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Translating the Self

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on December 28, 2009 No Comment

It doesn’t matter that it has been a mere three and a half months since I was last in India; the immediate shock of unfamiliarity inevitably holds me in its grip every time I return home. To begin with, it’s a different season: when I’d left, the temperature hovered in the mid 40s (in degrees Celsius), relieved by tempestuous monsoon downpours only at the end of my visit in August. Presently, the minimum hovers at 5 degrees, and a dense smog swathes the city morning, noon, and night. The Commonwealth Games buzz is getting stronger, and the Metro lines that had stood still in the suburbs are bustling with activity, virtually completed in my intervening absence. There are fewer street side vendors, and the incredible Mangal (Tuesday) bazaars are all but wiped out in the overzealous police “clean-up” activities in preparation for the Games.

New stories that had captivated a nation-for example, the historic Delhi Court ruling on gay rights-no longer occupy the front page of newspapers or overwhelm the TV news hours. A sex scandal is a-brewing, and a state is in danger of being partitioned…and of course, a major actress has adopted a second girl, and an old molestation case has been a hot topic of discussion.

In the heated debates over current domestic issues, I feel most alienated. The news feels foreign, I realize to my terror. I cling to my routine of checking out my daily American/British staples online, to have some sense of familiar footing in the world: Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Times, Reuters alerts, CNN, and a couple of celebrity blogs, but…I feel as disconnected to them and the stories they carry as I do from the news I read here (basically the tree-derived version of the Times of India). It is as if I am in a limbo because it is so hard to really “get into” the current news taking place thousands of kilometers away, and also to feel engaged with domestic politics here because there is soooo much to catch up on, that it’s well-nigh depressing.

It takes so much effort, the re-adjustment to languages-however primary, however wedded to my tongue. It takes a painstaking realignment of cultural framing…it takes work to…like Dave once said so elegantly and poignantly, to “translate the self.” I am overwhelmed by a sense of dysphoria and disconnectedness-am I destined, as I straddle homes in the US and in India, to be a “foreigner” everywhere?

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