When Lindsey Gordon (aka MaximumCityMadam) first approached me about writing for Chalo, the Mumbai Connexions magazine, she suggested current events as the topic, hence the column title, “What’s happening, Mumbai?” This month, I considered writing about the bombing in Boston. I am an American after all, and those events are still fresh in my mind. Or, perhaps the recent bandh that has inconvenienced so many as we are getting ready to depart for the summer. But, after gang rape, broken sidewalks, and dying children, I think it is time to depart from that heavy fare for something a little lighter and with a greater effect on our daily lives: moving during monsoon. Or should I say “shifting”?
I first moved when I was just five years old. I have moved 18 times since then (not counting going back and forth to college during the summer). It is why the transition to Mumbai has been fairly easy for me in some ways (except for the panicked phone call to Brian at 2 am IST about the dogs’ visas). On some levels, this move is just like any other, but instead of crossing the country, we crossed an ocean. In the past, when I moved, I would stay in touch for a while with people, but inevitably, for whatever reason, we would lose touch. This was back in the days of letters and expensive long-distance phone calls. Remember those? We did not have email, Skype, Vonage, or Facebook. It is the nature of the itinerant lifestyle that we live. I learned long ago that people come in and out of your life, and, sometimes, in and out again.
The transitional nature of the expat experience can be challenging for many people. People come into our lives to stay only for a little while. Sometimes, they stay a few years, but sometimes only a few months. They make an impression on our lives, and then they are gone. Sometimes, that impression is permanent; sometimes, fleeting. Sometimes, positive; sometimes negative. But, whatever that person’s effect, it seems like we are always saying goodbye, often with a sense of loss. But, then we are also always saying hello, too, often with a sense of excitement that new friendship brings.
Someone once said, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” After searching far and wide for the attribution of this quote, I found that it has been attributed to several famous people and the Bible, but I have concluded that “someone” is most likely anonymous and quite possibly an expat. This short quote addresses many difficult experiences common to expat life, among them, failure, grief, loss, and change. It offers a way to handle the fact that the job we lose today will be replaced by another one tomorrow. It challenges us to see these losses as opportunities to create new successes. It helps us understand that change is just a part of being human, as much as we might want to resist it. How many times a day do we see a door close? How many times a day do we see an open window? That is how many daily opportunities we have to open ourselves to new experiences and let go of our past lives, whatever they may be. To be an expatriate is to live “away from [your] homeland.” We all took a leap of faith coming to India. We all closed a door on our lives in our home countries so that we could open a window here in India. Similarly, the door that closes on one friendship offers the opportunity to open a window on a new one.
As often as I have moved, I must say that Mumbai has been the easiest place to make friends. Perhaps that is the nature of the expat experience. Here, the doors don’t so much close as they revolve. When we were moving about the country in the US, and people learned that we were only there on an assignment for two years, they would distance themselves. They thought it was not worth the effort to make friends with people who were only in town for a short time. The opposite has been true here. When we say we are here for four years, other expats respond, “Wow! That’s a long time.” Here, everyone is migratory, itinerant, and peripatetic. If you say you are just here for a few months, people still make the effort to get to know you. They open their doors to you until you are ready to open another window on your life and move on.
Monsoon season is a time of departures in Mumbai. Most expats flee the rains at least for a little while, but some will leave permanently. This monsoon season will bring its fair share of departures, good friends who are moving on to their own newly opened windows. Most will close the door on Mumbai forever, never to return. Many of them are now busily trying to get their home goods packed and shipped before the rains begin, even if they are leaving in June or July. With the packing comes the partying. In less than a week, we had two going-away parties with others on the horizon. The parties are a great time to celebrate old friendships and new adventures.
As I looked for quotes about open windows, I loved the imagery of this one by Anais Nin, who was herself an expat (Born in France, but lived in the US):
“A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked.”
As our friends journey to their next destinations, let’s hope that they remember to appreciate the simple joy of a cup of coffee and the beauty of nature as it flutters through the many windows they have opened on their lives.