I was astonished at myself. I had written “color” instead of “colour.” Three years of living in America had finally started taking its toll on me. In my early days in this country, despite having email, I would buy those blue aerograms to write nice long letters to my family in India. I vividly remember trying to mail my first letter.

After writing my first letter home, I hurried to the nearest mailbox to see it off. A passerby directed me to one down the road. In place of the familiar red mailbox stood a blue structure. I eyed it doubtfully. It turned out to be the mailbox, but how and where was I supposed to drop my letter? I looked and looked but could make no sense of it. I circumambulated awhile, thinking maybe the slot was hidden somewhere for security reasons. I could not find any. I suddenly felt very foolish.

I realized that cars were passing by and that people were looking at me. Embarrassed, I gave up. I later found out that unlike in India, where the slot is staring at you, in America, you lift a lid to slide in your letter. I also felt somewhat better when I heard that a friend, newly arrived, had, in the darkness of evening, mistaken the mailbox for a dustbin and had proceeded to litter it.

However, now that I know how to post letters without causing suspicion, I cannot remember when I last wrote a letter home. These days, I just email. With the epistolary form, I would forever wish for more space. Despite a penmanship that would get smaller progressively, and a policy of an optimal use of space that involved writing on the sides and inner flaps of the aerogram, I would be left feeling dissatisfied. So much unsaid but no more space. With email today, I have all the space in the world to compose an epic. Technically speaking, I should be happy and make use of that unlimited space. But it never happens. With letters, I just used to write. Words, once down on paper, were there to stay. With email, however, I spend more time cutting, pasting, deleting, rewriting—in short, interrupting myself. And I am in a permanent hurry to finish and hit the Send button; moreover, I can always call, can’t I?

And now that my letter writing is history, I have stopped receiving letters as well. With my parents achieving a certain level of computer literacy, they also email. Mail has now become synonymous with those prosaic things called bills. The endearingly imperfect, pale blue tattered-looking Indian aerogram—and the anxiety of opening it without tearing the sides and missing out words—has all become a memory.

In some ways, home has become a faraway entity, both in space and in time. And yet, in some other ways, I feel closer to myself than ever before—I may be displaced at one level, but this alienation has, at another level, brought me nearer the source. Now when I miss something, I reassess and appreciate its significance. Things make better sense. I am learning the art of being eclectic, of charting out my own path in life, of looking at things afresh, of discovering the order of things. Growing up in a particular culture, one is surrounded by what can be termed received wisdom. A view from the other side is just as necessary to engage with that wisdom in a creative way. Colour, on its own, meant nothing to me until I became aware of color, another reality.

I have got used to certain spellings, to certain mailboxes. I have got used to driving on the right side of the road—so much so that I wonder how I ever maneuvered my way in Indian traffic. I have got used to the recurrences of alienation and revelation. And though I eat thayir sadam (yogurt rice, the ultimate South Indian staple) with greater gusto than I eat burritos, I have also discovered that they can merrily co-exist. Have I recreated home?

Nivedita Ramakrishnan lives in Fremont, Calif.

…You Are Our Business Model!

More people are reading India Currents than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organizations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Our independent, community journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can support us – and it takes just a moment to give via PayPal or credit card.