It started on the flight here, from Baltimore to Mumbai. I was sitting next to an old Indian couple who exclusively spoke Gujarati, which was the first language I ever learned. I tried talking to them, explaining how the little inflight TV worked, translating to the flight attendant exactly how they wanted their chai.
In Gujarati, the wife told her husband, “She doesn’t know too much Gujarati.” I wouldn’t say I was offended; I was just a little confused by the idea that it didn’t overtly seem like I knew this language I grew up with.
A few days later I went to the family doctor, who said he could barely understand my American accent anymore. My neighbor told me my “tone sounded American.”
Granted, this was my first time back home in a year, but I didn’t think I’d changed that much.
Then I ate my first home cooked meal. If you know me even a little, you know I can handle spicy food. Eating that meal, I embarrassed myself. There were tears in my eyes, there was coughing, there were several sneezing fits.
I was nauseous for the next two days. At some point it felt like I was catching a cold; I was sweating in the Mumbai heat like I never had before. The place I called home seemed to be rejecting me.
Everything had changed. My “empty nesting” parents decided to redo the house, so nothing was where I had left it. The building across the street from mine was being torn down. Even the skyline felt different. And people kept saying I’d changed. In my head, I was still indignant. I hadn’t changed — everything else had.
Writing this, I’m sitting in my favorite writing spot for as long as I remember. There used to be a swing here, a big orange swing that I’d fall asleep on while reading. It’s gone now (renovations) so I just dragged a desk chair over to the same spot.
I’m sitting here and applying to renew my green card for what I hope will be the last time before I become a U.S. citizen. And as I fill out the application, jetlagged and watching the sunrise over my little corner of this city, I know that five years from now I may not be in the Indian passport immigration line. Then I hear the sound of a flute.
Before I came to college, I woke up every weekend to the sound of flutes. There’s a flute-seller who wanders the streets of my neighborhood on weekend mornings, playing his flute the whole time. I suppose that’s how he advertises them and I always loved his music so much that I’d wake up wanting to go downstairs and buy one. It’s not like I knew how to play the flute; I just wanted to support him somehow.
I never did. I was always too busy, and before I knew it, it was winter break of my freshman year. I was back in my spot listening to the music and this time I actually went down, bought a flute and brought it back to Hopkins with me. This time, I knew that the next time I came back the music might be gone. He might be gone.
Over a year later, he’s still here and so is his music. Even now I still hear it, and I love it, and I hope it never changes but I know someday it will, and I feel an overwhelming nostalgia.
There’s a fear too, a fear that nostalgia is all that’s left. Am I ever going to make new memories here, or am I just going to come back for two weeks once or twice a year and try my best to relive the old ones?
I really don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I wouldn’t be writing this article if I did. All I know is I have one week left before I’m on a plane back to Baltimore, so I might as well enjoy the view while it’s still familiar.