Most of us wish to belong—to belong to a place, to feel belonged, to have belongings. The extents and desires may vary, but the need strongly brews within us.
I was born and raised in the chaotic, colorful city of Bombay (I will still call it Bombay) in a strictly middle class environment where the need to pursue dreams always resided in the heart and mind, but the willingness to realize them seemed impossible because of minimal courage, fear-clad excuses, and grim realities.
While still a young teen, I fell in love with books and pictures of places around the globe. I wanted to be in all of them. As my aptitude in memorizing countries and capitals on the atlas increased, the debts and responsibilities of living an average family life began reducing the opportunity to bring this to reality. Off they went, the silly dreams of travel!
After many eventful stories in my life, I relocated to the United States.
I love Bombay. A part of my soul somehow protested and decided to stay back and it continues to reminisce about the experiences of my life there.
When I moved to the US, I wasn’t sure what was awaiting me. I was exposed to the culture— thanks to sitcoms, books, movies, and a job in Bombay’s well-known BPO, but I discovered huge contrasts as I started living here.
During the first few years, I lived and worked in different parts of the country and that gave me a rather good insight into personalities and mentalities of the people who live here—both foreign and local. I came across people who had heavy misconceptions about India, or who had beautiful experiences of travels to different parts of India and the world to share. At times, India was mistaken for a country in the Middle East, all South East Asians were Chinese, or every blonde was a hussy.
Many times, my forthrightness was misconstrued as being rude or my style, too bold for a woman.
It seemed like everybody had an opinion backed with either great rationalism or greater assumptions. Did it feel starker because most of us were displaced from our origins? Was this attitude an escape mechanism?
I realized that for the most part we are all the same people planted in different parts of the world. Inherently, we possess the art of guesswork; we derive conclusions from a sample crowd, their looks, or their situations. We rarely feel the need to dig deeper unless required.
For the first few years, I wasn’t all that at ease (well of course, considering we’re all labeled aliens when we set foot on American soil). It wasn’t loneliness; it wasn’t about being accepted. It was just an unsettling thought of not feeling ‘belonged’.
A few years later, I moved to New York City. The Big bad Apple that dishes out dreams in all forms and figures, the city that titillates your ambitions, while reminding you of your reality and shortcomings.
This city is unlike any I have visited or lived in. New Yorkers believe that you don’t choose this city. It chooses you. I came to help a friend relocate from Connecticut, and when we stepped out in the evening to get dinner, it almost felt like the entire universe lit up and told me, “Come, join the party and try not to leave”. Well, either that or I was extremely drunk and dizzy in Times Square late at night with equally drunk strangers asking me to join their party.
Something about the smell of the city, the endless crowd, the pockets of trash around, the people, the glitz and glamor all in one giddy mix felt like a never-ending rave party.
It has been 10 years, and the party still continues. Over the years, this city opened my heart, my soul to unbelievable insights and events. It gave me the strength to start small, but to dream big. It forced me to shed myopic views and made me perceptive. It prevented me from typecasting people and encouraged me to be free-spirited.
I tested my skills in education and art all at once. I met people from places I had only read in books, or on the map. I failed mercilessly in my endeavors and also found immense courage to start afresh when the city’s competitive air blew right into my 300 sq.ft. studio. And most of all travel; from here I traveled across the country and to some wonderful parts of the world.
The little girl in me who pored through the atlas finally got a chance to fly.
NYC can be daunting too; I sense the challenge to maintain sanity amidst my crazy work-life balance. I witness the ridiculous rise in rent each year and am made aware of the unappealing thought of never being able to own a house. There is a perpetual rat race, literal and figurative, and uncertainties of many sorts. But something about New York sticks with me. There is a part of my life and soul in Bombay that has superimposed itself into my life in New York. I see the parallels and I see the differences.
What I missed back home, I find here, what I loved back home, I value them here, what abandoned me back home, I found here; I finally belong. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby- “I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands”.