26th January: It’s Australia Day here – and Republic Day in India.
The significance is not lost on me. While I love my life in the land Down Under with all my heart, its left ventricle still beats for Bharat Mata.
It’s been over 12 years since I moved to The Lucky Country. So it might seem like a total cop-out that I consider myself half-Aussie, half-Indian, with a stubborn refusal to choose sides. After all, my passport says I’m Australian. I’ve lived here for most of my adult life. So what’s with this identity crisis?
If you’re a first-generation immigrant, perhaps you’ve experienced this disconcerting feeling of belonging – and yet not belonging – to neither, the country you were born and brought up in, and your current domicile.
How do you deal with this ‘tale of two cities’ dilemma? Do you develop a split personality of sorts? How do you reconcile the first half of your life, which was moulded by and intrinsically linked to your birth-place, with the way you live in your current country?
Just take the two cities I’ve lived in: Bombay (Mumbai to you) and Sydney.
Both burgeoning, bustling harbour cities.
But miles apart from each other – and not just geographically.
Sydney. Her sheer natural beauty mesmerises me every single day. She’s a perfect multi-cultural mix (I have never felt even a smidgen of the racism that you see on the news). She exudes a cool, cosmopolitan vibe. The locals are a friendly lot – everyone’s a “mate”. Easy-going. Easy living. Easy as. Everything in its place with a place for everything. No gimmicks. No red-tape. No BS. Seems perfect on paper, doesn’t it?
And then there’s Bombay. How can you describe something that’s indescribable? A frenetic, heaving mass of humanity. A pell-mell of emotions, experiences and encounters. A sensory overload. Daily struggles overcome by personal triumphs. Almost amoebic in the way it is ever-changing, ever evolving, ever adapting to the “organised chaos” around. And that’s just your daily commute on the fast train to work!
For me, people make a place. Bombay = my family and friends, the cosy cocoon of familiarity – and the food (Oh, the food! Don’t get me started on pani-puri/dosas/kati rolls). Even though I now visit every 2-3 years, the sandwichwalla, mocchi (cobbler) and baniya (grocer), give me the warmest welcome every time I go back “home”. They treat me like a long-lost friend (emphasis on the word ‘lost’).
But each time we visit Bombay, I see the same faces and same places with new eyes. The more I try to hold onto to a rose-tinted past, the more I have to shake off the unnerving sensation that this past is fading away. I know, I know: it’s silly to expect things to remain the same. The city has transmogrified; friends have moved away; old neighbours have died (or “expired” as Indians say for some strange reason!).
The sad truth is, every time I go back to India on holiday, it takes me just a tad bit longer to get into the groove. A few days more to feel comfortable enough to bargain with the bhajiwalli in the bazaar over the price of brinjals. A slight hesitation when I speak the local lingo i.e. Hinglish. Even the rickshawallas know I’m “different”: “Aap kahin bahar se aye ho?” (You’ve come from somewhere abroad, haven’t you?”)
A stranger in my own hometown.
My kids have no such identity crisis. Their dinky-di Aussieness shines through every time they ask for a Vegemite sandwich for lunch, some bikkies (biscuits) in the arvo (afternoon) and a barbie (barbecue) for dinner! “We were born in Sydney, mum. We’re Australian,” they assert.
(I, on the other hand, still can’t speak ‘Stralyan’: “How you going, mate?” just does not roll off my tongue.)
They have no qualms or questions about their sense of belonging. I’m glad for them. This is their life. Our future. But I want them to remember their roots, their Indian heritage, our East Indian culture…
Penning down these skewered thoughts has made me realise that I’m okay with this dichotomy. Do I have to choose one over the other? Why can’t I have the best of both worlds? After all, I am an amalgam of both.
So the next time I’m in India, perhaps I will relish my time there more. It will mean I get to spend quality time with my family and literally walk down memory lane.
But when my plane touches down in Sydney, I know my heart will give a little leap.
For I’ll know I am home. *
* The stand-out exception? When India is playing Australia in a cricket match! 😉
So tell me, have you ever lived in a different country or city? Which country does your heart call “home”?
Would love to hear your thoughts and views on this topic, so please leave a comment below. Thanks!
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