The Madding Crowd

Moving to a new country is very stressful. If you are an Indian, then it will freak you out. That is, irrespective of the language, of how good the people are, or how digestible the food is. I spent the first five days trying to immerse myself in work to prevent the occasional panic attacks. Sure, you are getting enough money (tax free). You have a command over the language that dazzles other international students. You manage to figure out the public transport system within a day and take advantage of the free transport pass the university provides. But then, you approach a familiar face, and it speaks to you in an unhindered American/Canadian accent, and you feel, “Hell, these aren’t my people.”

Academia is different. There are lots of people there, and no one quite feels at home. As they say, if everyone’s special, then no one is. You blend into the atmosphere much like a chameleon into a tree. Thanks to the efforts of a select few, we get assimilated into the society, irrespective of culture or language. And, well, the university has the perpetual feel of being soaked in high school culture. Immature? Yes. Do I like it? Sure! Makes me feel more important.

After I left R-land, I picked up this habit of comparing everything to my memories of the old Insti. “I expect the walk to the market is about as far as the walk from my room to the mess.” “Back in the Insti, we used to have the parantha prepared so and so…” “The coffee in the Nescafe cost half as much as it costs here.” The good and the bad, the profound and the trivial. It seemed so natural to have things like that. Now, the same argument can be extended to my stay in the West. Everything seems so complicated. There are a million little things we have to keep in mind, and none of them seemed to matter in India. Even the less bearable points of your home seem to be second nature. How many times have we eaten in others’ messes without registering. Or how many free bus rides have you had?

Strangely enough (or maybe very predictably), there is a huge Asian population in the university. CanIndians are a dime a dozen, but they remain apart. And, of course, the Far East has reached far here. There is a crowd on campus that I could not find in the city. It may not be the old crowd of familiar faces and tongues, but as it flows past me, I can’t help but be reminded of home.