I was eleven years old and was on a summer break from mid-June to end August. Each year while schools were shut back home, we would visit India as both my grandparents lived in Pune. In 1990, we did just the same and all four of us (my parents and my younger sister) were visiting from Kuwait where the summers are unbearable and so the schools are shut for almost three months.
On the evening of 2ndAugust, 1990 we were stepping out to go to the park, where I loved my time horse riding, while my Mother could gorge on her favourite ‘Bhel’ (an Indian snack). Our neighbour’s father, an old man who always spent his evening sipping chai and listening to his radio, spotted us, stopped my father in his tracks and told him that ‘Kuwait was gone’. It existed no more! Iraq had invaded Kuwait City in a spat over oil fields, not something I first understood as a 11-year-old. All I knew that we weren’t going horse riding any more. My father rushed us back in the house and acted very quickly on changing his Dinars to Indian Rupees at market price that very evening. Now remember, this was not the age of Cable TV or the internet so not everyone was yet aware of what was happening in the middle east. To top that, all communication with Kuwait was lost and we were all in the dark. Uncertainty at its peak!
As a kid, I sensed and then realised that everyone around me was being thankful that we weren’t in Kuwait when this happened and in fact were living in the luxury and calm of Pune city. Yes, glass half full :) However, my uncle who lived with us in Kuwait was stuck and my Grandmother obviously went through a nightmare waiting to hear about the fate of her son. He made it eventually, and those of you who have watched the movie Airlift, can relate to this story.
When it came to survival, well my father had no job to go back to, 7 mouths to feed in India and very little in savings. I remember listening to numerous conversations on all the options and possibilities my parents could piece together. Amidst this chaos, I know for sure that their inclination towards learning the spiritual ways of life from Swami Chinmayananda edified their approach to the crisis.
Take a moment to imagine this, you go somewhere on a holiday and suddenly learn that you can never go back home, and you have to continue life with wherever you are, with whatever you have.
Now what do you think was going on in the mind of this 11-year-old? His friends, his toys, his school, his computer, his favourite TV programs that weren’t yet being aired in India, his BMX cycle, his room, his fully carpeted home, his ‘Toys R Us’, the beach, the picnics… I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what was coming next in terms of schooling or even city of abode. As you can tell, we were experiencing displacement at all levels.
Well, we eventually settled in and made Pune our home.
When I started sharing this story with people, it served as a fascinating story of survival against all odds. But I know you’re still wondering if I missed everything I had left behind. Did I experience some sort of emotional trauma? Was I struggling to fit in? Many have asked me these questions only to learn that I was galvanized into learning the priceless value of staying largely detached from material possessions and making the best of what is available. It also shaped my ability to expand myself as a human being, willing to experiment, take risks, and embrace failure, while I continually learn and improvise.
Mr. Subroto Bagchi in his book ‘Go Kiss the World’ has beautifully addressed the many benefits of displacement and also talks of Life’s Angels that show up in most unexpected ways to help you find your ground, double down on opportunities and lead yourself to a successful and joyful life. We had our share of help that showed up along the way and are in gratitude to all.
I’m going to add, that ‘Optimism’ serves as your best friend when displaced or if you choose to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Look at the bright side and invest your energies in thinking about what’s possible for you, from here and now. Keep an eye out for your Angels, for they hover around only waiting for you to call them out.
You can make displacement exciting. All you need is a pocket full of sunshine!