Words by Aastha Agrawal Art by Shi Min
A trip back to India after three years was what I had dreaded for a solid six months prior to even booking the flights.
I was around 14 when we last visited, and even back then, for a strong opinionated but anxiety driven adolescent, being forced into situations that you associated with discomfort, and having to live with your extended family that you’d never been close with, was not far from my description of hell on Earth.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that there is not only a huge difference in how you perceive the world from when you’re in your early teens, to how that evolves in adulthood, but also how people perceive you and frame their understanding of who you are and who you’ve become.
Three years is an extremely long time and you don’t always stay connected to family members that you didn’t grow up around. People are quick to assume how foreign countries may have shaped and changed you, it doesn’t leave much room to fit in or adjust. Going back for me might as well have been comparable to living with a new exchange family every few years or so, because by the time your next visit rolls around, you’ve changed so much as a person and so much has happened in their lives too, that it’s almost as if you don’t even know them.
Upon arriving back from India, to my family house in Perth, I had a few days returning to Melbourne. I was overcome with sombre feelings at the realisation that the trip had played out pretty well and I’d managed to enjoy myself. I had survived to tell the tale despite predicting otherwise.
I’m sure those who’ve been in similar situations; growing up in different parts of the world, constantly on the move, new cities, new schools, meeting and trying to fit in with new people and adapting to new lifestyles, cultures, and norms, will agree that it all leaves you a bit dazed. It’s almost like you’ve been continuously floating, like your feet have never really had the chance to touch the ground. Life becomes a blur, like your private montage with brief snippets of all the new places, homes, people, schools, cultures and experiences all collided together to form you.
This fast-paced and ever-changing lifestyle had set me up with a constant state of numb and then to suddenly feel so intensely, was overwhelming, to say the least. It didn’t take long to conclude that I belonged nowhere and I hadn’t formed a stable identity. The shift from places within India, to my move to South Africa, and then Australia counting Perth and Melbourne, left little description of ‘home’ for me. There had been no place I bonded with. No childhood friends or memories with people that I still knew to this day. No place to call my own, no place that could call me theirs.
The more I let this settle in, the more distressing it got. I started to compare myself to others, my friends who got excited as the semester ended to go back ‘home’, be in their elements and see their friends and family. It made me jealous how other students in my tutes would introduce themselves, saying that they’d lived here all their lives and knew all about the place. It led me down a period where I had pondered and become so frustrated with my self-diagnosed identity of ‘lost and confused’ that it turned into anger and frustration.
A few weeks ago, my friend invited me over for dinner. We ate and had a couple of drinks and we talked. I told them about what had been going on inside my head, revealing how I felt that the constant instability in my life had led me to lose my self-identity or ability to connect with a place or person or memory, stealing my chance to understand my own character. They let me explain this for a bit, me pouring out all that I felt had led me to this state and after a brief moment of silence, one of them simply said “But maybe that’s you, that’s who you are, that’s your identity.”
I let that sink it in for a second. It was the first time I had nothing to say back, nothing to add to or argue against, nothing to say “it’s more complicated than that” to, because at that moment I realised that my character and identity had all along been a product of all the experiences that I initially thought were the reason to why I couldn’t form one.
The fact that I have moved all my life and I have seen and experienced so much, the fact that I have met so many different types of people and been to so many cities and schools and been able to adapt and adjust to the continuous change, all that in itself, makes me who I am. I was so set on illustrating my experiences negatively because they differed from everyone else’s around me, that I didn’t even take a step back to realise that actually, all these adventures in my short life have contributed so heavily in making me who I am today. I don’t need to have my feet dug deep into the ground to grow, it’s not the only way to flourish or thrive.