Belonging & Heimat in India: Winding Down #BRIC2014
Post By Nick Kleidon
New Delhi, India
As our journey in India comes to a close, I’m reminded of the very first course I attended at Babson with Professor Mary Pinard. It was the honors foundations course for arts and humanities, and on the first day we were introduced to the German concept of heimat. It means home or dwelling. But it’s actually much more complicated than that. It’s not merely where you live or where you sleep, but rather where you belong. Everyone in the class seemed to easily identify their heimat while I struggled significantly. The more I tried to wrap my head around it, the further I was from discovering mine. This experience continued throughout the semester.
Halfway through the course, we were introduced to a broader concept of heimat after death. One October afternoon, Professor Pinard led us on a cemetery visit following lunch at her home. We looked at symbols on gravestones and what they said about the deceased’s life and passing.
Our final project for the course was simple. We were required to draw a picture of what our heimat looked like and write a paper about what it means. I was given permission to make up an “ideal heimat” considering I was never able to fully discover mine.
Winter break came and, instead of anticipating my new courses for the spring, I was dwelling on this one. I learned the hard way that you can’t force heimat either. It’s better to live as a wanderer than it is a pretender.
I theorized that in order to detect your true heimat, you must need and rely on it as much as it does you.
Our time in India has been all but a walk in the park for me. It’s extremely easy to feel insignificant here.
I look down from the roof of our hotel and I think about the people. What gets them up in the morning? What are their dreams? Where is their heimat?
As these questions shuffle in my head, I think back to our visit to the Gandhi Museum. Everything in life is relative. Relative to culture, to location, to opportunity. Universally, if you’re living above average, you’re doing well. However happiness shouldn’t be relative. Most people here live day to day, doing everything they can to make it to the next. Life here is consistently inconsistent. And you’re not guaranteed anything. Gandhi seemed to show India that sometimes consistency requires simplicity and it’s often the “want for more” that creates commotion and leads to a lack of appreciation.
In the US, people are often more concerned about what others think about them than about their own perceptions of themselves. People strive to impress others. Generosity and honor are determined by your contribution to society. And opportunities are often thought to be more relative to attitude than economic standing.
My biggest take away from BRIC is fairly simple: understanding comes from interaction. You can study anything you want. You can even come to some conclusions. But you’ll learn the most truth from first-hand experience.
Through my many conversations with people here, I’ve learned that the mango doesn’t fall far from the tree. Most often, Indians do what their families do, batons are passed to the next in line, and positions are given to various friends. And although sometimes there isn’t a baton to pass, the home isn’t always a heimat and families don’t always treat each other like family, it’s very rare to see someone 100% alone. No matter who, expats find other expats. Homeless children play with other homeless children. Stray dogs bark with other stray dogs. Villages form around similarities. And communities reside within communities harmoniously.
Usually people cling to other similar people. Things rarely happen to just one person and support is given after understanding.
I’ve been able to discover my heimat in the last year, and it has helped me to learn so much more on this trip. Life is short. We all get a tiny fraction of existence, and we get to spend our limited amount of time with whomever we want. India has taught me that happiness doesn’t have to be based on anything. Every day is a gift and you can do whatever you want with it, but you can’t re-gift it. Experiences become memories, but only if you have room for them. Opportunities don’t wait, but executing them requires time. The only opinion that matters is that of your heimat. And, most importantly: when you stop searching for what you want, you just might find what you need.