Yesterday, I was tasked with writing about three songs that have the most meaning to me, and I thought it was the toughest assignment so far. But today’s task is a lot tougher, not because it’s hard to think of something but because the subject at hand is hard to write about. I consider alternatives; maybe I’ll do a lighter piece on the time I lost my keys or how I used to lose lunchboxes in grade school. But no. I know exactly what I need to write about.
I grew up in a small family: mom, dad, older brother and me. We had a whole bunch of relatives that we didn’t always interact with, mainly because we lived in a different country. I’m Indian by birth, though it’s very much a foreign land to me rather than home. Because of my dad’s work (as well as other factors), my family bounced around the Middle East a bit. We had a comfortable life in Kuwait until I was six, when the start of the first Gulf War drove us out of the country and back to India for a short while.
My dad got a job in the United Arab Emirates a few months later, and we moved out again to discover a new world and a new life. I grew up in Dubai, among friends, a goofball brother, a busy but doting father and a mother whose love could sometimes be overpowering, as is the case with mothers the world over.
Ever since her marriage, my mother had been a dedicated housewife and home maker, but she was itching to do more, to do something for herself. She got a job as a kindergarten teacher in a nearby school. All of our schedules didn’t completely sync up (my mother’s school and mine followed different systems), so one of us might have a holiday or a day off while the others were busy. I still remember that one morning when I was on break and woke up to a completely empty house. My father was at work and my brother at school, both completely normal things. But my mother, who was usually up and around the house, was also gone. It was hard to grasp as a child and the sudden onset of loneliness had me bawling my eyes out in no time. For a few weeks after that, my dad took me to work with him in the mornings and dropped me back at lunch when my mom was home again.
But I got used to this change soon enough, and my mom later moved onto a bigger school, continuing her work. She also had a passion for music and joined a couple of institutes as a singing teacher; she would later go onto give private lessons on the side. Despite advancing in age, she was still able to cram a lot onto her plate!
Thus life continued for my little family until it was time for me to go to college. It is a matter of prestige amongst Indian parents (and others too, I’m sure) to send their children to American colleges. Some financial issues had prevented them from sending my brother off, but they’d saved up for me, and now it was time to go. It was a tense few months before the start of my freshman year. On the one hand, there was the excitement of going to college and of striking it out on my own, but there was also the dread of leaving my family behind. And my mom. I was like a little kid left home alone again.
Once I made it to the U.S., the scales tipped in favor of excitement, and it took me a surprisingly short time to adjust to my new environment. But as the end of the semester approached, I found myself growing increasingly homesick and eager to go back. This cycle continued throughout my college life, as the start of each semester brought new challenges and adventures, and the end brought promises of home. That would soon change.
After finishing undergrad, I wasn’t really in a rush to join the workforce, so I went to grad school instead. My schedule got a bit more hectic and, coupled with renewed money troubles at home, my end-of-semester trips were indefinitely put on hold. My family, who had been one of the cornerstones of my life growing up, was now reduced to little more than an hour long phone call over the weekend. If my undergrad years were ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’, then my graduate school period began to resemble ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
I had a newly discovered hobby, quickly becoming a passion, which brought me into a new group of friends and introduced me to my first girlfriend. Clearly, family was a secondary concern now. I was living a different life and they were lost to me on the other side of the world. Little did I know that I was yet to face bigger losses, and was building myself a foundation of regret.