In class 12 boards, a question left me uncomfortably silent. No, it wasn’t an out of syllabus Physics numerical or Chemistry question. Rather, it was an innocuous, “Where are you from?”
My hesitation to answer this question has followed me to college, from viva to every new person I’ve met.
In such a large, diverse country, where every 1000 sq km culture one encounters a different dialect and culture, it’s quite an obvious question. Your personality is undoubtedly moulded by either your birth state or where you grew up.
By the age of 18, I had changed 8 schools, lived in 4 cities, and 3 countries. Making it vexing, to sum up, which culture has played the most important role in my development.
My mother, born and raised in the same state, with a strong sense of her identity struggles to understand my confusion. On the other hand, my father raised in a very culturally different state than his birth state was no stranger to my confusion, but raised by a similar community, never had to question his identity.
It’s this sense of community that is perhaps the most unfamiliar.
As hard as it to pinpoint which state I can call my own, there’s a sense of discomfit in unequivocally claiming to be an Indian. For more than half my life, I’ve been a Non-Resident Indian, it’s the identity stamped on government forms, and amongst family.
India, for too long, had been a nostalgic memory; of long summer days with cousins, of heavy monsoons and lazy chilly evenings. Painted in the best hues of my parents’ memories, it was an idyllic paradise.
Returning here to study challenged all my preconceived notions, and stripped me of my confident answer when questioned, “where are you from?”
You can’t really say India when everyone is from India, can you?
As tricky as it has been, seeking a definite identity, there are perks to being from nowhere and everywhere. In a small or large group, it’s not hard to find someone who can relate to my current predicament. Whether it’s the joy of celebrating Lohri, or how they miss litthi choka, these are childhood memories we share.
Sighing over gulf chocolates, or critiquing shawarma’s together are bonding exercises (obviously while puffing on a hookah.)
I find pieces of my home everywhere, not rooted in just one city.
My hesitance to answer the question has since evolved into humor. Replying to every new inquisitive interloper with another off-shoulder quip, or moulding my answers to suit the group.
I still don’t know where I’m from, but now it isn’t all that hard to find my community, no matter the city.
Written by Kriti Gopal for MTTN
Edited by Mihika Antonia Dean for MTTN
Featured image by www.dreamstimes.com
Artwork by www.shrm.org