So, I am back home in India – in body, soul and spirit, I am complete. There is no other way to describe it – I am not a foreigner in India. Nothing is ‘foreign’ to me – I am not trying to figure out if this is the right dress, weather or food; I just am.

Pic of clothes hanging on urban terrace in India on clothesline

My mom, like most Indians, does not believe in the power of dryers, so every house has a clothesline on the balcony or the terrace. And with the sun we get, it is sensible to dry clothes that way. One day before lunch, it looked like it was raining, so I offered to go and get clothes before they got wet. My mom told me that the last row was ours. Adam and I walked up and brought the clothes down – a couple of clips to hold the clothes did not look familiar, but they were on the last row, so we got them down. My mom looked at them and said you got our neighbour’s clothes and went back up and put them on the line again.

Lives in India are so intertwined – it is impossible for you not to be aware of your neighbours. I have not spoken to any of our neighbours since I landed, but I know that – the kid downstairs likes Dora (the bedsheet on the clothesline had Dora). The pet name of the kid next to our house is ‘Chellam’. I can tell you when the pressure cooker and the mixer will go off in the neighbour’s house. And sometimes, I know what they are having for dinner – like fish or biryani.

Today, we went to the mall, and Amazon left a delivery with our neighbour downstairs. And as soon as I walked up, they knew we had arrived, and she came with the packet for my mom. Even the dogs in the street know who the regulars are – every dog has its street, in case you were wondering. These are stray dogs but sort of adopted. The tea shop down the road knows that I have arrived. The grocery store owner knows that my parents’ daughter is visiting because that’s when they buy Cadbury’s chocolate in the year.

All this information is gathered not because we are intentionally spying or stalking each other – but because life in India forces you to interact with others. For instance, if you want your clothes to dry faster and last longer, you will use the clothesline – and why not hang them on the terrace? And everybody shares a terrace – so everything is out for display for everybody to see. There are so many people, and the space is at a premium, so houses are close to each other, and with the tropical weather, the windows are usually open, so you hear everything. My mom does not buy groceries online. Unless she has turned it over a dozen times, she won’t buy it. The vegetable seller has my mom’s cell phone, and she calls her to let her know that broccoli has arrived.

image of women selling vegetables

Growing up in India – I had no idea this was the case. It was like asking fish what is water. But now that I return home once a year – I am acutely aware of how silently I live in the USA. Even in London, where space is premium, I did not know my neighbours, but there was a sense of camaraderie with fellow passengers on the tube, walking in the bone-chilling cold, or enjoying the sunshine in Regent’s Park.

I keep telling Adam we must talk more – maybe because I miss the general noise around me. When I come home, I settle into the noise, and it is silent when I go to the USA; my senses are missing that general ambience – maybe that is why listening to music on the side helps. Who knows! All I can say is that I am grateful to be reminded that I am a fabric of humanity when I come to India.

How do you know you are a part of the living, breathing network called humanity?

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