Shruti Iyer on feminism, friendship, and sisterhood as alien-adaptation.
With the right papers, you can be a legal alien. This is a precarious comfort. You learn to cling to the legality of your existence. With every muscle in your thighs pushing you to run after the men who have just snatched your bag with your passport in it. Tears escaping your eyes, all the exposed burning air in your lungs when you finally have it back. This is the part of the story that you don’t tell: after you recovered that little black book, you shook for days. Non-residency is a fragile thing. There are less than ten people in this world that you would have run like that for.
Even the word alien feels absurd on the tongue: it calls upon that gray, raindrop-shaped emoji with the large eyes. (Not unlike London: also gray, also rainy, sometimes the uncomfortable sensation that someone is watching.) For the first year, I become an alien deeply averse to the rain and wind. I remember little of those months except entire weeks lost to sleep. All the times I stood in the harsh light of the supermarket, coming home with ingredients I didn’t know what to do with. And once, feet frozen in the carpark, as I watched entire crates of expired milk put in a garbage truck.
I convince myself that my moods must be seasonal, a strange symptom of this trans-oceanic unmooring. I pay very close attention to daily variation in the weather. (I wonder if the first Indians to come here suffered in the bleak English winters too.) This obsession with recordable, observable meteorological phenomena helps to localize, externalize causation, give a name to something. Seasonal Affective Disorder comes with it, the neat acronym: S.A.D. It becomes easier to talk about. “I think my S.A.D. –” I start to say, on numerous occasions feeling as though I were an adult avoiding the word sad around a particularly sensitive child. (This is not far from the truth.) The name gifts a series of intangible sensations a bounded way to occupy rooms and bodies. The weather gifts me release from culpability. It’s the rain, it’s not me. It’s the rain. When somebody asks how London is, I respond flatly: gray. A thousand alien emojis rising off the skin, falling from the skies to make circles in shallow puddles.
Migration meant a geographical deracination that was totalizing. An ache for sun. For rain that had feeling. Greenish water that clogged all the drains, sweeping dirty plastic and rocking empty bottles through the front gate. The drizzle of this country felt insipid, listless, tired.
But going home, going there also disoriented, alienated. Being away allowed me to forget. I forget: that plugs don’t have tiny switches next to them in India. I forget: the hum of ceiling fans. I forget: that it is not common practice to thank everyone constantly, a steady stream of “thank-you”s and “sorry”s dribbling from the mouth. (This marks me out as foreign more than anything else.) I forget: how effortlessly I once wore my privilege, barely able to notice it. (Now, sometimes I catch glimpses of it, like the sound of a cloak swishing out of a room; or I notice chafe marks if I contort my neck to look for them.) I forget: and then I spend a few weeks remembering. I forget: that it is difficult to write these things without feeling like you are betraying someone, somewhere. Possibly your former self.