11 years. My whole life happened to me in that 11 years. Well, my whole life worth talking about anyway.
I last came here as an awkward, ponytailed 16 year old. I’d just done my first real exams and had my first kiss and worn my first short skirt (which my mum would later get rid of).
Then 11 years happened. I fell in love, I broke a heart, perhaps twice for each, maybe more. I made real friends. I moved away from home. I moved back. I learnt what it felt like to belong. I learnt what it felt like to experience shame. I got a piece of paper called a degree, and a £19000 debt. And I got my first grown-up job. Which I quit. I did my first real thing that I felt proud of, and I ran a half-marathon and felt proud of that too. And I learnt how important seeing the world was to me, how much I loved it, how much it made me feel alive.
In all this time everything changed for me. I had my thin and pretty years, which they never got to see here. I want to show them pictures, to prove that it did happen, but they don’t care. In a good way.
And in all this time, everything changed here too, yet often it feels like nothing did. India feels the same to me: hot, dusty, languid. Easy, welcoming, loud. Yet, the details are different, here and there. A few more children, all cute and excitable by a balloon and a bar of Cadburys.
And a relative here and there who we’re not speaking to; some fracture formed because of money, property, land. Memories of a time where papers and signing were not important, where you could trust your brother to give you what you were due. It bores us, because it is not ours. It matters not to us; we have the luxury of having had, rather than having always always needed. The ones who feel slighted talk from a place of rage, of unbelieving, of sadness and of disappointment. They talk as if they know a new truth about the world now, the new, desperately sad truth, that no-one, not even your brother – especially not your brother – can be trusted.
These stories are not unique. They seem to unveil themselves somewhere in every family, sometimes many times over.
The other story I seem to hear everywhere is of moving to America. Or Britain. Or the ships. The promise of a land afar and the sad truth that they will upheave their whole lives, their whole sunshine-strewn family-filled free-footed lives to suffer the cold, work long night-shifts, and be treated like shit. It’s the same every time someone goes, and they hear fragments of this story here, and yet, they choose not to believe it; it is still the dream. The dream of those who have never had, and even those who have, but who dream life could be better.
Here, it is the aeroplane ticket not the lottery ticket that holds the glorious key to the life that could be. The great American Lie. Fooling sun-kissed folk the world over.