The Moaning of Life #3 The Complex Question of Finding Where You Belong

Many years ago, author Shweta Taneja asked a pertinent question at the launch of her Krishna graphic novel. If a writer is born in one country and emigrates to another, which country does the writer belong to? She talked about Neil Gaiman, born in the UK and later emigrating to the United States. My lord and mentor Ricky Gervais lives in a US and UK mansion with a concierge and security team. He identifies himself as belonging to both countries.

This is the question I have been struggling with for a while now.

We always think of Albert Einstein as the founder of the theory of relativity, but only some acknowledge his country of origin; it's not common knowledge. 

So, does it matter which country you belong to? This question has come up a lot in recent days.

I have spent most of my life in India, visiting and working in multiple cities.
My friends in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai still swear by our good times and for the bad times. It has come to that once you identify a country, do you have to remember a city to be associated with? For me, the city to be associated with most is Bangalore; the casual racist auto-driver, the city rooted in tech, and the Blackberry police officers are all etched in my memory. 

I also vividly remember standing early in the morning, watching the Republic Day parade in Delhi, eating ras-malai paratha in the paratha gully in Chandni Chowk, meditating in a monastery in Manipur, binge drinking at Titos in Goa, eating a cheese club sandwich in Mumbai, visiting the Mahabalipuram temple in Chennai.

But then I also have vivid memories of eating the best pizza in Europe outside Italy, visiting the chocolate museum in Belgium, consuming a brownie in a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, scuba diving in Malta, of the gogo bar in Thailand and, of course, eating Turkish Delight at Istanbul bazaar but I never called these places home. I do not find solace in this place; I am a completely different person on a holiday.

So the question comes back to haunts: does it matter which country you belong to?

Some of my more right-leaning friends will scream that only one country matters, and it is the country they are born in. It could be Mother Russia or Mother India. They will try to convince me that I must be upright and stand for the country. Some other countries will want you to enlist in their armies when you turn eighteen.

Then again, a few days ago, a young lady opened a coffee shop trying to sell me Arabic coffee, a heap of coffee powder in very little water. My spoon was stuck vertically in the cup as I tried to gulp down the monstrosity. I have never been to Syria, where the girl was and was now seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, so I wonder if her claims were valid. She left behind everything she owned and knocked on the door of the United Kingdom, hoping they opened it for her. 
Her first act of freedom was to make that horrendous cup of coffee, which I gulped down with a smile to not let her down.

The bottom line is that the answer to which country one belongs to is complex. Some people feel deeply connected to their country of origin, while others find a sense of belonging in the country they currently reside in. For some, home is not a place but a feeling, a state of mind. As for me, I am still figuring out where I belong, and it's okay not to have a definite answer.

But here is a definite answer: after months of paperwork, endless queues, and drinking copious amounts of coffee, two days after I turned thirty-seven, I finally caved in, and I am now a citizen of the Great British Empire. I still guzzle tonnes of coffee like before, eat the spiciest meat you can find, and listen to desi Hip Hop Rap. And I still don't know where I belong.

Ultimately, the question of which country you belong to is a lot like trying to find Waldo in a crowded picture. You may have to search long and hard, but in the end, you realise that Waldo was inside you all along. So, if you're still struggling to find which country you belong to, just look inside yourself, and you'll find the answer. Or, you know, go on a world tour, eat good food, sip some coffee, and let the answer come naturally. 

After all, life is too short to take things too seriously.


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