It wasn’t my choice to come back to India at this time, but now that I’m here, I’m glad I did. Travelling in the car, it feels like the start of an emotional pilgrimage for me, a chance to wash away the recent events of my life in the fast-flowing river that is India. Travelling on the roads here is rarely, if ever, comfortable The SUV rocks on the newly-paved roads of Trivandrum, making me hold on to the hand-grips for dear life.
It is India I see out of the window, men in lungis, women in churidars, dusty roads and bad traffic, horns honking away, roads coming out of nowhere, circle junctions which are more like mis-shapen asteroids, signs hanging precariously onto the street, advertisements plastered on gigantic billboards every 10 feet, and on every wall available.
It is all so familiar and all so strange at the same time. This is the country I grew up in. What is odd and strangely significant is that on this occasion, it marks my 10th anniversary of moving to Singapore. This visit strangely commemorates my hybrid upbringing, 20 years of existence split neatly down the middle between two nations.
After the mandatory temple visit, we decide to visit our old home. I look out of the window, trying to spot landmarks I recognise. Development has spread like a fire on log-houses shops have sprung up everywhere, tempting you with the sweetest pastries, the newest handphones, the latest fashion. For a heart-skipping moment, I think I recognise the street leading to my house. Then I think not, things look different. But the same. The curve and incline of the road illuminate my memories, and I realise it really us… much narrower than I remembered.
We turn into the Sunshine Grove* lane, the up-and-down-hill street which houses about 33 families. I notice one house has been demolished completely to make way for flats. A surge of affection fills me for my old neighbourhood, the self-formed and self-declared Sunshine Grove. No government agency or town council had anything to do with our existence – that would be a most laughable idea in India. Here, neighbourhoods are self-forming, self-governed. I remember my childhood years here spent here, playing with the neighbour boys, participating in every annual gathering of all the families in the colony with zest and enthusiasm. Those were the days… Deepa chechi next door would choreograph dances for us, and me, my best friend and the neighbour girls would practice for weeks on end for it. The boys were likely to put up a comedy show or a play, sometimes roping us in. Everyone went all out for these peformances – the gatherings were the highlight of our year, my year.
My house, no longer my home, stood at the end of a downhill road, a dead-end. Behind the compound was a coconut plantation, and my parents had bought four of those treed right behind the house as an investment – someone would come occasionally to pluck the ripe coconuts. The “caretaker”, who is really just a neighbour/friend of ours who manages our assets, is complaining that the coconuts aren’t fertile enough this season. It would never occur to my father to engage a professional for the job, preferring to put his trust in the strength of social relationships than contractual honesty.
In this dead-end road stood four houses – in my time, the four families were as good as one extended family. You could literally hop over the walls into each other’s houses, and not only ask them for a cup of sugar, but an entire packet. I must have spent more of my free time in their houses than my own. I celebrated the birth of my sister with them, and she in turn became the baby of this extended family. Now, they have all grown up and moved on. One family has moved away. Deepa chechi is married with a child, as the photo albums show, her brother is working overseas in some IT company like every other Indian boy. It seems almost impossible that I once used to play cricket and football with him. Stepping into the “caretaker’s” home, I notice three wedding photographs displayed proudly in the glass case, one of whom I remember best as playing “catch” with.
In 10 years, everyone has moved on with their lives, and so have I. No one back there would recognise the person I am, if they got to know me. People ask me if I am ever coming back to India, I smile and side-step the question, for I know the answer, the answer I’ve been denying for all this while. I don’t belong there: not anymore. I can’t be the good little (virgin) Indian girl who marries the man chosen by her parents, go to the temple every week, and pretend I care nothing about the world beyond the four walls of my house. People who once I trusted my deepest secrets with, no longer have the capacity to understand me – it is beyond my sexuality, it is my entire personality, the things I’ve been exposed to.
That, however does not mean I call Singapore home.
And thus is the fate of hybrids, who never really belong in any world.
*Not real address – has been changed to protect my privacy.
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