Where do I belong? There is no answer to this question. First I have to determine who I am and convince myself of the truth of it. So far I have never been able to convincingly answer this question even in my own mind, which is why I find myself hesitating when asked, until the questioner wonders if I am being truthful. In fact, faced with this difficult question, R and I often pipe up with two different answers thereby confusing the enquirer no end.

R replies that we belong to Chennai which I find hard to second. I was born there but he was not, and we only lived there for for four years after we were married. We could say we are natives of Tanjore district (which has a certain cachet to it) although he says we are natives of Kumbakonam town, which we are not, though he was born in Kumbakonam. We could simply say we are natives of Tamil Nadu, but that doesn’t occur to him. When he informs people that “we” belong to Chennai and then I say that I was brought up in Hyderabad, they assume that I am a Telugu person. My hesitation in replying stems from my inability to deviate from the truth at any time. When I am asked the price of something, I always give the exact rupees and paise, rather than round it off to the nearest hundred as most people generally do, especially if it is an expensive saree or piece of jewelry.

I was born in one city and grew up in another. I am a native Tamil speaker but was brought up in the city of Hyderabad. After marriage I moved to my city of birth but did not have much affinity for it. Till this point things are quite clear. But then came the brief interlude in the heartland of Hindi. From the Nizam country to the land of Nawabi culture, we moved to the cosmopolitan city and financial capital of the country, Bombay, when it was not Mumbai yet.

Bombay became a part of me and I found my true home there metaphorically. The number of houses we moved into while in Bombay were many, but it was home always wherever we lived. I found myself as an individual and an adult, and learned to assert myself. With R being away on long tours frequently, I was in charge and I loved it because it was not necessary to defer to the lord and master! I could do anything. I was not the meek little woman anymore.

After thirty years, in a sudden moment of dissatisfaction with our life we began to seek change and found ourselves, impelled by fate almost , in a South Indian city I had never seen before. Our new home still finds us waking up surprised each day, wondering how we got here, and why. I still do not know why we moved though how we did it, is clear. The process was long and hard, a challenge no less.

When I look back, it is obvious that we were bored with the sameness of life, and feeling marginalized, old and ignored as we were. All the exciting things that were happening in other people’s lives were passing us by. Apart from going to banks and government offices to keep up with payments, and waiting for telephone calls from the few callers that bothered with us, and being unable to go anywhere within the city due to the traffic conditions and parking problems, all we did each day was mundane to the extreme. Moving to a different city was an exciting idea that took hold of me at first but did not appeal to R at all. But fate took over, and suddenly everything happened without our planning for it. We moved.

But I cannot help feeling homesick for Mumbai and read the Mumbai news each day. When I realize that it is now my past and the future now lies in a smaller town in the deep South, it still shocks me but I suppose that slowly I will get used to our new life and rejoice in it some day.

Now at least, I can be quite unambiguous about belonging to the state of Tamil Nadu since I am going to be living there. From now on, answering the question of Who Am I will have to be an esoteric exercise in finding the real me, which is the quest of a Hindu in search of Moksha.

How We Got Them Home

I found myself looking at the variety of infant needs being catered to in the children’s section of John Lewis, chief of them being the pram and the baby cot. They also sold fitted sheets, bibs, comfort blankets, pacifiers, mittens and caps among other things, all of which came in blue and pink, and in white and a neutral beige which probably has a fancier name than I know. I wonder if the babies know there is so much to choose from and so many things they need before they can be taken out for a walk. The weather of course is a good reason for the light jacket, the heavy jacket, the woolen cap and the lighter summer cap, the indoor socks and the outdoor ones, and then there are the blankets, the warmer ones and the cellular others. Being an Indian, “cellular” reminds me always of the cellular jails of the Andamans where the British dumped the Indian political prisoners. That has no connection at all with these light blankets that let in air and keep the little ones from getting too hot.

Every one of these is designed and marketed with the parents in mind. I don’t expect the baby gets to pick and choose anything, or even much cares if it is dressed in a hot pink onesie being a boy, or a blue set of clothes though a girl. As long as it is not too cold or too hot or hungry or sleepy or just feeling upset, knowing how to make its complaint heard, it just does not care what the parents do with it. But it is they who get wildly upset if they have a pink outfit on their hands when they have a boy in the pram and would not dream of dressing the baby in the pink dress, probably because it would traumatize the little darling. They may not be too wrong in the prevailing atmosphere in this country where a child of three can say he is a girl when he is clearly not and some NGO starts counseling the child on gender change without the parents’ knowledge.

Like all old people, I am at this point entitled to recall the past as long as I confine myself to my blog and do not inflict it on a perennially bored and angry younger generation.

The color association is not very prevalent in India except among the urban affluent and was unheard of when we became parents. Sundry aunts would turn up with badly stitched clothes in riotous colors and prints and we would gratefully accept them. Sometimes we were forced to accept them for fear of giving offense as we were all very polite people in our time. We still are. Now we defer politely to the younger people.

Coming home from the hospital with a new baby is a momentous event. Today and in the western world, it requires a car seat and a carry cot, which require great effort and time to fix in the car. Back home I am sure a car seat for an infant or toddler is non-existent even now. I belong to a country where there are people who hold their infants in the front seat and do not belt up. A baby here may not be sent home without a car seat and simply carrying a swaddled baby home in the parent’s arms is not allowed generally.

We took A home as a week old baby in a cycle rickshaw. I sat in the rickshaw and held her and the rickshaw puller was told to go carefully across the potholes. Even so it was a bumpy ride home. D had a better time going home because taxis were available in the city of Madras and the road was a proper cement road.

When S was born, R hired a whole tempo which was actually a large phat-phati similar to a large auto which carried eight persons. It was a new tempo, as the owner proudly told us, and it was the first ride for both the tempo and for S. It was certainly a noisy ride because tempos are designed to make a lot of noise.

I did not have to travel during the first few days of my life because I was born at home in my grandparents’ house. I would have been the first hospital birth and could have boasted about it if my mother had not developed cold feet at the last minute and refused to go into hospital. She was only twenty one at the time and could have been excused but I am not sure that she had thought things through. Did she imagine she had the option of canceling the delivery, I wonder? Anyhow they had to send for the midwife in a hurry and fortunately the woman did not object to having been overlooked earlier in favor of hospital delivery and turned up but only just in time. By then I had decided to come out without waiting for help and she managed to finish what I had started.

The midwife seems to have been surprised by my size though, and remarked that I was as big as a rat. This nugget was overheard by a neighborhood child who went home and reported to her mother that a rat had been born in our house. The first comment on my appearance was not very complimentary but luckily I did not either hear or understand it, though it was repeated to me often enough later.