Thursday, 22 August 2013

To Ifemelu (who lives in the novel Americanah)

Ifemelu, why do you remind me so much of myself? - your penchant for words, and the way in which you use them and analyse them; the way in which even the slightest statement can trigger within you a sense of rebellion; a longing for home, and yet a need to see it change in its perspective; the love of ‘foreign’ food, but also a deep rooted love for home-made dinners. I love how you portray hair as suddenly something more meaningful than just an outgrowth on the head. Though for you your hair is a reminder of home, mine becomes something that wants to change, to alter, to become something new and not just the plain longness of silky, black, Indian hair.
Your story also evokes a slight pang for my not knowing Africa more. A different place and different stories, maybe, but I still want to revisit that place- the dingy third floor house filled with rats, and broken window panes, on unsafe streets; the house where we could hear gunshots at night; ISL; ice-cream at Tontos. Though Africa was foreign to me, it was the first home I remember. And something in your story stirred a reminder of a memory.
Though so vastly different, there are also so many similarities to a country far away- the hawkers whose lives were torn down by the government leading to empty pathways, the vibrant life, your preference to roadside shops over fancy restaurants, the constant power-cuts, the humidity, the dusty, traffic-filled roads. All of that is home for me too. In a sort of alienness there is also a deep understanding.
The constant questions of ‘when are you getting married?’ as though that is all that matters in life. The half foreign, half native self that I am. The stress on the world around you on finding a man, who need not even exist- by not just your family, but even your friends and acquaintances! And simultaneously, the meeting at the Jazzhole, surrounded by the comfort of books, meeting the one man that you gave your heart to, the world thrumming with a sort of energy you never experienced before. That, too, is my world.

Ifemelu, your story is something I can relate to- if not completely, at least for the most part. Your strength and determination amazes me. Though you come from half a world away, I relate with you. And this post is to that strength that I read in your story.

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