Embracing my Indian roots in the West and taking them with me as I explore the world
By Ruchi Patel
I was born and raised in England, in an Indian family originally from Gujarat. My great grandfather left India and traveled to Kenya on a sailboat in 1920. My grandfather was born there, and before long the whole family moved back to India. My grandfather spent his childhood in Gujarat but returned to Kenya in 1955, where my father, as a baby, opened his eyes for the first time. In an even greater transition, in 1979 my family moved to the UK. A little later, I was born in the suburbs of London, where I live today.
Even though some of my closest family members were born in far-off lands, their hearts always belonged to India, and they never forgot their customs or Hindu beliefs. It feels great being part of this community, and I am proud of my roots.
As a woman living in the Western world, I do my best to embrace Indian traditions, my inner beliefs, and the globalized world we live in. The moments when I feel I can live all this at once and be fully myself are when I follow my passion: traveling.
In 2009, when I went on my first solo backpacking trip to Thailand, my family was hesitant. It was not common for an Indian family to let their daughter travel alone, especially when, at that time, there were no smartphones and no online booking. Another era! Despite all this, my parents overcame their fears. More importantly, they trusted me, knowing my character and adaptability. I do realize now how lucky I was to have parents who were that supportive and encouraging, allowing me to live my desire to discover the world.
This trip became the first of many. Spending time in nature, being in what we could call exotic places and meeting people—locals as well as travelers—are some of the greatest pleasures in life. Being able to see the beauty of humankind is a tremendous opportunity to have.
When people ask me the main reason I have for backpacking around the globe, I say it expands my curiosity. I now know that no matter one’s nationality, culture or religion, as humans we are all walking a similar path in so many different ways. Traveling is about listening, learning and understanding. What could be called differences are actually more alike than we think. Isn’t that what every religion should be about—tolerance and acceptance?
Some people may assume a little Indian girl with a backpack bigger than she is can’t go far. But my capabilities and motivation have been underestimated. By traveling alone, I can sit in nature, be silent and actually feel those beautiful moments of inner peace. As someone who loves so much from our Indian traditions, the chanting and bhajans, I’ve come to realize they can be found in their local versions in other cultures too, especially in Asia. In the most remote places, indigenous populations have their own way to praise the Divine.
Of course, India remains one of my absolute favorite destinations. I try to visit every year. Going there feels like going to a second home, and it is always so joyful to pick up the conversation with my family and friends where we left off at my last stay.
I give gratitude to my parents for exposing and teaching me about my culture and their lives in India, which has allowed me to feel comfortable and given me a sense of belonging when I am there. I have been able to trace back to the places that my parents talked about. That made their stories come to life, which is an incredible feeling. Every time I go to India, I have a sense of fulfillment, surrounded by the culture, the way of life, the simplicity, the chaos but also the calm of the rural areas that I love so much.
My parents used to say: “Work hard, make your own way but remain grounded to your roots.” I proudly can say that I do so!
Ruchi Patel, 37, is a resident of London. She has a passion for travel and the study of world cultures and traditions.