Article by Ravinder Kaur Bali
“The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something, permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.” Zia Haider Rehman
The poignant words above, from In the Light of What We Know rightly echo the experience of most migrants; for at heart, exiles are us. Uprooted from the motherland, either through our own decision to experience life elsewhere, or by the religious/social/political upheavals in that same motherland, for most of us, there is no going back. Over time, what was left behind grows a halo and a rosy tint, and the longer the exile, the deeper the tugging at the heart-strings.
The question that we inevitably face is: how do we reconcile this heart-ache with our desire to seek the best for ourselves and our children? An obvious answer is to be found in new friendships and in community. We are inevitably drawn to those from our own communities, and for most Indians, our places of worship become the focal points of our lives, much for extending the fragile hold on what we lost, as for anchoring us in our new surrounds. Building new friendships and social connections provides much of the cohesion desperately needed to ease the uncertainty in the early days of finding our feet, be it finding jobs, settling the kids, or enrolling in courses to up-skill ourselves. These new ‘early days’ friendships go a long way towards lifelong relationships that establish us socially.
And yet, even 20-30 years after migrating, there are those who say they feel rudderless and lost. This disenchantment can afflict anyone, though it is more apparent in those who migrate in their fifties, at the peak of their careers in their homeland. Sadly, this leads further into isolation that thwarts the very community-based support that is available and can help overcome it.
A very simple solution may lie in a single word. Give. I am reminded of my own father who spoke from personal experience when he insisted that one can truly belong to a place and its people only when one learns to give. Find something that moves you, he said, makes you weep with the sheer beauty of it, and give. Does not matter what you give; time, effort, money, advice, even a shoulder for someone to cry on; give, and you will belong, no matter where you are.
Yes, that does hold true: anywhere in the world. A world more fractured now, where we are increasingly more isolated while being more connected. Perhaps, we needed the tragedy of a pandemic to remind us that ‘we are all in this together’. That this planet is home, and we all global citizens, even if only Pico Iyer confesses to being one. And we will be more so when we are pandemic-free, having learnt that isolation is so the sick may heal, and for the healthy to be able to help. That we need to give, and to share, including toilet paper among citizens and vaccines among countries. One sure way to restore our ‘sense of belonging’.
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