My parents hail from a beautiful beach place on the Goa - Karnataka border called Karwar. It is a divine place with very simple people and of course a lot of fish and coastal fruits. By this connection, my mother tongue is Konkani and I have that coastal spirit within me.
My father came to Pune for a better livelihood. My sister and me were born and brought up in Pune. Pune, a free spirited city which has its own rich cultural heritage and of course the rude businessman as many would say. As I was growing up in Pune, our foods started having a Maharashtrian tinge with sabudana khichdi, vegetables prepared with peanuts and usage of kala masala to some extent. We still had our fish curry and vegetables with coconut, but for our school lunch tiffins we essentially had poli bhaji (chapati and vegetable) which was so much influenced by Pune. It is how I picked up Marathi and there was one more language added to my kitty.
For more than 25 odd years of my life, I thought I belonged to Pune. I thought the mandai vegetable market, the small town bazaar called tulshibaug, the hep F.C Road, the cosmopolitan Camp and my homely Kothrud area defined me. I thought the small scale vegetable vendors sitting on Paud Road is where I belonged, I thought the tiny mom and pop grocery store just outside my building is where I belonged, I thought the Ganesh Bhel which is a famous chatt centre line is where I belong. It was imbibed in me that I belonged here in Pune until....
I got married and was packed away to a Bengali family. This was a phase in my life where I started learning the Bengali language. I am not an expert in the language but I can converse today quite fluently with Bengalis. Also, I understand what they say even if sometimes I may not be able to reply to them in Bengali. I started blending in the Bengali tinge with slowly and steadily liking the bland river fish and learning Bengali cuisine and rituals. Getting used to mustard pastes and mustard oil was what took a little longer. I have come so far today being a Bengali that it is me who reminds my husband about Bengali New Year and Durga Pujo dates. This was the first time I started questioning to myself "Where do I really belong?"
I was trying to find answer to this question and we shifted to Chennai for Sujoy's work and yet again I was caught in the dilemma. I hated Chennai to the core because of my inability to understand Tamil and the unavailability of authentic butter chicken. But somewhere inside, I thought I belonged to Chennai too. Mainly because of the beaches and the loving nature of the people around me. I got excellent folks at my work place who really welcomed me with open arms. It is very difficult to work in the Human Resource field if you do not know the local language. And yet I was there at Qualcomm Chennai making my mark and being loved and cared. Our landlord might have been a little bossy but he was a fatherly figure giving us advice and of course scolding us on our mistakes. As I was just trying to figure out about my belonging and then.....
The BIG transformation. We came to the US. The initial 6 months were a horrible nightmare and I was so sure that I didn't belong here. It took time for me to settle down and last 2 years have been very eventful and fruitful. And I now think I belong here to some extent. I belong to a culture where good work is appreciated and praised, I belong to the small circle of my good friends away from home, I belong to the Papa Johns and Pizza Huts, I belong to Chipotle, I belong to the library here, I belong to the vast horizons and clear blue skies, I belong to the evening walks I take without fail.
But you know what? Over the past few days I realised that I was looking at the question in a wrong way till now. Why do I have to belong to a place? Why should a place define who I am? It will definitely influence my personality but will it really define my real self?
I think I belong to myself!
I think the person that I have become today, I belong to myself. I belong to my positive nature, I belong to my spiritual side, I belong to my rooted to my family attitude, I belong to my open to new ideas perspective, I belong to my obsessive instructions to others compulsion, I belong to my fight against wrong sword, I belong to my self created by me over all these years! I simply belong to myself :)
So where do you belong?