How do you feel, living in another country?

Mona Dash

- Mona Dash

The question may be simple to articulate but the answer, surely never that simple.  Diasporic literature seeks to explore and answer this in its many forms. Post-colonial theories try to understand the behaviour of the colonised and the colonisers. I don’t need to however think of the history, the geography, and the various opinions and views: when asked the question, forgetting my many characters in the stories I’ve written, forgetting my words in my own poems, let me try to answer.

But in trying to answer, I find it is easier to ask more questions. Another country, a foreign country? For how long does it remain ‘another country’? Will it always be so, even if you have lived a significant part of your adult life? Have had children and are raising children in this other country? Even if you speak the language? Does the country of birth always mean more than the country you live in? maybe even die in?  Are the ties with this other country, meant to be as easy to sever as easily as a climber’s thin roots, easily uprooted, growing elsewhere? Is the family you are born into always more important than the family you have created? And is it that impossible that you can love both fiercely?

The other country I live in, and which I moved to was out of my own free will. No husband in an arranged marriage who booked a one-way ticket and forced me to live in a cold, grey country, no employer sent me away to complete a project.  The only reason was a desire to move somewhere else, and that was brought about a big change in personal circumstances, which is another story. 
When you come to this other country, not by force, but by choice, you will see things you like. A sense of freedom for one.  The much maligned west does offer a stronger individual sense of freedom and identity, more so when you move, without any prior ties, there is no community, no society. If you are a married woman, then a sense of fresh air, away from the voices and relations you had acquired, weighing on your shoulders, demanding what you do not wish to give. 

You may also like the beauty of the countryside, the beauty of the city. Diversity, a huge variety of cultures and people to meet, a feeling of the world suddenly becoming your oyster.

While the sense of self is heightened when you are away from the roots which bear you down and away from the voices in your own head which tell you things to do and not to; and brings with it a sense of accomplishment, there are things you don’t like as well, living in this other country. The sense of a question; from everyone those you live with and those you have lived with: who are you after all? Are you one of us, or one of them? Will you ever be one of us?  And if you become one of them, remember you can’t be one of us anymore.

And a sixth sense develops quickly enough. Comparing, contrasting what is here and what is there, asking of yourself, of others; sometimes leading to a sense of disillusionment and anger, usually with the country one lives in; sometimes with both. And sometimes, just sometimes, leading to a balance,  where the other country one lives in and the country one is born in, are both complementary, accepted and loved at least in your own heart.

Never mind what others think of you.

As an immigrant,
I am expected to behave in a way
a certain way.

Colour the walls with turmeric,
fill my soul with lament
for the land whose shores I have left
to become richer economically
poorer emotionally.
Fold oil into long black hair,
dream the stars of the eastern skies,
in this land, the land I call my own,
but never to be my own.
Wrapped in sarees, sapphire blue, sindoor red,
meant to be nostalgic about the
monsoon spray dazzling my eyes
calming my burning skin.

 Instead, my mind
soothed by the nourishing cool green
of the land I live in,
energised by the glowing orange sun
of the land I come from,
decorates ice cubes with spice.

With silver anklets, red stilettoes,
the shortest, blackest dress,
I sip prosecco, spear olives expertly,
pile plates with rice and chicken curry
while in the garden
lavender, jasmine, clematis, and marigold,
spread their roots, dance their petals
into the pale grey wet skies
and the searing sunshine.

Uproot, grow, take root
parallel truths, a little of this,
a little of that.
For an immigrant,
there is no certain way to be.

(From the poetry collection : A Certain Way, Skylark Publications UK)

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