Ae Dil Hai Mushkil of an Overseas Indian

India has no record of me. I have no friend in India. No relative there that I speak to. I have not set foot on the soil of India yet. How is it that my heart belongs there?


Karan Johar’s teaser of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil made me think beyond the picturesque foreign locales, beyond the opening scene, beyond its title song captivatingly lip-synced by Ranbir Kapoor, beyond the beautiful Aishwarya Rai, beyond the hauntingly beautiful music of Pritam, beyond the emotion filled soul-stirring voice of Arjit Singh, to the most defining line spoken by the lead actor, “There is nothing like the power of unrequited love, unlike other bonds it isn’t shared, It’s mine and mine alone.” And it isn’t just for a lover, it is also the same for those who left their homeland.

My name is Divya Menon. I am 29 years old, of Malaysian nationality and Indian ethnicity. My paternal and maternal grandparents were from Kerala, born, raised there and came to Malaysia for work. I was born in Malaysia.

India has no record of me. I have no friend in India. No relative there that I speak to. I have not set foot on the soil of India yet. Then how is it that my heart connects to India: Bollywood movies, Bollywood music, Bollywood celebrity interviews, Indian cricket matches and recently The Times Newshour Debates are my media diet. And it’s not just a passing phase. It’s part of me.

How is it possible for a Diasporic Indian who has never been to India to feel so connected to India? What is it about India that draws even the wanderer? Why do I feel this way? Day after day these questions plagued my mind, until I discovered the answer.

Bollywood — the global distributor of the varied amalgamation of Indian art that stirs the heart — is the primary driving force behind my feelings.

“Bolly” is defined as “a cotton boll that has remained unopened or partly opened usually as a result of frost injury,” and “Boll” is defined as “the part of the cotton plant that contains the seeds” according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.

This definition discovery strengthened my personal take on this. Everything in Bollywood — songs, lyrics, music, dialogue — contains seeds about love. Love stories are the crux of almost all successful Bollywood movies. Actually, I can’t recall a single successful Bollywood story not having the love element in it. It’s not only about childhood love or forbidden love, but also about the extended sphere of relationships that matter — family and friends.

Remember, the infectious tagline “It’s all about loving your family” from the classic film Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham? It had many families at the time flocking to the cinemas together to watch it; I witnessed even some usually stoic men getting all teary-eyed in the theater when the father and son characters reconciled.

Stripping off the cinematic pomp, floss and glamor, our reality is not very different, fraught with many friendship and family issues. The “Bolly” breaks through our hard as “wood” exteriors, developed over years of struggle, as its stories speak to the interior of our heart, unearthing deep hidden emotions and returning innocence and softness just like cotton. Hence the main reason I engage and re-engage with Bollywood movies — a positive addiction propelling me to independently discover and rediscover myself, my emotions, my dreams, my expressions and my ideas.

Far beyond the traditional idea of hero-worshipping and idolizing Bollywood stars, I see them as actors, writers, directors, producers, etc., who face similar struggles in their life, only theirs is magnified by the media lenses. I am increasingly attracted to the new wave of frankness in the Bollywood celebrity’s interviews — from the popular television reality show Koffee with Karan, which always creates excitement and fireworks, to the recent candid confession of Ranbir Kapoor on his struggles with alcoholism.

I think on the flip side of the media drama, it’s a positive that these celebrities are starting to use the platform to speak out on real issues in their lives. Let’s face it, if a regular Jack down the street spoke on the exact same thing, he would be fortunate to have even one listener!

See, every Bollywood fan wants to know about their favorite star, the person behind their characters, what is he or she like in real-life? Gone is the thirst to know just their favorite food, but something much deeper, like their most anxious or troubled moments and how they overcame them. Sometimes, when I confront tough moments, I motivate myself by remembering that even the most famous people had these moments and they privailed. So why not me too?

This love for Bollywood inched me closer to delight in seeking to actively be a part of India. I wanted to know, are the people as expressive as the characters behave in the movies? I quickly received my answer — A Big Yes, when I watched a cricket match live on television for the first time. I can’t remember the match, but it had India in it. Even if it was through the television screen, I had finally witnessed the spontaneous expressions filled with multiple emotions of Indian commentators, analyzing players and game strategies left, right and center, leaving no doubt in the mind of spectators that India was going to win, even before the match started!

I see the same intensity and tenacity in the famous Arnab Goswami Times Newshour debates with participants often speaking over each other to express their point of view. All political correctness or diplomacy is torn to shreds; amidst many contradictions, it’s liberating to know for those in the Indian diaspora – freedom of expression is part of the Indian soul.

I am not in India, but I am an Indian, like the millions of Indians in its global diaspora. A national unity of hearts on an international spectrum. The Jana Gana Mana (The Song of the People) sounds like a sacred prayer. The less frequently sung second stanza sings, “Thou brings the hearts of all peoples into the harmony of one life, Thou Dispenser of India’s destiny, Victory, Victory, Victory to Thee.” It is a blessing to every Indian everywhere, whenever the national anthem is sung.

Now, this unrequited love doesn’t seem so sad after all. Indians in the diaspora have a special purpose — to spread Indian cheer and color to the community around them. Each nation has its own destiny. India is no exception. With India, it is a matter of the heart. At times it can be explained, at times it simply can’t.

After years of hearing the struggles of Indians around me, struggles even to obtain visas to travel to India, today seems to be a new day for the Indian diaspora. Now that the government has eased travel and merged the PIO and OCI cards, my love for India does not feel so unrequited after all.

Suddenly, it does not matter as much if I go back to live in India or go elsewhere, I’m excited to embark on an adventure wherever destiny takes my dil, however mushkil it may be. My heart is at peace when our homeland has embraced us as her children.

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