Return and Readjustment

July 10, 2014

in Asia, India, Lydia Odegard, Spring 2014

It has been over 3 weeks since my return to the US from India, and I am long overdue for a wrap-up—which I owe to both my blogging experience and to my personal experience of 5 ½ months abroad.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent my last leg of time in India (7 weeks) in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh, where I had spent a gap year after high school. Not only was it fantastic to be back at home and reconnect with my Indian family there, but many of my Varanasi comrades came through the area as well and I was able to show them a different version of the India we had experienced together in Banaras.

It has been 2 ½ months since I left Varanasi, and though the place is physically very far away, I can quickly recall the stench of urine that permeated my nostrils through the alleyway en route to school, or the nostalgic reverberation of crackly speakers blaring the daily bhajans (devotional songs) accompanying aarti (a public fire worship) at Assi Ghat every evening—among an endless range of other routine memories, both gross and beautiful like these. It is comforting to know that at least recalling these moments is, as of now, still so easy.

Madison seemed like a silent and boring place for the first week or so after my arrival, and at times still does. When I dragged my bike out from the basement, the contraption seemed shocking light and functional compared to my Varanasi vehicle. The smooth roads and lack of obstacles seemed even stranger to me as I navigated Madison’s grid-like and orderly streets. Though you would think this ease would bring me a sense of relief, it really just left me missing moments during which I would indignantly shove my way through the meandering pace of the Banarasi lifestyle, nearly crashing into rickshaws, goats, and street food carts while I was at it. Day-to-day life here seemed and seems too smooth compared to what I just came from, and the lack of blatant physical challenges which always tested my mental patience, too, left both my environment and me feeling empty.

Thus, readjustment to my lifestyle here has brought forth different sets of both physical challenges—e.g. How do I incorporate yoga into my daily routine here?—and mental ones—e.g. What is the best way to respond to the question, “how was India”? Is there a way I can answer it that will adequately convey my love for India, the daily difficulties it posed, and all the incredible aspects of my experience that I desperately wish I could illustrate for you?

So in case you were wondering, yes—reverse culture shock is real. And even though this is my fifth time returning from India, I am still experiencing it this time. While I still struggle with heartache for India that feels much worse than it did when I left the US, I am slowly getting back into the groove of my American lifestyle. One of the best reminders pushing me to revamp my appreciation for my American home was getting an email from a well-travelled American friend who is in India. In response to a sob story I had written to him about my sadness to return, he noted that though he could sympathize and that India is an integral part of his life, it does not complete him. His reminder list of what’s good about the U.S. went like this: “old friends, family, cities and city life, sexual freedoms, museums, libraries, so many free resources, mint vegan cupcakes… O yeah, my cat.” I definitely agree with many of these (especially the latter), and can fill in the gaps of myself that were missing in India with a more extensive list of what makes mera man lagta hai—a Hindi expression for which I haven’t heard a good translation but that, in my own interpretation, basically means to feel fulfilled.

Now I have moved on from the initial stage of reverse culture shock (“Why did I come back?!”) to the next—recognizing that the list of what makes mera man lagta hai involves a healthy mix of both India-related and non-India related aspects of my life, as well as ones that cross over… such as the fact that I feel unbelievably fortunate to have been born into such circumstances that led me to India.

I drank countless of these clay cups of chai at Assi Ghat in Banaras

I drank countless of these clay cups of chai at Assi Ghat in Banaras

Varanasi view from a rooftop restaurant

Varanasi view from a rooftop restaurant

My Varanasi Hindi class with Vimal ji, our fantastic teacher

My Varanasi Hindi class with Vimal ji, our fantastic teacher

"Ganga Ma", or the goddess of the Ganges river, painted at a ghat

“Ganga Ma”, or the goddess of the Ganges river, painted at a ghat

Laundry drying on one of the ghats

Laundry drying on one of the ghats

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