I return to Harvard for my sixth semester completely refreshed and rejuvenated after a month spent in India with my dear extended family.
My goals for this period were to “spend time with my grandparents,” “do nothing,” and “think.” Despite their very modest nature, there was indeed a (quite long!) phase during which I felt uneasy that either a) I was not accomplishing these objectives successfully, or b) these were not the “right” goals to have for a winter break, or c) both. But I can say based especially on my last few weeks traveling that there could have been no better way to reset my consciousness and get ready for the grind of junior spring.
When asked what my favorite things about India are, I usually say the air and the birds. Both are distinctly different from those in the US. After this winter’s visit, I would like to add the fruits and the streets of India to this list. There is a kind of weird, probably pretentious calm that overcomes me on long (between two- and six-hour) road trips in India that may be unparalleled in both euphoria and propensity for idea-generation by any other experience I frequently have. Observing people on/along the road is a treat, and the snapshots one is able to snatch of daily life for an “average” Indian are colorful, chaotic, and often touching. Intersperse these vignettes with swaths of Punjab greens and yellows and the drives are undeniably delicious (if a bit fog-filled this time around).
To be “disconnected” was a second-tier goal of sorts for me, which I certainly had more trouble achieving than my less trying objectives above, but I wouldn’t easily have traded the conversations I had with friends in different countries (albeit often text-based) for much. It was through a few such discussions that I realized that “doing nothing” but doing it in another country is in itself doing a lot, that just to exist in India is a very valuable experience, and one distinctly different from what I’m used to. Add in the linguistic calculation and cultural calibration more or less “required” to exist meaningfully in Punjab and I had my month’s work cut out for me.
If this doesn’t sound like enough to fill an entire month, it’s because it wasn’t. It wasn’t enough to fill an entire month lived at the pace at which we often experience school, college, and daily life in general. My days were notably slower than my days at school. Everything took longer, from the process of waking up to the span of my mealtimes to getting dressed everyday. The extra time was filled with much singing, lots of thoughts, and sometimes none. This is definitely not everyone’s India; this is the embarrassingly decadent India of someone being absurdly spoiled by her relatives. As a result, I find myself at this time profoundly well-rested.
Talking to my grandparents was a joy as well: from laughing uncontrollably with Nani to discussing the role of faith in eradicating loneliness with Dadi to explaining my concentration quandaries to Nanaji, the words we exchanged over food that was SO worth getting fat from were priceless. I feel thankful and light to have had this opportunity to do so.
A note to all current/future parents: there is perhaps no greater gift (outside of education) that you can give your children than the opportunity to grow up around the cultures of two countries at once.