“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.”
Paulo Coelho’s words prudently sum up my milieu. The early years of my childhood were spent in Tokyo, however, my undeniable passion for Indian dance forms prompted my parents to move me to Mumbai in 2009.
From the very start, I experienced multiculturalism with my varied and distinctive upbringing. The vibrant, bustling, multicultural amalgamation that is Mumbai came as a shock to me--as it would to any eleven-year-old girl living away from her parents. However, I quickly adapted to the Indian culture of informal and impromptu chat sessions, loud disagreements and noisy classrooms. A passion for dance and enthusiastic participation in areas such as debate, MUN and music, led me to one of my most cherished positions, captain of one of my school's competitive teams. Without realizing it, I started to thrive in this atmosphere. Through common interests of dance and literature, I made a large circle of friends.
This period in Mumbai was a journey of adapting to a different academic system, becoming independent, balancing school with co-curricular activities and most importantly accepting all aspects of a new culture.
My time in Mumbai seemed to fly by and in 2013, I returned to Tokyo. Once again, I began my life anew. After spending five years in the electrifying atmosphere of Mumbai, moving to Tokyo was a huge jolt. I missed the spontaneity that existed in India as compared to the formal environment in Tokyo. The large circle of friends that I was used to soon became a handful. I remember sitting alone in a pew during Mass in the school church one day and missing my Indian friends terribly. To my surprise, one of my classmates noticed my tears, slid onto the bench next to me and squeezed my hand in silent support. This incident brought home to me that humanity and compassion exist everywhere, whether offered silently or with a hug and a shout. Soon, my impromptu curry sessions were replaced into meticulously planned sushi and ‘udon’ noodles sessions. My negative feelings changed into respect and admiration for the stoicism of the Japanese and I welcomed the opportunity to experience Japan’s structure and perfectionism, cleanliness and beauty, and its hospitable people. I discovered Japan’s culture was equally meaningful, just different in nature.
Another paradigm shift occurred when I moved back to Mumbai in 2014. I moved to another school but my previous living experiences allowed me to adapt quickly. I realized that if I made the best of every situation, and learned from it, rather than reminiscing about what had passed, I would create new memories, held fondly in my heart right by the old ones.
Mumbai has given me unconditional support, and a lifetime of friendships, while Japan, a transformation from childhood to adulthood. I now welcome diversity, embrace change; I am resilient and unafraid to tackle challenges, the hallmarks of a responsible adult.
Paulo Coelho’s words ring true for me because having lived in two different countries, I realize and appreciate that the people of both countries are God-fearing, hospitable and caring and may face different problems but work hard to overcome their challenges. The person I am has been emboldened by a vibrant and energetic Mumbai, yet tamed by a tranquil and systematic Tokyo. With this unique exposure to two distinct, yet equally meaningful cultures, I am certain that I am a global citizen capable of forging bonds all over the world, be it in India, Japan or even the United States of America.