On Exile

From Dubravka Ugresic, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender:

The exile feels that the state of exile has the structure of a dream. All at once, as in a dream, faces appear which he had forgotten, or perhaps had never met, places which he is undoubtedly seeing for the first time, but that he feels he knows from somewhere. The dream is a magnetic field which attracts images from the past, present and future. The exile suddenly sees in reality faces, events and images, drawn by the magnetic field of the dream; suddenly it seems as though his biography was written long before it was to be fulfilled, that his exile is therefore not the result of external circumstances nor his choice, but a jumble of coordinates which fate had long ago sketched out for him . . . (9).

City-Scapes: New Delhi-New York-Bangalore

The title of this post was remotely suggested by the title of Amitava Kumar’s travelogue/lit-crit monograph on Indian writers [note to myself: buy it and read it ASAP], Bombay-London-New York. I say remotely, because, as I have just confessed, I have not read it. I assumed it was another Westernized, postcolonial Indian’s narrative of travel to the West, a topic I had  grown  weary of in the early 2000’s, when Kumar’s book was published, myself having beat a hasty, somewhat ignominious, retreat from New York, decisively bringing to an end — at least for a span of time — my 12-year sojourn in a Western nation.

There is something to be said for not reading books whose titles intrigue you:  this kind of ignorance brings with it a certain bliss, giving free reign to the imagination to invest the title with any association(s) one pleases. And so, thinking about Bombay-London-New York and imbuing it with associations of my own invention, being oblivious of the fact that it was not a travelogue, an autobiographical account of a Westward journey (although it does contain these elements), I was able to think about and cast my own life’s journey till date in a similar manner: except that mine would be called “New Delhi-New York- Bangalore.”

It could also be called “New York-New Delhi-Bangalore,” if I chose to locate the origin of the story of myself in New York, which would not exactly be wrong, I suppose; in fact, it might, surprisingly, actually be right. Because, for quirky and inexplicable reasons, my life did, in a manner of speaking, begin in New York, something unusual for an Indian of my generation. The unusualness is something I have had to live with; at times I have had to explain it in great detail to curious people, and then, having become tired of explaining this odd tie I have always had to New York, I swept it under the carpet and began to tell people, when asked “where I was from,” that I am from Delhi — which is also correct. If I were to say that I was from Bombay, that would also be correct. If I say that I am from Tamil Nadu, that is also correct — depending on what it means to be “from” somewhere.

You see, that is the catch. Where are you from? has never been an easy question for me to answer.