Wikipedia defines grafting as a horticultural technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another in order for it grow. This a fairly common gardening practice, one that anyone with a hint of green in their thumb would know about.
Wikipedia doesn’t tell you what the plant thinks or feels, or in fact, if it does at all. Does the plant miss the stem of its origin? Does it find it hard to adjust to a new way of growing?
God knows I do.
I’ve been an international student at NYU for almost a year now, and for the most part, I love it. I love the hustle and bustle of the city, the classes, the people, the novelty of living in a new city. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss India with every fibre of my being. I know that my fellow internationals feel the same way; our conversations inevitably circle back to the country of our origin, our birth for so many of us, and as inevitably as they began, the conversation peters out leaving a faint but tangible nostalgia for a land we had to leave behind to grow as students.
I don’t just miss my city, or the festivals, or my family, though of course I do. The feeling of being uprooted is deeper, etched into my very core. I miss the essence of India. I miss the way everything about it is unique to this marvelous subcontinent that I am lucky enough to call home; so much so that the word ‘Indian’ is in itself a descriptive term, because it has no synonym thought would encompass the world it conjures up.
Indian music is more evocative, more poignant, more everything than any other music in the world. The beat of the dhol and the table are richer, sharper, more full-bodied than any of their counterparts. The sounds coaxed out of these instruments rise and swell voluptuously, gutturally, and yet intricately and perfectly uniform, rising to a crescendo as perfect as an ocean’s wave during high tide, before crashing down with the combined gentleness and splendour of the first rain of the season. The music from the sitar and the flute do not resemble the sounds of nature, like a rippling brook, a singing bulbul, the rustle of leaves, but manage to bring them to mind with an earthy yet rhythmic sound as ancient as time itself, but beautifully and spectacularly fresh and new every time one hears it. In Raag Malhar, one can hear the rainclouds come together to bring new life to those on Earth. Each syllable of each word of a song must be perfectly enunciated, given equal attention for the beauty of a song to be complete. The singer rolls their tongue around each sound, almost like a caress, before releasing them into the air with the knowledge that the potency of the music is given new heights by this seemingly simple action. These are the sounds of divine beings, of the heavens themselves; and yet, Indian music shares them with mortals so that we may hear them too.
I miss the heat of India, so unforgiving to any but its own denizens. My grandparents had a large backyard in Chennai, full of any and all kinds of trees. I spent many a sweltering afternoon lying under the cool, almost medicinal shade of a banyan tree, listening to the sounds of the birds and squirrels that had made it their territory. It never failed to amaze me, the fact that this tree, and others like it housed worlds within themselves, tiny little universes that I could see, but knew nothing about. Sometimes, for a bit of variety, I’d sit under a frangipani tree, letting its sweet fragrance hang around me like a blanket so potent, so vital, that even oxygen stops feeling necessary. Or I’d lounge under a chiku tree, and if I was lucky, the fruit would be ripe enough to fall into my hand so I could take a bite, letting its dense sweetness explode in my mouth with all the subtlety of a forest fire. Then I would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was the amrit offered to the gods, the nectar that promised immortality. And in those moments, pierced through every now and then by the quiet song of the koyal, it was possible to feel infinite.
There is nothing quite like a traditional south Indian meal; laid out on a banana leaf that enhances its taste and smell to such an extent that the fragrant steam nearly makes you feel as if you have already consumed the food. But of course, once you do taste the food, nothing else compares. The flavours dance on your tongue like skilled Bharatnatyam dancers; quickly but assuredly, with an ancient rhythm that tells a new story every time. The spiciness and richness of the sambaar perfectly offset by the chewy, ghee-moistened idli is a work of art that would make Michelangelo weep with envy.
The history of India is more complex than quantum physics, but so much more engaging and rich in its variety. The soaring, sweeping nature of the Hindu epics, the quiet allure of Buddhism, the austerity and simplicity of Jainism, the plethora of architecture and literature brought by the Mughals; all these tell a story as enchanting and diverse as the country itself. The different languages that find their roots here act as the glue that holds this multifarious masterpiece in place. Hindi, a language as sturdy and dependable as a brick home. Urdu, the language of the poets, a language of rosewater and music. Tamil, a tongue so melodious and lilting that even its curses sound like hymns. There is a gorgeous multiplicity to India that forms a beautiful and intricate puzzle with a million different pieces, but still ultimately forms a picture so breathtaking that mere words would never be able to describe it.
Such is this land of mysteries, of stories, of legends galore. Such is the land I call my homeland.
Such is the land that I may be grafted from, but will possess my soul.