I believe in few things – God, free-will and of all things, love. In the past few days, I’ve learnt a lot more about myself, something bigger than me, and something larger than life. And I’ve come to augment my beliefs with some new insights.
Before that , let’s have some context.
My Trip to India
I’ve always been ashamed of going back to India. I feel like if I accepted India as my heritage, I accepted all the disgrace that came with it. About our unruliness, our inefficiency and most of all our corrupt and nepotistic behavior.
I know it’s pretentious and a very arrogant stance to hold. But it’s the truth and it was the starting point of a journey I had to take. I’ve been back twice since I held that stance – each time the rigidity of my position slowly eroded by experiences I had. I’m a very stubborn person when it comes to positions I take – because I take some time to adopt those positions.
It’s been 4 years since my last trip to India. Being 20 is a tough age – you’re jumping into adulthood and you need to start making big decisions. To me, the big thinker, I realized I had to confront certain fears I had – the biggest one being my mortality.
You see, in the past year , a sizable number of my friends started experiencing shocking moments when they found out their grandparents were slowly dying – and eventually passed on. I refuse to go to funerals because of two main reasons : I hate knowing I’m one person less off in this world (because I hate being alone) and I’m afraid of knowing that eventually I may lie in the place where they lie. Having to accept my fears has been a fierce decision I made myself take before I adopt adulthood.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t see my grandparents in a long time – especially with the army and me flying off for college next year. So I told my parents to book us a flight to India for our next overseas trip – I wanted to see my grandparents and relatives. In one of the most unprecedented decisions I made in my life – I volunteered to go back to the place I enjoyed very little.
Traveling with a a family of 5 is a dastardly bittersweet experience. While there’s so much to embrace about family – there’s also a lot to struggle with. It’s an infamous understanding that you struggle the most with the people you love. I’ve learnt three main lessons.
Something About Myself – Pick Your Battles
When we’re young, we fight back with our parents when they refuse us what we want. When we’re adolescents, we fight back because they refuse what we think we deserve .
When we’re at this age – it must be time to realize sometimes its best not to fight back at all. I gain my ferocity from my father , and my quick wit from my mother – they’re both argumentative and terribly opinionated. I have inherited these qualities.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is the need to be valued . We feel important when what we say is accepted and acted on. Our parents in this time look to find a place in our lives – they look to find some form of importance. My parents have blessed me with eternal beads of wisdom in times of need and they will be always be important to me even if they didn’t bless me. Yet, understanding the human condition means embracing truths beyond perception.
Sometimes when they say something that defies your understanding of what’s best and even when the person is proven wrong – the best option would be to keep mum. Dignity and self-pride are qualities not to be trifled with . There are exceptions – and that’s when you choose your battles. You choose when to fight back and choose when to live with the people you love in acceptance.
Because that’s when you understand how most adults behave, and that’s when you realize how different you have to become when you grow up.
Something Bigger than Myself – Aging with Pride
Visiting my grandparents and relatives was completely worth it. Four years does a lot to people – my grandparents are visibly older, less extroverted and a lot more precious. Both sides of grandparents live in retirement villages.
They’ve accepted that their children need to live their lives – fully and majestically. Is it unfilial ? I don’t think so – as long as they’re not forgotten. I simply enjoyed being in their presence – knowing these people used to be giants of their own lives and now watch their children and grandchildren follow after them. They involve themselves so much in our lives – praying vigorously and blessing our acts. Just holding their hands, embracing them , kissing them on the cheeks – it made me feel so much more loved.
I’ve always wanted to succeed to have a death with memories attached. I’ve wanted people to say ” Here lies someone who didn’t just live – he truly walked with God and did much.” Like I’ve said – I’m still breaking away from my proud self.
My grandfather on my mom’s side used to be a Captain of a ship. People go around calling him Captain and I’m willing to bet he’s damn proud of what he did on that ship. Yet in his old age , he doesn’t seem to care anything about what he used to do and neither does anyone else. What’s important is his walk with God and his relationship with his family.
My dad’s dad lives in a church retirement hostel – it’s not very fancy and very small. He looks forward to the moments he’s visited by his children and grandchildren – he focuses on his family. Maybe it’s something about their generation – but I think it’s something eternal. When we grow old, our family is what keeps us sane and loved. Not our achievements or our legacies.
My dad is the youngest son in his family – which also means he’s the last to become a grandparent (guess that burden comes to me) . I just imagine how it’s going to be like , moving forward with me, my parents and my grandparents. How would I want to remember these people in my lives, and how can I continue to show their importance in my lives. Can I make my parents retire with grace and pride – and beyond that will I smart enough to value the right things as I age?
Something Larger than Life – Nation-Building
Singapore’s a young country – we made the right decisions in the appropriate stages of our development. We prioritized things right. When I look at India, I cannot help but ask “What happened here?”
I’m not looking down at India – in so many ways can each country compete as heavyweights. Yet there’s an opportunity here to understand. In my Tamil lessons , I was taught stories of kings (Rajahs they were called) and vast lands, wise-men and mischievous acts, underdogs and victories. Traveling by car I would watch the terrain and imagine legends of past treading these lands. And then I’d be brought to confront the current scene and realize we’ve moved very far away.
Drivers are taught to honk from their first lessons- their teachers get annoyed if they move slowly but safely in traffic. Retired actors get easy access in politics making things tricky. Structural planning is evidently not present – yet this is still a great country. I don’t see myself ever living in India – but I’ve begun to accept that my heritage lies there. And therefore I must share its pains.
If it could completely overhaul it’s methodologies that runs on money passed between handshakes, poor networks and road systems, and celebrity status dominating decision making – India stands a chance. Courageous politics is required here.
I drove on the roads in India – it was wild and exciting. My mum always teases me – “What kind of person would I be if I had grown up in India?” I think I know. I would be a lot more fierce – it’s survival of the fittest here. This part of me that is dormant in Singapore and has come out only in occasional situations would dominate in India – and that’s a reality that probably best describes my travel between two worlds.