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Moving From New Delhi To New York City Has Been Surprisingly Smooth Sailing

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Much like many of the thousands of Indian students who move across the globe for study purposes, I moved to New York last September for graduate school. It’s been many months now, and yet I’m still constantly surprised at the impact this move has had on me. I think a lot about it, and these are some of those thoughts.

For representation only. Credit: Getty Images.

I want to start with saying that this move has been remarkably easy for me. I remember the few days before I left, I was finally beginning to get nervous, and I made this one particular call to my sister (who’d been living on her own for many years) listing out all the worries I had about moving. Some were stupid like doing laundry and cooking for myself, some were just about how I’d handle my studies, and then there was the worry that I wouldn’t find people I wanted to hang out with, make any friends. I’m still a little taken aback at how easy all of those were to navigate.

I’ve lived at home my entire life, with the exception of the one year I spent at Ashoka University, and I tend not to count that because I still went home every single weekend. So, this move was the first time I was going to be living on my own. That should have made things harder, but I think that’s one of the reasons why this has been so easy. I was so ready to leave, so ready to be on my own, that adapting was just a long time coming. It didn’t even take me the whole semester to love my life here so much that I was worried about my 2-year program being too short a time here. It hasn’t all been good all the time, but mostly it has. I’m going to try and divide the good and bad up, but some of it bleeds into each other.

The Good Stuff

I moved to Delhi when I was 12 and it was not at all an easy move. With the amount of bad which has happened to me in Delhi, it is not a place I have the best memories of. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything good which happened there, because Delhi is where I became who I am today. But if there is a single commonality in everything bad which has happened in my life, it is Delhi. Moving didn’t feel like all that bad just got left behind, but it doesn’t feel like I’m carrying the weight of all those experiences around my throat when I’m here. Being in New York feels like I get to find a version of me which isn’t just a sum of all the experiences I’ve survived but be more.

It isn’t just about leaving Delhi though, because then moving to a different city would have had the same impact. There is the aspect of leaving the country. I love India, but there’s a lot which our society restricts, a lot which creates ripples in families, a lot which has to be put away because there isn’t, yet, space for them in our culture, our families. I didn’t think this when I was in India. I have the privilege of having a pretty open family, and that of being surrounded by even more open friends. Yet, the societal expectations did weigh me down, did make me not even consider aspects of myself because I knew that they wouldn’t be met well.

It becomes automatic, ingrained, to question how some part of myself would impact my family, the society, my life there; to consider the cost-benefit analysis of anything off-centre. My experience of New York so far has been of a place which has allowed me to bring forth my most ignored and pushed away questions, ideas, experiences, and see what they all mean to me. I get to have a life here which isn’t navigating around which behaviour, belief, idea will hurt which person I care about. Perhaps the reason I feel lighter isn’t just being away from the memories in Delhi, but also being able to shed the weight of how much of myself I have had to put away because it wouldn’t be accepted there.

Being in New York has also, for the first time, allowed me to just focus on myself. For longer than I care to count, I’ve been the emotional support animal for most of the people I care about. It’s an exhausting experience, and more often than not, it doesn’t really leave space for my own emotions. Here, with all the time difference, the distance, I get to choose when I want to be the emotional support and for whom. I get to spend most of my time just being about me. Even just writing these words just made me breathe out in relief. I don’t think people realise how isolating it can be to be the emotional support for eeeeveryone. It’s one of the big reasons why I became so self-reliant that even if I was ever given the space for my own emotions, I tended not to take it. But here, my daily life is literally just about myself. It sounds a little dramatic, but it’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt that I’m living for myself.

In line with the self-reliance, is this idea of independence. Emotional independence isn’t particularly tangible or calculable, especially when few can really identify it. It’s different than my sister who moved to a different country, when she was 17, for almost a decade. She was feeding herself, managing her house, cleaning up after herself, doing all the things which visibly fall under the ‘adulting’ list. Living at home, I did none of that, and so my kind of independence was generally somewhat invisible. Moving, and the ease with which I’ve adapted have felt like the rest of my life finally caught up with the emotional self-reliance. It’s a small but a powerful impact.

Mostly, New York has been about exploring myself, especially those parts which wouldn’t always be welcome at home. My program is one which encourages questioning of beliefs, the status quo of absolutely anything, society, people… basically just questioning. I’ve been lucky to find friends I’ve connected strongly with, who are in this journey of questioning things as well, who help me question myself. The classes, conversations with friends, they’ve made me see deeper into the world, into society, and question all the bones.

College in Delhi started that process, I think. But somewhere down the line, the process kind of paused and then went into high gear in New York. But it isn’t just about society and the world, but also myself; the program and my friends have helped me look at myself critically. Some of the conversations I’ve had with friends here have kind of made me take a deep dive into myself and just be more honest with what I find there. I’ve had some major epiphanies about myself here, confronted some issues which I’d been avoiding or didn’t know existed, gotten to know parts which I would have sworn were dead. I’ve been somewhat isolated in my own head for so long, static. Here, it feels like I don’t really need to be, that I can venture out every now and then, let people in every now and then.

For representation only. Credit: Getty Images.

One of my favourite parts of moving here has been connecting to my culture and Indian identity more. Which doesn’t really make sense, but it does. I’ve never had to explain cultural things before, and I find myself doing that all the time here. Before coming here, I’d been feeling disconnected from Hindi because I don’t read or write in Hindi anymore, and worried that I wasn’t even thinking in my own mother tongue. Talking in English all the time made me realize that I actually do think in Hindi more often than I realise, and also how there are some things which just don’t translate to English. I’ve been more encouraged to better my Hindi and not acculturate to the extent that I lose my own cultural identity. Because I have to explain societal and cultural stuff so often, I also learn more, because when I don’t know something, I read about it. But it also made me realize how much I do already know. If while sitting in India, I was feeling too westernised, here, in the actual West, I’ve learnt that I am westernised, but I’m also very much desi, connected to my own culture; I’m just evolving the culture, adapting it to suit my needs as well.

I’m not sure if the words I’m writing really explain the experience. I’m just lighter in New York; a lot more me than I was in Delhi. It’s like I’ve been able to bring back some of the best aspects of myself which had gotten too tired in Delhi. I’m more active here, less tired. I exercise regularly and it’s entirely self-motivated. I go for shows and socialising without cancelling five times and dragging myself there out of duty or guilt. I want to just simply do things more here. I still have the introvert, binge-watching, nocturnal me intact, but it’s just like I’m less dragged down, or suffocated, here. I’m more assertive about my thoughts and needs, more forgiving of myself and mistakes I make, just overall more compassionate towards myself, or at least trying to be. For those who know me, that statement would say a lot.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

Honestly, I think that even the not-so-good things about being in New York actually are kind of good too, or at least have good consequences.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing (after the food. Seriously, this country does NOT do food well), is how this internalised white-people/the West idealisation plays out all the time. It was kind of shocking for me to realise how much of this idea I’d actually internalised, because I tend to think I’m more awesome than most people and also not to really care much about how I’m perceived by people. So, it is absolutely and completely frustrating when I think a few times before saying something to my American and/or white friends. I’m not one to ever think I’m inferior to people, and yet, sometimes I feel like who I am, and the experiences I’ve had, don’t match up to theirs. I know that this is all a result of colonialism and ancestral trauma, but it is irritating. Theoretically, I know that nothing about me is actually inferior to my friends here and they never make me feel like it is, but with every word I mispronounce (or pronounce the Indian way), the cultural things I don’t understand, the stark difference in how we were raised or other life experiences, I have to keep reminding myself that, because the little inferiority tends to creep in. I’m more careful, in some ways, with white-people friends than I am with Desis. In others, it could be argued that I’m not.

Why this is also good is that I am aware of it, and I get to actively work on undoing 25 years of socialising. I try and be frank about this even with the white-people friends because I also find it completely fascinating. It also makes me connect with myself more because in undoing the socialising, I need to be aware of what is natural and what is forced. So, it’s one more way I get to be brutally honest with myself which I do enjoy and since I realised this phenomenon to writing this now, I’ve already seen a major difference, lessening of the overthinking and insecurity I feel sometimes.

Sometimes though, I just feel a little lonely being away from all of the things which make my culture. I feel it so much when it comes to news in India. I used to have a lot of conversations about things happening in the country with my friends in India and it was easy because they were reading the same news, they knew what was happening in the country. Americans have little to no idea of what’s happening in the world outside America and maybe some of the major things in other mostly white-people countries. So, if I ever want to talk about something which is happening in India, I first have to tell them what’s happening, then give context about it, and that’s the conversation.

Understandably, they don’t feel it the way I do, the way my Indian friends do, so I end up only bringing up those issues or pieces of news which I really want to talk about, because I don’t want to force them to hear about India all of the time when they may not be interested, and I don’t really want to always explain things. I’ve been feeling this cultural isolation a lot after the election results. I don’t think I’d realised how much of my conversations at home are political or local news related. The good part of this is that I write a lot more here, as a consequence.

I miss talking in Hinglish all the time. There are somethings which just are said better in Hindi, and I find that the translation app inside my head kind of always has to be on alert. The main thing I miss though is the food. There are far fewer options for vegetarian food, which gets kind of irritating, and this city (arguably this country) has no freaking idea what ‘spicy’ means! Honestly, I don’t think I realised how much I’d miss Indian food or alternatively, spicy food of any kind. It’s genuinely hilarious to see what these people consider ‘spicy’, so at least I get many many laughs out of it. It also means that I end up cooking more than I would have, so that’s kind of awesome too.

Overall, I’m so pleased with what this move has meant for me. I’m proud of myself for using this experience to try out new things, to get to know myself more, to just do the things I don’t know if I would be able to in India. I can’t imagine settling in any other country but India, but New York has ended up having strong home-feelings as well, in such a short span of time.

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