my head while my dad was expecting an answer. I said I didn't have time to go exploring the city and didn't know what were the nice places to go have dinner or just meet friends. I said the only place I knew well enough was Walmart and that too, I hated.
My dad guffawed and said there was no way I was so caught up in things that I didn't have time to go out.
It's March now and I still haven't had time to go out. When I do, there's a nagging feeling poking me in the back of my head saying, "why are you not studying? You have all these things due tomorrow!" Every time I manage to hiss at that voice in my head and shut it up. In vain.
As graduation and thesis defence time gets closer every day, not to mention scarier, I keep thinking I've missed out on so much. I'm the girl who would jump at the chance of travelling hundreds of kilometers away to be with nature, see some wildlife, spend some quiet time in the forest. I've been living in Montana for almost two years now. Montana - one of the most fantastically beautiful places that exists on our planet. It's wide expanses of space, the mountains, the valleys, the snow, the rivers, the colour of the leaves and two of the coolest national parks ever - Glacier and Yellowstone. Ok, I'll admit I've been to Yellowstone twice but honestly, I get crabby if all I can see are geo-thermal spots instead of bears and wolves and bison!
Homesickness is probably one the worst feelings to have. I know I signed up for this. I know it was my decision and I honestly love what I do- learning what I have been for these 2 years and maybe it's because I am new to the American education system but the one reason that makes me look forward to graduating is that it puts me that many days closer to going back home.
Home, where my people, my family and friends and my animals live. Where time hasn't stopped because I moved away. Where people whose lives I am an integral part of are living regular, routine lives despite my physical absence. I think deep down, everyone who leaves their homes to study or work abroad has a secret hope that things will be exactly the same when they get back and nothing will have changed. But the only thing in the world that's consistently occurring, is change.
People change, places change, perceptions change, relationships change, street-side food shacks change, coastlines change and in this humdrum of regular life, you yourself - change. So at a time like this, when your thesis is in front of your eyes, and you miss home in all its glory and darkness, you feel like a complete alien. You are in a foreign land where people don't know you from scratch, where you have had to build relationships from their very basic foundations, where you've had to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road and the car, and where people are nice but not your own. You want to fit in. You want to make your ride as smooth as possible but suddenly, you're stuck. People back home now talk about you as 'that girl who used to live there' or 'our daughter who lives in the U.S.' or 'my friend who is abroad'. Over break when people at home introduce you to their acquaintances as someone 'who lives in America but is Indian'- you feel an astoundingly strong pain in your chest.
That pain, I figured out recently, is related to this flawed identity I now have. I don't want this dual identity. I don't like it. I want to be the same person I was before I left home to come here because honestly, the things that make me who I am have not changed in the slightest. I'm still me. I'm still my parents daughter and I still love my dog more than I ever thought I could.
And someday, hopefully soon, I would love not to have that guilty feeling inside me when I look at that dog's eyes and don't have the guts to tell her that she won't be seeing me again for a long time. For once, I would love to know that everyday, when I wake up, it'll be in my bed, in my house, my that four-legged canine impatiently licking me to get up and take her out. I'd love to come home to familiar smells of egg curry drifting down the three flights of stairs that lead up to my house and get frustrated with people who have no driving sense whatsoever. I know it's got its problems and I know they can really stress people out but nothing anywhere can beat the huge sense of relief when wheels of an aircraft touch down on a runway in your home country - that feeling when you know that you're headed back where you came from - originally.
And now, back to that thesis. The one thing that is my ticket to redemption. Proof to myself that I did what I took on.
To all those homesick graduates in the world, you are never alone. There are thousands of others like you out there. Good luck! :)