I wonder sometimes how my uncles and aunts felt when they left the land of their birth in search of a new land to call home.
India was no longer a welcoming place for them. Their passports, language, customs were French with a melange of Indian culture thrown in. Their father and his father had all been born in India, as had many centuries of their maternal line. Raised in the then French protectorate of Pondicherry, none of them had ever visited France.
When India reclaimed its independence, they had to make a choice – stay and give up their French citizenship. Or leave. Most of them left for the next closest French protectorate, Vietnam.
At first, Vietnam was a safe haven. But then, war broke out and they were forced to flee.
Like many refugees around the world who run grasping battered suitcases and broken promises, they wanted peace. Not war.
Eventually, they mostly settled in France. Even though their skin was a beautiful blend of white and brown, it was easy to ‘fit in’. French was their first language. Their schooling had followed the French curriculum and even though they blended cultures into a beautiful Euro-Asian tapestry, they were Catholic. They knew the rituals and the faith of their new ‘home’ land. Few questioned their pedagogy, though some of my relations, particularly those whose skin was darker than their neighbours, faced discrimination at times.
Some struggled. Others thrived. Others, like my mother, never let go of their love for India, her Shangri-la as she called it.
The heat, the smells, the vegetation, the food, the singsong of Hindi and Tamil voices, the raucous chattering of monkeys in the yellow neon palms and bougainvillea that surrounded their home, ran through her blood like a strand of DNA that could never be altered.
In some ways my mother lived her life as a refugee yearning always to return to the land of her birth if only to hear the sounds of the ocean lapping against the shores she loved so much.
As news of more refugees fleeing Eastern Ukraine fills my newsfeeds, I am reminded of the stories I heard of my mother’s family’s flight from Inida to France. They faced an uncertain future. They endured bombs falling and lives crumbling before finally reaching ‘home’.
And though a few have remained in India, few of those who left returned to take up residence in the land of their birth, the land where both my maternal and paternal grandparents are buried. My cousins in France all return to India for visits. They all have a deep connection to the beauty of the land. But they always return home to France.
I think of the refugees fleeing their homes, carrying their children in tired arms, fearing that each step could be their last. Fearing they might never be able to return as they race ahead of the bombs into an uncertain future.
And my heart breaks and my mind swirls with thoughts of when will we ever learn? When will this destruction of our humanity, this killing of our fellow human beings stop?
And I cannot find an answer.
There is no answer in war. Just as there is no peace. For, with every mother’s son or daughter killed we risk seeding germs of hate and anger that will grow into endless branches of conflict and unrest.
And so, to no longer be a refugee of my own heart, I return to the origin of it all. To Love. For while there is no peace in war, there is always love. Waiting… Patiently. Steadfastly. Always.
Love for our humanity is all that will save us now.
Let us all remember love is present. Love is always the answer even in war.