You know, I didn’t think I would have something dramatic to share in this first blog-post. But it turns out I do.
After I left India in 2008, after 5 years of calling India home, I haven’t been back even for a short visit. And quite frankly, I feel like I’m telling a secret when I reveal that I have not felt any desire to return. Not even a slight stir in my heart. The reasons are numerous, but let me simply say this: I’m afraid to return and find myself again succumbing to the powers around me and becoming a person I can’t recognize.
When I lived in South India studying Bharata Natyam, my number one fear was that the people around me would discover (as if it wasn’t already obvious!) that I was white, that I was a foreigner, and therefore somehow unqualified to grasp the finer textures of the art-form. To somehow prove my worthiness, I started talking and thinking like a South Indian girl. Something my friends here in U.S. where quick to make fun of when I come back. The crazy thing is that I wasn’t even aware of it myself. Essentially now I’m in the process of re-constructing my own self. Just in the past years have I been putting my foot down and considering “Where do I want to go?” “What do I believe?” “What is important to me?”
When I chat online with friends from Kalakshetra, the dance school I went to, each of them ask the question at some point: “When are you coming back?” It seems so easy for most people. Chennai, where Kalakshetra is located, is the hub for live dance and music in South India (and probably the world). In the context of Chennai’s steady flow of people – Indians, tourists, dance-enthusiasts and so on – me returning for an occasional visit would make sense. Talking about Chennai’s call is just the tip of the iceberg for me because I have connections to India that go beyond dance. In my circle of friends in America, for instance, a trip to India is pretty commonplace, kind of like one of those things you just do. It seems to me that everyone wants to either go to India or is going to India, except for me. Initially, I felt strange about this lack of desire, like I’d misplaced something important but also have no energy to search for it. At the same time, “the India-question” is one among many things I feel strange or ambivalent about. Recently, I’ve stopped looking for easy answers and instead I seek some peace in just accepting that is how I feel.
So now to the dramatic thing I mentioned at the outset:
The Mayapuris, the kirtan-group I’ve travelled and collaborated with, want to fly me to India over spring-break! So a paid trip to India just fell into my lap! And as you might imagine, I’m not quite doing the jiggy. I’m just sitting here and thinking… and breathing…. I realize that going to India is an exciting prospect for most people, and if the trip comes all-expenses paid, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
What do I do now? How strongly do I feel now about putting my foot down? Can I put my “re-construction” project on hold? Can I go to India and be myself?
Because that’s what it ultimately boils down to for me: this deep need to show up in the world as the person I really am, without giving in to external pressures that ask me to conform to expectations around me as a woman, a Bharata Natyam dancer, and a devotee of Krishna. To go or not to go?
That simply doesn’t sum up the complexity of the question I’m really asking…