desi diaspora

when the rains come without warning, there’s nothing but drumming on corrugated metal roofs, rivulets running off sidewalks, instantaneous mud puddles under a suddenly dark sky.

monsoons in mumbai

A post shared by Shivani Bhatia (@shivanimb) on

 

from my red plastic chair in the office, the rain is silhouetted against a few block printed chadars on the balcony opposite ours. the door is flung wide open to catch a passing breeze, and the scent of clean rain washes away all the grit and sweat of mumbai. mausiji brings around steaming cups of chai, and i slather on tea tree oil to repel mosquitos.

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i am having a lot of desi diaspora feels these days. i think it’s my ungrammatical hindi and my inability to eat red chilis whole. i’m speaking more hindi here than i’ve ever spoken in my life — no surprise, really, as i’ve never really spoken hindi before in my life — but it’s reassuring to know that i can actually get by in this language that’s all too familiar in my head and all too foreign for my tongue. i don’t know any tenses beyond a simple present and past, though, so talking about anything more complicated than “please turn right, my gate is just over the bridge” or “do you have rajma-chaval, i need some comfort food please” is annoyingly difficult. i know how it should sound in my head, i can have whole mental conversations about maternal health programs and theories of behavior change in silent hindi, but often it comes out with verb endings i know i’ve made up. of course, when we go to meet the women running health committees in the slums and it’s all marathi, i’m completely lost.

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i suppose this is why they call us abcds. american born confused desi. i saw a sign on an office building down the street the other day that said “nri: not really indian.” when i told my mother G wanted to visit me in india because it’s important, she asked, “but why? you’re not indian.” she’s right, of course, and so was the nri sign.

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and yet. the guard at city palace in jaipur asked me why i was standing in the foreigner’s ticket line; when i said i was from the US, he laughed and told me i looked indian enough, go get an indian ticket. i nearly hugged him. i love when the uber drivers respond to me in hindi because it means my accent isn’t so bad that they can immediately tell that english was my first language. maybe they’re humoring me, but i’ll take it.

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this is such a silly example, but. i love shopping here. i never like shopping. the clothes fit better and the colors work with my skin and my home and the bold block-printed dabu-dyed patterns speak to me. i feel like myself with these textiles.

on that note — stay tuned for a post all about textiles & block printing from Bagru, Rajasthan!

 

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mumbai is hot

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it is three days before the monsoons start. i am pouring sweat by the time i reach the ground floor of our apartment building, which seems to be not quite fully constructed. i’m on my fourth liter of water today and my lungs still feel coated in haze & dust.

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k & i found a grocery store in a blissfully air conditioned mall yesterday and returned home for a triumphant meal of stir-fried veggies and a patila of dal. tonight it’s too hot for real food, though, and sometimes a banana & nutella tastes better than anything else. sometimes the first few days of a new job & apartment searching & new neighborhoods & tongues tripping over languages are scattered & overwhelming & unsettled, but the bananas are still the sweetest they’ve ever been.

and yet!

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i made it to india. i’m here.

airplanes to amman

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airplanes are kind of incredible, when I stop to think — actually think — about it. this revelation may be somewhat prompted by the fact that I spent all five hours of my london to amman flight sprawled blissfully across the three empty seats in my row, (finally) reading Outlander, and the mental shift to the 1700s is making me appreciate modern comforts quite a bit more.

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(the three empty seats didn’t hurt either, to be sure.)

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when I arrive in amman, past midnight and hungry, it feels a bit like I’ve Apparated here — a weird dizziness, like the flight crew actually squished time like silly putty, popped and re-formed it into something/somewhere where the sun bleaches everything white and the air is thick with dust and curls of cigarette smoke and it smells not quite like india but not quite unlike it either.

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amman so far is gradients of sandstone and hummus — like everything is the color of roasted chickpeas & chipped bricks & warm pita bread — the cobblestone sidewalks to the dusty sunset & moonrise to the way the calls to prayer around the city all blend into a single unearthly hum of sumac-scented chanting in the predawn of 4 am.

to be honest, I haven’t been here long enough to draw any kinds of conclusions about anything. not that this reality will change dramatically by the time I leave here on monday, but I will leave you with this photograph of an incredible mural anyway.

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