We moved to Texas when I was six. In our new neighborhood, I met the other kids who lived around the cul-de-sac. They were white; my brother and I weren’t. We told them we were Indian. They asked, “What tribe are you?”
I explained how we were not that kind of Indian but the ones who came from India, the country. You know, the one Christopher Columbus was trying to find.
There was only one other Indian family in our small town so the questions continued. Do you worship cows? (Way before vegetarianism became mainstream, this was the only explanation that seemed viable in meat-eating country.)
But my childhood role of cultural attaché had its limitations. I didn’t grow up in India; Texas is home. That’s not so say that my parents didn’t incorporate our heritage into our lives. We celebrated holidays and formed a community with other Indian families in the greater Houston area. But it was understandably impossible to get a deeper understanding of Gujarati customs in this pan-India immigrant environment. I’ve often quizzed my parents along the lines of, why do we do this that way? They didn’t know how to respond. After all, they grew up in the culture, which enveloped them daily. They never had to ask anyone why.
About six months ago, I was thinking about my time in the Gulf, how much I’d learned about this part of the world, a place that I had never expected to call home. And I was a little wistful that I couldn’t do the same in India, in the western state of Gujarat, a place where I have strong personal ties. But then I thought, why can’t I?
So, that’s what I’m doing. Starting in January, I’m migrating across the Arabian Sea, traveling through Gujarat’s varied regions and speaking to writers and playwrights, tribal textile workers and wildlife tour guides, CEOs and teachers. I want to immerse myself in the place that my family calls home and maybe bridge the inevitable gap formed when immigrants leave one country to make a home in another. I hope you’ll come along with me on this journey.