Hi, where are you from?

This is a question which I am quite wary of because I expect the questioner to be patient enough to hear the answer and I’m afraid many people don’t realize what they got themselves into. Expecting a quick one-liner response, the person is generally surprised by my essay reply. I begin with “It’s complicated” just to raise the first warning. This actually filters people who really want to know the answer to the question from those who are just making casual conversation.

The difficult part is framing the reply. I never have the same answer for everyone. Every single time I go through a flashback and recollect memories from my life and try to pick up places which I can call home. I then put these places in chronological order and try to give each location a percentage of belongingness. Subsequently, I try to arrive at one single place where I’d like to “belong” from, which I miserably fail to do so. Complicated right? Well, I warned you!

How can I belong from one place when a part of me resides in multiple places? Why does my answer have to be a one-word answer? Through the entire process, if I manage to keep the person who asked me the question inquisitive enough, we end up having a great start or probably never see each other again.

The immediate response from people when I say that I have moved a lot is whether my father is an army man. To their disappointment, when I tell them he’s not, I do notice the raised eyebrows and the drop in excitement. Initially it used to bother me a lot.

Why can’t I belong to A school? Why can’t I call a neighborhood my home? Why can’t I have a family doctor who has seen me grow up? Why can’t I have a permanent address where my family actually resides? Why don’t I have a local kirana guy who will deliver groceries at my home on credit? Why can’t I belong to one particular school?

As I grew up, I realized that my kinds are in the minority. I considered myself a banjara. I learned how to use it to my strength rather than think about the grass on the other side. Being a banjara, I learned how to adapt to new situations and challenges quite skillfully. I only realized it when I started living away from family. Certain qualities surfaced that allowed me to take things in my stride and keep moving ahead. It was like all my life I was being trained to run a hurdles race, the hurdles being every new city. I could finally put things into perspective.

My life has taught me the importance of family, friends, community and togetherness. Living in different cities and countries has gotten me closer to the basic human emotions and needs. When one keeps moving his or her home to different places, one constantly challenges the comfort zone. And when you are always battling your comfort zone, you tend to become stronger and wiser. You don’t allow the comfort and luxuries to settle themselves on the foundation of basic human emotions. The core emotions of love, community and camaraderie become a more integral part of what you seek.

It is difficult not being able to call one place your home, but I like the glass half full. For me, I have the luxury to call any place I associate with my home. A luxury very few people have. I am in the process of finding that place where I can lay down the anchor and hang up my boots. Maybe it’ll happen maybe I’ll always be a banjara. Who knows? I am not complaining.

I have let go of these geographical places we belong to. I consider home more of a mental space. For me home is where my people are: my parents, my brother, my friends, my partner, my community. They follow me wherever I go and vice versa, which is what keeps me alive and brings peace to my heart. It is true. Home is where the heart is and my heart is with my people.