August 15th 2015, while all my fellow Indians were celebrating the Independence Day, hoisting flags and singing patriotic songs, I took off to a place approximately 8000 miles away from home, to get my complete independence. With an edgy feeling, along with dismay and merriment, leaving behind my parents, my sister and everything else I was associated with for the past 22 years of my life. I felt like a frog who got lucky to be able to jump out of the well.
The journey on the flight was a pleasant one except for the fact that I starved myself for 20 hours for being a picky person. The only thing that I could remember were the words of wisdom that people have been sharing with me for a while now since I was a single Indian girl travelling so far away to live by myself. I remembered one person telling me to always believe in following two – ‘conserve’ and ‘be conservative’, something that my Dad tried as hard as he could to always make me understand. It did not mean much to me that time, but when I look back today, I know exactly what it means.
The time seemed to be flying fast and the next thing I know is that I am living in the United States all by myself cooking, cleaning up, and doing dishes and the laundry, everything. It wasn’t as easy as it looked when I thought about it sitting comfortably on the couch in our living room in India. One thing I have started to appreciate the most are the efforts that our mothers put in to keeping our house spick and span and cook lusciously delicious food every single day and feed us.
You can understand how much an Indian student misses home cooked food only when he/she starts using metaphorical adjectives like “lusciously” and “delicious” in one sentence for mom-cooked food.
While trying to just hold myself together, that was not all about it. I also had to deal with roommates and put up with them for conflicts of ideas while also having to study a great deal. Sometimes people drift away from their actual focus, since there is so much to do every single moment that students like me tend to forget what and how to prioritize. It takes a great deal of efforts to cut off the loose threads from our daily lives, and focus on the priorities. Honestly, I fell flat on my face for n number of times but I was determined to stand up again smarter than before. I made a few wrong choices in the start, I goofed up but here I am standing stronger than never before. This country has given me a lifelong worth of memories. It has taught me there is so much more for me to learn and that this process is a never ending one. A lot many things that can stop you from believing in yourself, especially if you come from a very conventional family with a hidebound atmosphere. My parents have always given me the freedom of choosing a lifestyle I want for myself, and I have always tried as hard as I can to not let the distractions affect me.
The most important thing that you miss when you are away from home, is food. When I got here, I was not very good at cooking and apart from the Indian restaurants at a minimum distance of 20 miles, there’s nothing more than nachos you can eat when you are famished and have no time to cook. The limited options of food made me realize the importance of all the options I had in India but all I did was throw tantrums at it. Now, Ghar ka khana sounds yummier than any world renowned cuisine. The only thought of my dining room filled with my family members is like a bliss.
When I reached Arlington, Texas, I got to know about the Dallas Jain temple. I tried visiting the Jain Temple frequently and considered myself very lucky when they had something Indian cooking for lunch on Sundays. The Jain temple has come to my rescue whenever I felt terribly home sick. The feeling of sitting in the temple and looking at how kids are learning to do their first pujas reminds me of my own childhood. The people at the temple are always very welcoming and the families that visit the temple always make the students feel at home. The people on the committee at the Jain temple sometimes go out of the way to help students like me living by ourselves in any and every possible way.
Festivals are the times when families comes together and celebrate. As a student, living away from family, festivals for me were just any other day, and occasionally they were worse when I had an exam that day. But quickly I learnt that most festivals are being celebrated on the Sunday following the actual festival day at the Jain temple. This Diwali, I was with all the families at the Jain temple. It made me feel happy and much less home sick when I compare it to the last time. To top it up, we had ravishing festival lunch being served at the temple. Though I was away from home, the Diwali was complete. I definitely missed my family but I was gratified with the fact that if not my own family, I celebrated Diwali with my new family in this big country. This Diwali I decked up just like the way I used to when I was in India and went to the temple and prayed. Prayed in front of Lord Mahavir Swami to thank Him for helping me to adapt this massive change in my life. Just like the old days I wished my new families with the tightest hugs of Diwali. For me, this Diwali could have not got better. After the celebrations while returning home, it struck me that maybe it is not only me who felt disconnected and homesick all this while. Maybe there are many members of my new families who feel like this often. This is when the platforms like Jain Society of North Texas has played an extensive role to get us all together.
A few other festivals that I have celebrated with my new family at the Jain temple and are worth mentioning have been Paryushan and Mahavir Jayanti. The help that the committee at Jain temple is providing to students might not make a huge difference to them, but it means a lot to us. I am thankful to them for trying to make us feel comfortable in this foreign land seven seas away from home.
By Bhavana Shah