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A Mural of Migration

Atlanta, by Ayan

A child’s mind is an impressionable blank canvas that is painted with the hues of cultural experiences. A hometown's smells, flavours, sights, and sounds build a feeling of belonging, simultaneously painting the canvas with a brush of nostalgia. The mental image of “home” is a universal experience. My painting, however, resembles a Jackson Pollock piece -organized chaos, a blank canvas jolted by paint splatters, basically everything everywhere all at once.

My Story Begins in Vadodara...

The quintessentially mundane Western Indian town and a petri dish for what would become the Indian developmental success story. The town is a microcosm for the universal Indian experience- slow-moving traffic enlivened by the cacophony of car horns, high-density apartment complexes, crowded marketplaces, pothole-filled roads, cricket matches on narrow streets and outdoor food stalls that buck sanitation regulations. Right when I was born, I was a fish out of water. Vadodara is a staunchly Gujarati city, deep in the Gujarati heartland, while my parents (and myself by extension), are Maharashtrians (i.e., hailing from the Marathi-speaking region of India- Maharashtra).

Vadodara, by Ayan

Despite engaging in Maharashtrian cultural customs and fluently speaking the Marathi language, neither my parents nor myself, have ever lived in Maharashtra- and neither did my grandparents and their parents before them. Despite being far removed from the Maharashtrian landmass, the language, customs, and gastronomic experiences still survive within my family due to ancestral memory. These are the first two brushes with which I paint my canvas- a thin stroke representing my family’s physical presence in Gujarat for generations, and a broader, brighter brushstroke representing the Maharashtrian culture passed down through generations.

I do not remember much about Vadodara, except for the stories of (mis)adventures that my parents would tell. In their mid-20s, they moved to Delhi in the quest for economic opportunity, as most people did back then.

In Delhi, I Made My Earliest Memories

Sweltering summers, freezing winters, pouring rains, eternally lingering petrichor with the aftertaste of diesel fumes, all while kebab and dim sum vendors lined the streets all year round. Since these were my most formative years, my mind was a crucible of clay shaped and moulded by the city - my Hindi accent was distinctly Delhi, and my culinary experiences were entirely North Indian. And this comprises my third defining brushstroke- one that refuses to interact with the brighter, Maharashtrian shades but is somehow still complementary.

Delhi, by Ayan

I spent enough time in Delhi to culturally consider myself a “Delhi-ite” or a “Dilliwalla”, but clearly not long enough to call Delhi “home”. My life would soon be shaken by a trans-continental move to the cradle of civilization- Erie, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania, USA

The name of the Pennsylvanian suburb was appropriate for what existed on the shores of Lake Erie- cold, quiet solitude blanketed by coniferous forests and slow-moving life. Erie was diametric to Delhi in every way- stable weather, minimal traffic, sprawling peaceful spaces, and… food lacking in flavor; fast food, among other things, made up my first taste of the American Dream. When one migrates by necessity rather than choice, being an extrovert becomes a survival skill to navigate a new country, and it is a skill I developed here. Fortunately, the outgoing nature of Americans made networking in elementary school easier. I even picked up an American accent, which I then eliminated over the next few years. It was also in the United States (USA), that I started thinking in English, instead of Marathi- the beginning of my whitewashing process. This country exposed me to philosophical approaches uncommon to Indian society, such as standing up to authority, expressing dissent, and unwavering upliftment of the individual.

Ayan in Pennsylvania

By this point, I was legally from Gujarat, culturally from Maharashtra, mentally moulded by Delhi, and brushed over by deeply American values. Are you able to keep up? As the Bollywood aphorism goes, Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost… [There is still a long way to go in the movie…]

The Place I Call Home

Soon after the 2008 Financial Crisis, the lack of economic opportunity in India and the US forced my parents to look elsewhere- the Middle East. Ever since the Partition, South Asians have sought out economic opportunities in the Arabian Gulf - namely in Riyadh, Dubai, Muscat, and Doha. This mass migration of Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis in search of a Promised Land is not dissimilar from the American Westward Expansion. In 2011, Dubai was a pearl in the Gulf, booming with potential, yet reeling from the shocks of 2008. Dubai then was an inhospitable desert, with scant buildings, pristine coastlines, perfectly paved roads, and an intercultural hub. This was the Dubai I came to inhabit and call “home”.

Dubai, by Ayan

The Dubai of today is often viewed as a capitalist paradise, the Vegas of the Middle East where the world’s elite bide their time. But behind this veneer is a land home to many nationalities. Everyone I grew up with in Dubai was in a similar predicament- we had traveled thousands of miles to an alien land. Hence, it is an aquarium for fish out of water- people here bond over the struggles of not fitting in. After having spent 10 years in Dubai, I can affirm that I am a Dubai local; I know the ins and outs of every street and borough, I can name the best hole-in-the-wall shawarma joints, but more importantly, I understand the struggles of living in Dubai.

My Home Away From Home

Today, I find myself in the Netherlands, which is slowly earning its place as my second home. I may not speak Dutch, but I am living through the quintessential Dutch experiences, including biking under never-ending downpours. Like Dubai, The Hague has been good to me due to its international nature. The greatest boon of migrating to new countries every few years is that adapting becomes second nature. From originally being a tedious prospect, moving to new countries has become an exciting adventure awaiting me.

A New Journey Awaits...

My family has recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. The southern American city will now be the “home” I visit during the summer. It is a home I have only visited once in my entire life, where the people and streets are unfamiliar, but will be where I foreseeably spend the rest of my Diwali days. Nevertheless, it adds a new element of chaos to my Jackson Pollock painting; a new adventure to take on. I look forward to the fried chicken sandwiches, F-150 Pickup trucks, and the monotonous country music that awaits me deep in the American South.

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