Majulah Singapura! read the red and white boards on the road leading out of Changi Airport. Expansive, dust-free roads, neatly lined with shiny cars. It was as though I was in a movie scene, pensively looking out the window as we raced towards the unknown.
The day was November 5th 2013. I was moving to Singapore, a strange foreign country, along with my mom, new stepfather, and young step sister. Change, as always, is difficult, but more so when the variables around you are changing. I was in a completely new country, living with my new family, going to a new school. My mom was the only constant, but now I had to share her too! Every night for the first two weeks, I spent my showers crying; mourning the loss of my familiar and comfortable life back in India.
I had relocated from Hyderabad (a city in South India) halfway through JC, while all my friends continued in the same schools. I had moved away, but they had moved on. Life was the same for them without me, and I had to adjust to a whole new life all by myself. When I tried to Facetime them, they wouldn’t pick up because of the time difference. When I tried to explain chope or lah to them, I could tell that they listened, but couldn’t really understand. Instead, I would wait for them to give me the down-low on the latest party I had missed, or school gossip about the girl I despised. Because I had lived that life. They couldn’t live mine.
Fast forward to four years later. I am a student at a local university, I have a good set of friends, and I explore the city on my own. Ask me how I like Singapore now? It’s a fine country indeed. It’s far enough away from India to be different, but close enough to be home. The exposure I have gotten here is incomparable. I have met people from all over the world, attended concerts and performances, eaten (strange) food. Most of all, my horizons have broadened.
Now when I talk to my friends back in India, it is apparent to me how different our lives are. Many of them live in hostels away from their parents, they rent motorcycles and go on road trips, they go to shady bars on weekdays. Me? I live with my parents, I eat dinner at home every night and play board games with my family. But I can also take public transport whenever I want to whichever corner of the city I want. I can come home from clubs at 4 AM, I can hop on a ferry to Indonesia every few months. What I am most grateful for is my safety and freedom in Singapore. It was not a luxury I had growing up in India. It is also what I have learned the most from. If I am too late getting home, I need to seriously consider whether I want to spend 30 bucks on a cab. If I get a little too carried away at Sephora, I need to make up for it by surviving on bubble tea for the rest of the week. And yes, this happens a lot!
I generally go back to India every summer, and I truly look forward to my visits. I get to see my dad, my grandparents, four yappy dogs, and of course, my friends. Many of them ask me, ‘When are you coming home next?’ For the first year or so, this question would trigger a pang of nostalgia. Now, it’s a sense of denial. That isn’t home anymore. It may have been for ten years, but it’s time to move on now. I was expected to move on now. How long could I live this ‘double life’? How long could I get by in Singapore, while constantly waiting to go back?
Each time I visit, I tend to go with a bunch of expectations. Expectations that because I am in town, everyone will drop everything and meet me, or make plans with me, or travel with me. It took me a long time to realize that that just couldn’t be. Even if they wanted to. They have their families and responsibilities that had to be prioritized over a friend who happened to be in town. Life goes on, with or without you, as Fergie put it astutely. And I couldn’t hold that against them. It just meant I had to be cool about it.
Now, four years later, I am still close with my friends back in India. We may not talk everyday, and I may not know the latest developments in their love lives, but I have come to accept that in order to be close with someone, you don’t have to know when they fart or what they are eating for lunch. You don’t have to meet everyday to keep the friendship going. These are people I have known for over ten years now, and nothing can change that.
There’s something about change - it doesn’t seem to get easier. When things around you are changing, whether it is a new job, moving out of your parents’ home, or even graduating college, it’s hard to remember who YOU are. As my mother says, ‘It is important to have a strong core that keeps you grounded so that you don’t float away wherever the wind blows.’ It’s not about the place or the people. It’s about being there for yourself when you need it most.
Speaking of my mom, I don’t have as much of a problem sharing her now. I have my own life, and I’m drowning in my worries just as much as she is (although hers are more about how useless her daughter is turning out to be). We’re settled as a family - we go on yearly trips together, we host Diwali parties every year, we watch Modern Family every night at dinnertime. We’ve grown in Singapore.