Sasmita and I celebrated our third Christmas holiday season together in 2014. But it was the first Christmas that I actually know my Indian side of our family, the Nayaks.
As I wrote about here, Sasmita and I visited them in June 2014. We had an Indian wedding ceremony and stayed in her village, Alligonda at her parent’s house for a week.
Before I finally met them (they did not attend our August 2012 wedding) I was tempted to always be cheerful and to mask any emotion that was not joyful. I was going to visit for a short time and it certainly crossed my mind that maybe I should always be happy since 1) I didn’t know when we’d see each other in person again and 2) I was genuinely excited to finally meet all of Sasmita’s family. Maybe they would get the wrong idea if they did not see me really excited and happy all the time.
However, due to many circumstances in our brief time there, they saw a gamut of emotions.
They saw me laugh (a lot), cry, show frustration, be disappointed, and they felt my enthusiasm, passion and saw my feelings of sadness. In short, I was completely ‘real’ in their presence.
They even witnessed my raw fear—when a three-inch pitch-black scorpion decided to crawl near me, as I sat on the floor eating dinner. I jumped about two feet into the air, gasped aloud, completely terrified. Her sister ran across the room, smashing it with a broom. A few minutes later, her brother-in-law, Jeevan burned it, ensuring its death.
Much of my personality came through physical gestures and facial expressions. My usual strength, verbal communication was moot, as most of her family does not speak English and my Oriya is non-existent.
We came back from India and I developed real relationships with many of her family members, especially her Dad, Valentine. I really miss them, I wrote about how I can finally understand a glimpse of Sasmita’s grief and her sacrifice in moving to the United States.
At various Christmas parties this season, friends asked if we were traveling for Christmas. As is typical with a married couple, they wanted to know if we were celebrating at my parents house or with Sasmita’s family. Then they realized we had to be going to my parents house, because there would be a very slim change that we’d be going to India for only five days.
I caught Sasmita’s eyes, I saw a little pain in them. She was not upset at them for the oversight, but the answer to their question is always going to be ‘at my parent’s house,’ because staying with our Indian family and her parents for Christmas might never happen due to timing and logistics.
As my family gathered in New Jersey this Christmas season, my thoughts turned to my Indian family. Christmas has always been a difficult time for Sasmita here, she puts on a cheery face, but inside there is anguish over being so far from her family on the other side of the world, celebrating Catholic mass in her local parish and memories of her traditional village Christmas.
Christmas is a season where loved ones gather near and her family is thousands of miles away.
This year for the first time, I entered into that sorrow with her. Though I have never experienced Christmas in Village Alligonda, I know her family now and that makes a difference.
We Skyped with her folks on their Christmas morning and when I said Merry Christmas to them, I said it with emotion, and sincerity. Previously, they were just names and I had seen a pictures, now I have precious memories and stories with them, despite the many miles. Valentine and Polina are my in-laws, I love them and have deep respect for them.
As 2014 draws to a close, we’ve formed genuine relationships that extend beyond electronic communication.