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|Volume 10 |Issue 38 | October 07, 2011 ||
The Return of the “Native”
Sushmita S Preetha
It has been almost two months since I returned to this auspicious birthplace of mine. Before I left, some of my well-wishing American acquaintances wondered if I was returning to the East in search of lost meaning, happiness and inner peace. “Nothing like the East,” I told them sardonically, “to cure the restlessness of the conflicted, disoriented soul. The traffic jams, spicy food, load-sheddings and general third world anarchy can do wonders to ease one's existential crises. Enlightenment hits one like inflation during Ramadan.”
Hidden beneath this veneer of sarcasm, however, was an innocent hope that returning to the native land would somehow bring me closer to “discovering” myself. I wasn't about to admit it to the world, but I was suffering from a bad case of graduation jitters – what we, in our circles, called the PGED (post-grad existential dilemma), a typical condition afflicting the average liberal arts graduate. The real irony is that I had been oddly confident about who I was throughout the four years of college. I knew exactly who I wanted to be, where I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated. Come May 2011, though, I found myself questioning the fool-proof plans I had made about my life. Do I really want to go back to Dhaka and a lifetime of coming- back-home-by-9-pm? Is a 9 to 5 NGO job my idea of resistance? Can I really let go of all the things and people I had fallen in love with in the States?
There was only one way to find out: a one-way Emirates flight from NYC to DHK.
My close friends were convinced that my return to the East would simply exacerbate my post-colonial post-modern tragic hero condition. You would be miserable, they insisted, the constant marriage proposals would really get to you. Besides, they all asked, how would you possibly give up your rock n roll lifestyle?
I sighed then. And I sigh now.
Predictably, I have found neither contentment nor meaning amid the cacophonic boredom that is life in Dhaka. The traffic jams no longer appear charming, and I seem too far removed from the conversations of my old school friends or of my new colleagues to not feel alone. I miss good coffee, granola, indie music and the occasional discussions about the post-human agency of trees after philosophy classes. I hate to admit it, but I do miss America. Not the America that I experienced (of racism, homophobia, and unapologetic capitalism), but the one I retrospectively imagined into being. Like Rushdie's Bombay, my New York (unlike the one that I always rejected, and one that perhaps rejected me, too) is one to which I am willing to admit I belong[ed].
I came back to Dhaka even though I knew it wouldn't make me completely happy. I came back because I knew I wasn't ready to let go of everything that Dhaka means to me – the hot cha every half hour, the monsoon rains, New Market, the halwas on shab-e-baraat, the naïve curiosity of the neighbour as my brother walks a girl home, teenage boys playing cricket on the streets during hartal (yes, I am aware that my life is a postcolonial cliché). For four long years, whenever I had a fever, I missed the suffocating and obsessive attention of my parents. I missed the family gatherings, the afternoon excursions with my brother to look for new DVDs in Rifles, the random weddings I used to diligently attend every winter in search of the perfect kacchi biryani and borhani or the Bollywood songs blasting from my neighbour's house.
In some ways – in a lot of ways, I suppose – I longed to return to the wonderland of my childhood. But the Dhaka I came back to is no longer the Dhaka I left. Dhaka itself seems a lot more confused about its own identity, like it hasn't quite made up its mind about how to deal with the transition from the old to the new. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the “I” who left Dhaka is no longer the “I” who returned to it. Whether it's Dhaka or I that changed, the fact remains: Dhaka is no longer really home. At least it's not home in the same way that I remember it to be. But can home ever really be home once you leave it?
Perhaps the real reason I returned to Dhaka is to figure out if I can make my once-home my home again. If “I” will ever again really make sense in [and sense of] the once-beloved homeland that I still desperately want to love.
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