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.