The problem I have with being a Metro(politan) Mallu is the lack of a sense of belonging, of home, of family. You are not quite like your fellow friends aboard, nor are you fully a Keralite. I’m constantly at war with myself about where I belong.
Being born and raised in a small Malayalee community outside of Kerala for the better part of 20 years, I have always considered this community my family. My friends’ mums were my aunts, my second mums, their dads’ were my uncles; my friends were a part of my extended family. However, all of this changed 2 years ago when I had an eye-opening experience on a trip to Kerala.
Two years ago I made the conscious decision to visit my homeland by myself. It was the first time I stayed with my grandmother, aunts and uncles without my immediate family. My parents were not there to translate for me when I was just not being understood; my sister and brother were not there for me to bitch and moan to about how hot it was and how I just wanted to be back in my own bed back home. I was going to stay with people with whom I always felt like a guest, despite them being my blood relatives.
Initially, I was reserved and awkward. I acted like the perfect guest: never complaining, always eating what was put in front of me, never having demands, but I quickly realised that this feeling I had of being an outsider was all in my head.
These people – my family – they loved me unconditionally. And it was in the small things they did for me that I began to realise: from my aunt taking leave to go shopping with me in Cochin, just so that I had company and didn’t get robbed/lost; to my uncle going out of his way to get a particular ingredient – just because I happened to mention how tasty it was during one random supper. Or when my aunt bought me a green churidar because she had heard me say how much I love the colour green, or my Ammama preparing chemeen for me – but also making it in such a way that I could take it back with me on the plane trip back.
What made these simple acts of love so heartfelt was that I knew they did not have to do any of it; that it was simply a choice that they had made, actions from which they expected nothing in return.
Since I have started working, I realise how precious time is. I’m exhausted when I come back from work and don’t want to do anything, least of all cook. I guard my annual leave carefully and make sure I only take it during long weekends so I can make the most of it. So when my family happily gave up their annual leaves, time and effort just for me, just so that I would be happy – it really touched me, because I know that in this day and age, nobody does that anymore. Not for free, at least.
It was in those two glorious weeks that I had my revelation. That the people who were actually of my blood, who I had put in a box called “guests” – these people were my real family. My sense of belonging, my home, my heart, was actually found there with them. I realised how arrogant and selfish I had been. I had not taken the time to get to know them, to know when their birthdays were (thank goodness for Facebook), to know what their favourite colour is. To actually know them; their personalities, what makes them laugh, what makes them sad…
I left India that December, ashamed of myself and appalled at my behaviour.
I now look at my trips to India, not as a chore, or with contempt (I still haven’t seen the Taj Mahal and I have been to India more times than I count on my hands), but with eager anticipation. My sheer joy when I see my grandmother, my aunts and uncles, is immeasurable. I feel like I am finally at home when I am surrounded by the immense and unconditional love that is my family.
I finally belong. -Mariamma