From May to May…

I can barely remember what I was feeling, this time last year.

I recall a vague anxiety with a pinch of excitement. But that’s about it.

But I know for sure that today marks a whole year of me moving away from home to live in the United States. A year that has been oddly educating and definitely humbling.

I…missed being amidst loved ones during festivals, family dinners and important occasions for the extended family. Understood that America is quite different from what the movies and soaps want us to believe. Had my heart broken into a million pieces. Got involved in deep conversations with almost strangers sitting on wooden bar-stools. Blessed Skype with all my heart. Stepped into five new countries and several new cities. Made new friends. Activated Plan B. And most importantly, achieved the goal that I came with to this country – walked across the stage at Johns Hopkins University on Commencement day in complete regalia and collected my second Master’s degree.

I meant to write a one month completion post, which then extended to two-month and six-month versions, but just couldn’t get myself to pen down the volley of thoughts swimming through my mind. But this one year commemoration was essential. It is as much a tribute to the journey that I’ve been on as well as something to draw strength from. I know that ‘tribute’ probably appears too strong a word, but it has been a battle – a persistent clash of mind and heart, will and weakness, tears and anger.

What is lucid as if it happened yesterday is my memory of landing into Dulles International Airport to have Akshay be wonderful as he always is, and pick me up. I don’t know many people who would spend their Memorial Day weekend flying into a city, renting a car and helping me set up into the new surroundings. Baba does say often that I have the good fortune of some really great friends – here is an example. Not only did he stock the pantry in my new apartment with essentials, he also drove me to IKEA (twice) and put together the entire chassis of my bed while I slept off the jet lag. I will always regret not being able to show him around D.C., but sincerely hope that life will give that another chance.

One of the things about living here that I am grateful for is the weather in the Maryland/D.C. area. It is the perfect blend of weather conditions – one morning it would be warm and sunny, the next moment the skies would darken and I’d have the chance to wear my brand-new violently violet rain boots to splash around in puddles. Having missed seasons for most of my life, this simple phenomenon helped keep my sanity over the year. While I’d love to talk about Fall and Spring in the region as well, that will have to wait for another post – because it is deserving!

Next, life at school. Initially, it was difficultly to call it school because this is college! Gah. Anyway, I marched into the campus expecting a slight upmarket version of my experience at Symbiosis and friendly co-students. Well, I was about to be hit by reality really hard. While the program was brilliant and some of the professors had to actually ask what I scribbling/typing away because I didn’t want to miss a word they were saying, the culture of the University was unlike I had ever imagined. I cannot confidently conclude whether this is the ‘American way’ or simply an offshoot of the continuing education model, I struggled to even make polite conversation with people sitting in a classroom with me. People who know me can vouch for how difficult it is, to keep me quiet, but there were multiple classes when I would not even speak a word as a fellow student would have earplugs in or would be typing furiously into their MacBook while ignoring my “hey”. Not pleasant.

This would be a great place to plug in the case of loneliness. Before my move, I would say that I was sort of comfortable being by myself. I enjoyed the occasional movie I watched alone, a meal or two with my Kindle for company, a drive to the beach all by my lonesome and sometimes just sitting in the park and people watching. It felt like a very adult thing to do – deal with not having company to do what are socially deemed as group activities. At the back of my mind I always knew I could ask a friend to join me or text someone who could immediately drive away any stirrings of being solitary. Today I know that it didn’t really count as practice. The first week was not bad, but soon after, the solitude became a constant gnawing feeling. I went days without speaking face to face with another human being (my flat mate and me have near opposite schedules), found myself walking aimlessly across the city for hours (nope, no liberating feeling), attending random Meetup events just to have some human presence around me and often sobbing myself to sleep. I am not a weak person, but this was a new low. My only solace was the call with my parents in the mornings and conversations with a close friend and confidante, whom I have since lost. Never have I had a scarcity of friends around me, but this one year has proven to me who are worth keeping. So, if you are thinking of moving to a new country sans a job, where you know absolutely no one and have massively antisocial classmates, think again. I won’t say it’s easy – but not impossible. With a little kindness from strangers, audio-books and a new hobby, things get better.

If something has been stressed in our writing classes, it is transitions. I will hence, aptly use them now to talk about the hobby I spoke about. I surprised myself by enjoying to cook Indian. Under the keen eye of my mother and grandmother on Skype (with Baba yelling out hilarious things like “Arey, usme soy sauce daalo” in a recipe for daal makhni), I honed my culinary skills. I can now make a mean goat curry, perfect jeera rice, low calorie but delicious pav-bhaji, appetizing salads and also a pretty darn good chili chicken . The kitchen has been a rescuer. I whip up food when I’m happy, when melancholy and on both occasions, it generally brings me relief.

I also used the year to explore the capital. Logging in thousands of Fitbit steps visiting the monuments, to going to see every free museum, to hopping on to the Metro and reaching anywhere in the DMV, to experimenting with international food – I have come to love Washington, D.C. It is packed to the brim with history and culture, celebrates every season with pomp while allowing for quiet spaces for reflection; There’s something here for everyone.

2016 was not particularly kind to me, and 2017 began on a frightening note for my family while I helplessly looked on. I steeped in the shadows for the longest time, shaking my fist at the heavens and repeatedly asking “why me”. It didn’t work. Things didn’t get better and I felt miserable. Lately, I’ve taken to a different approach. Doing my goddamned best, trying to not succumb to negativity and then leaving the rest to fate. As Jo Rowling wisely told us, “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Lumos! /*