home & calcutta

Shideh & Manata, I really enjoyed reading your posts. When I think of the places I call “home”, it is defined by the people who are there. In the past 3 years I have lived in 3 different cities. And each time I have left one place, the new place never feels like home even when all my “stuff” is there. There is a cliche that says “home is where the heart is”. I find it very true. I speak of my “homeland” as Pakistan, though I have never lived there for longer than a few weeks. My “home” is still in the small town where I grew up, although I haven’t lived there in 7 years. I feel at “home” when I am with my family & the dear friends I call my ‘family’. For me, it is not the boundaries of our houses or the soil of a nation that make me love a place or make it a home. It is my experiences, the people and my association with that place.

Last summer I went to Calcutta, India as a chaperone for high school students who were traveling to do hospice work with the poor. Calcutta is where my father was born and where my great-grandfather opened the first optics shop that turned into the family business spanning three generations and four countries. My grandfather left Calcutta in the late 1940’s and no one has been back for over 40 years. My connection to the city was only through stories I had heard from my grandfather. I was excited to go and didn’t think it would mean anything more than seeing a new city and having the opportunity to do some meaningful service work. As the plane was landing, I was surprised to feel tears well in my eyes. Seeing the lush landscape, it reminded me of my father’s words of why he chose to move our family to Kentucky, “the greenery reminds me of Bengal”. It was the realization that I had grown up in a town because it reminded my father of this place I was about to land in. As soon as I entered the humid airport, I felt a connection to the city: an American kid, feeling at home in Calcutta. I spent the next 2 weeks meeting many people, from store keepers to waiters to other humanitarian service workers. And when they would ask where I was from, I would tell them, “My grandfather was from Calcutta, my father was born here.” I was claiming my stake on the city. Although locals could still tell I was not a native, I felt proud that I could blend in here better than I can in America. When I visited the bridge where my grandfather would go swimming as a young man, I burst into uncontrollable crying. My grandfather battled Alzheimers for many years and now simply lies in his bed, non-responsive. I cried because this was the place where he freely swam and the place he would fondly recall in his stories to me. And for its connection to a man I dearly love, it was a place I immediately loved. I always grew up identifying myself as a Pakistani-American Muslim. On this trip, I realized I was Indian too.

With globalization, I think we must all learn to love all parts of the world. Our lives are quickly becoming interconnected and our associations are becoming closer and closer. We no longer have the liberty to stay in our corners and feel that we do not contribute to or are affected by others around the globe.

Landing in Calcutta

A picture I took from the plane while landing in Calcutta.

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1 Comment

Filed under belonging, calcutta, culture, homeland, India, love, Pakistan

One response to “home & calcutta

  1. Wow, you’re absolutely right.
    May be we can all visit Calcutta together one time. I’m so curious to see this city after the way your described your connections and feelings.

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