Ever since I was born, my family and I have been a bunch of nomads stuck together. My father happens to have an adventurous spirit and my mother loves getting swept away and being transported so it was only natural that young me would inherit this quality.
While other kids have lived in certain neighborhoods and certain regions for a big part of their life, my childhood has been a whirlwind — from one city to another. Obviously, I am very grateful for this privilege — it has led to some of the best moments in my life — but it hasn’t come without its own share of challenges.
Ironically, one of the things I have always been envious of with my friends is their permanency. There is something uniquely comforting to knowing a place inside-out, lounging out in secret hideouts that only you and your friends know, and making fun of the otherwise mundane aspects of life. As far as I can remember, that feeling of comfort and being ‘at’ home has always eluded me. My stays and lives in cities vary — almost like split personalities — each life being different than the other. Sometimes I am the new kid, naive and innocent, and others, I am the exotic foreigner.
If I had to pick where my ‘home’ has been, I’d be inclined to pick two cities. One is a small, rural village in India where I spent the majority of my childhood — visiting in summers, climbing aam trees, praying at the local temple, walking on the kacche roads with its bumps, and those cool breezy nights where the night sky would bare herself to reveal all her treasures. The other is an industrial, humming-drumming city in the USA where I, albeit in and out, spent my teenage years and, recently, my adolescent years. It is a city where I learned the fun of high school, those glittering skyscrapers, first-loves, first-fights, and special nights where we would bunch up and watch movies with aam ki kulfi.
As I have gained more and more the ability to think, I have recently come across a problem that’s been nagging at me. It’s the stereotypical, “Who am I?” Yeah, I know — “whoa look at me, im so edgy and out-of-the-box!”
But that’s just what’s scratching at the surface. You see, beneath this simple question lies a deeper question of where do I lie? Seems a bit stupid to consider but I think to answer the question of who you are, you have to answer multiple building blocks. Questions like what do you like, what you don’t like, what do you value, who do you trust, etc.
One such question is where you are — literally and metaphorically. For a lot of people, this question has two separate answers — a geographical and mental response. However, I think that these two answers are intrinsically tied together. After all, where we live and continuity form what experiences we collect which in turn forms how we are on a mentally aware level. For a lot of people, this is perhaps the easiest to answer. Some answers include Amsterdam, Delhi, Texas, Allen, at my grandparent’s house, the house 5 blocks down this street, and so on.
But this question has been the toughest for me to even begin to consider.
I am neither totally ‘Indian’— blending in the ways of my relatives, the slang, the mannerisms, and the newest updates will always elude me — neither totally ‘American’. Whenever I talk to my friends in India, there’s always a feeling that I’ve almost got what they’re talking about but I’m a few steps away. Whenever I talk to my friends here in the USA, I can’t help but feel distant in some capacity — as if I’m an alien that got most parts right and is missing something.
This dualism has been persistent through my teenage years and from personal experience, it is a difficult seesaw to balance. At times, you just don’t want to care and just lean to one side. However, somehow and someway, the seesaw manages to swing the other way and we’re back to square one.
I’m a huge nature guy — hiking, trekking, and running all appeal to me. One of my favorite things to do in these activities is to think about these concepts in an attempt to maybe make an identity dilemma come to some stability. I always fail.
Now, I am not saying that I struggle with a crisis. I know certain things about myself that I am proud to have learned about and those certainties give me enough hope that I’ll figure this out someday as well. However, from time to time, certain events put me back in a place of indecision.
Today is one of my cousin’s weddings. I grew up with her in that village and I remember the way she would place my head in her lap and sing me to sleep. I also remember when I pissed her off by pulling on her ponytail. Fast forward to today and it feels like I’m in a dream. Here is one of my closest relatives embarking on a life-changing journey and in the middle of it all, I am here in this grey area.
Amusingly, because of COVID, we could not attend her (small) wedding but we video-called. This image of her brother, from another country, calling to her relatives’ wedding is perhaps the best description of what I’m feeling right now. I am, of course, with them but only virtually. They are seeing an abstract version of me — an idea of me that is pretty close to me but my real flesh. This abstraction goes the other way as well. As such, we are close but far — thickened by blood but diluted by the water that separates us.
Sometimes I wonder whether this is just one of those things that I will never solve.
Will I find a home? I…I couldn’t tell you.
Will I find where I belong? I…I don’t know.
However, I do know that I am in my spiritual home. With my closest friends and family all loving and caring for me, and me for them. And in this abstraction, I am safe and found. In this home, I belong.