I’ve always believed that in every person there lies a place. A country, a city.
When I visit places my friends have grown up in, I look for them in the city. I look for their cadence in the way the city moves and I look for the city’s heartbeat in their pulse. In the way their eyes look for what to call familiarity and in the kind of outdoors they say is healing. In the way they process and the way they imbibe.
But for those of us who belong to more than one place, more than two even, it gets a little confusing.
My folks are ‘from’ Kerala, an emerald in South-West India. My family has been settled in the Middle East for three generations. But by an odd turn of events called the Gulf war, I was born in Vadodara, Gujarat, an open-mouthed grin towards North-West India.
I was there until I was nearly two. Then my family moved back to the little Middle Eastern desert called Kuwait. I was there for sixteen years. I moved to Bangalore after high school and have been here for over eight years now. I’ve created a life moving between two countries. So last year when my folks retired and moved back to India, I couldn’t understand how to process it.
It felt like my world was encroaching upon me.
Like its dimensions were shrinking.
Then I thought back to my years in Kuwait. I saw myself amidst faces lacquered in colours that scaled possible realms of natural skin tones, arched eyebrows tweezed silly and layers over layers of clothes huddled on skeleton frames, because fashion. I laughed. That was never me.
I was always a bystander in that circus. But calling out the idiosyncrasies of the place had carved a niche apart for those of us who always cleared passport control under the ‘Other Nationalities’ board. It was sad that even two decades later, we would still be standing in a queue under that board.
I began to wonder — Was that my cadence? Was that my heartbeat? Was that my pulse?
I’m told that I’m too foreign to belong in Kuwait and not Indian enough to belong here. So where was I ‘from’?
I can tell you my passport has the lions and the chakra, the bull and the horse–Indian. I can tell you where I graduated school and college from. But is that all it takes to tell you where I’m from?
Unlike the popular belief, I don’t abhor this question because the answer is long. I abhor it because I don’t have an answer that I find satisfactory.
Being raised in an Arab country, nothing feels more like home to me than dry, scorching heat, the constant hint of sand in the air or looking at prickly leaves that shoot out of a date palm.
I remember our date palm at home. We could pluck dates for a few years and then it grew too tall. But what of that? What do you call a place where you sow the soil and eat its fruit, yet are never going to be able to own the land? That’s not a place you belong.
I can lose myself in the green, raw magnificence of Kerala. I feel a sense of unadulterated pride when I can roll my ‘Rs’ and ‘Zhs’ just right. But I couldn’t possibly explain how foreign I feel when I am expected to converse in Malayalam, a beautiful language that I have no fluency in. It doesn’t end at fluency. Things that are spoken in a language that I don’t think in sound foreign to me.
And Bangalore? This is the closest I’ve gotten to being ‘from’ a place. My mind lights up when I spot the Bangalore drawl in someone’s accent. I cannot speak its native tongue, Kannada, but I sport a thick Bangalorean accent in my English. Isn’t it funny how a language I don’t even speak is on my tongue?
That’s how deep Bangalore runs within me. A place that moves, but not too fast. A metropolitan city, but one with a soul. Not too mechanical, it knows how to pause. The perfect blend of parks, lakes, towers and palaces. This could be my place. But it isn’t. Because every day I spend here, I still feel like a part of me is missing, elsewhere, incomplete.
This is the story of a third culture kid.
We can give you answers to fill blanks on documents, but in our beings, we carry a space that you can’t completely fill. We belong to so many places, and yet, in an instant, nowhere.
I now believe that no one is from a place.
Ask me what home is to me. I will tell you that home is a space, not a place, that feels familiar. Not familiar to a place I have grown up in, but familiar to my soul. It’s one I constantly find and lose, one that redefines itself from day to day, hour to hour. That’s home.
Ask me what culture I connect to the most. It isn’t the preferred blend of spices in my food, or the language I speak most proficiently. I will tell you that I connect to human beings being exactly who they are, unabashedly being their worst, and proudly strutting their best. That is my culture, authenticity.
Ask me what the places are that have left a mark on me. I will tell you of several places, places I have lived in for decades, and places I have lived in for a week.
Our identities change each time we see a new way of life, each time we fall in love, each time our heart breaks, each time we learn something new, each time we take on a new job, each time we lose ourselves, and then find ourselves.
I intend to keep finding myself in people, in spaces, and in places until the very end. I am of myself, and that is all.
As for ‘from’, I am looking to find an alternate word for it. I don’t have a word yet, but I’m making way for dialogue. Vast, magnificent, fruitful, soulful dialogue.
Featured illustration by Janhavi Singh for Homegrown.
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