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.