In India, I lived in 4 cities in 22 years, regularly visited one other. I liked all the places I lived in for different reasons, and therefore don’t really think any one place to be a favorite over another.
During the four years that we spent living in the ‘Kongunadu’ of Tamil Nadu, I was often asked a most baffling question – ‘Onga native ennanga?’, to which I wish I had a simple one-word reply, but unfortunately didn’t. This is how it would it go from there..
Me: Well.. I finished my schooling in Hyderabad… (and before I finished)..
They: Oh.. Teluguvaa..? You speak such good tamil though.. (already wondering how..)
Me: Oh..well, I am actually Tamilian..
They: Appdiya.. Appo onga “NATIVE” edhunga?
Me: I don’t have a native place. My father grew up in many places, but you could say he is a native of Bangalore. (Before they jump to the next assumption..), but he is not a kannadiga, he is a tamilian too. My mother is from Salem, but I’ve never lived in either Salem or Bangalore, so technically, I cannot be called a native of those places.
They: Well, then your native place is Hyderabad… I guess..
Me: Um.. well.. we moved out of Hyderabad last year, and we have no ties with the place anymore. No family there anymore.
They: (By now utterly confused, at the prospect that there could be a person without a native place).. Appo.. Did your father work in a bank?
Me: No, he is not a bank officer. He just changed jobs (and not every year), just once every 8 years may be.
So, I spent 4 years in Kongunaadu, and then moved to Chennai for the second time. Realized nothing had changed since the 80s – still no water, still too hot and humid. I worked there, got married and lived there for a year before we moved to the US.
Now that I am not in India anymore, I am still asked questions about where I am from – and because I’ve decided that the last place I’ve lived in is to be henceforth my native place, I used ‘Chenna’ to anwer the darned question.
Other desis I meet here (including my husband), often reminisce about their favourite hometowns (chennai, bangalore, hyderabad, etc.). I have very good memories, but spread across all these places, and therefore there are times when I never feel completely Madrasi or Hyderabadi or Kongu.
The perception of ‘back home’ or India for most desis here usually means Chennai, Bangalore or Hyderabad (wherever they belong), but for me, it is hard to choose one place over another. For me India is, not any one city or place. To me ‘back home’ means just India where I will be closer to my family and friends, wherever in India that might be. It is the feeling of getting off a plane and smelling the myriad of smells, hearing the cacophony of porters and taxiwallas, feeling the heat when it’s hot and the cold when it’s cold, seeing the crowds of people going about their business (and others), those gigantic posters of politicians and super stars, be it Pondy bazar, Commercial street or Oppanakara veedhi.