I’ve always missed the feeling of “belonging” to a certain city. I was too young when I left Bangalore and I never really fit into Kolkata, being brought there as a reluctant adolescent and then leaving to a hostel just when I became an adult (legally).
I was always an outsider in Sikkim, creating my own world in the campus and hardly venturing out to become a “localite”. Weren’t localites the people who didn’t want us there? How could I be part of them?
Nor did I live long enough in Delhi. I fell in love with the city in the 3 months I lived there, but 3 months is hardly any time to “belong” there.
And Singapore.. well, I could say a lot of great things about my life here. But could never go to the extent of saying that this is where I belong.
I’ve seen people craving for their hometowns, taking pride in where they come from, remembering places, addas, shops and festivals. A Delhi’ite would never miss a diwali, a Calcuttan would smell tele-bhaja even in pasta, a Chennai’ite would dream of flying right down on to the roof of the favorite filter coffee stall, a Bombay’ite would yearn for the limitless chat sessions at Haji Ali circle, a Parisian would miss taking boat rides on the Seine river, a Londoner would miss waiting to watch the season’s Premier League match, a New Yorker would think of Central Park while jogging in any corner of the world. These are just a few stray examples. I’ve seen so many people feeling the tug of the thread that binds them to where they “belong”.
In comparison, I am a bird that doesn’t know where to fly back to at sundown. I have no neerh (Sanskrit for nest/home). I love experiencing everything everywhere, which is perfectly fine until you realize there is no tug, no thread. The memories that I hold dear are less of places and more of the people I’ve met there, less of the activities and more of the company I’ve kept, less of the ambience and more of the experience of the inner self.
And then one day, it dawned upon me that there is a thread. Not of a city, not of its haunts, not of its food and people and languages and festivities. But of an entity called India. An entity so huge, so indescribable, so diverse, so profound, so old and so ever-changing that I, as reflective as I may be, happened to miss out on the obvious tug.
When I think of buying the latest camera, I think of photographing Fatehpur Sikri out of all places in the world. When I think of a spiritual renaissance, a Vipasana ashram in the Himalayas is the only call I get. When I see the lackadaisal Indian city skyline from the aeroplane before landing, my heart feels a tickle inside. I might have given up hope on all political parties in India, and yet I religiously follow every election and have strong opinions about it though I know whoever is voted to power is as bad as whoever lost power. When I see Eid celebrations in Cairo, I feel like reaching out to them in ways I have greeted my Muslim countrymen, no matter how alien it is to them and how weird I might look doing it. I learn salsa but use the steps to match the rhythms of Bollywood dance numbers. When taking a cab in a hurry in whichever part of the world, the first thing that comes to my mouth is “jaldi chalo bhaiyya”. In whatever currency I might be spending, I make a quick conversion to the rupee. When I see the beautiful rivers flowing through European cities in movies, I hope I will visit them some day but also, somewhere at the back of mind, I feel silently proud of the polluted dull brackish Ganga, Yamuna and Godavari, that are far more sprawling and broader and that make the European counterparts look more like canals.
I could keep going on and on. But that would be endless. Because my very being is Indian. My mind, heart and soul bear the flavor of the sweet tea in earthen cups that we buy for 1 rupee in small-town railway stations of India when the train stops without explanation and we curse the “system” and speculate with fellow-passengers on what could be the reason.
There can be no more tugs, no more thread, no more binding and no more belonging than what is between me and my country.
God bless my country and the world.