October 9, 2013

Photo-Essay: Where are you from?

Pittsburgh, United States: A Shell in a Pebble Desert
 Sometimes, I feel like this shell above.

Of late, I have found myself taking a while to aptly respond to the seemingly innocuous question: Where are you from? I can rattle off the bald facts in a jiffy: passport: Indian, born in Australia, raised in and called Oman home for many years, studied in UK in between, and presently living in United States. Yet, these are merely facts: they do not and cannot convey the various homes that I simultaneously belong to and inhabit inside my head. So much so that when I am feeling homesick, I do not know which one particular home it is that I am exactly yearning for; all I know is that I feel groggy, disoriented, as if permanently travelling through assorted time zones. It must be a bit like what this shell landwrecked in a pebble desert in a city of three rivers must feel like at times: dreaming of the sea, waking up instead to the bare, varnished smell of rock and river.

Jodhpur, India: Parallel Lines

Sometimes, I miss sitting cross-legged on a sunlight-warmed sandstone balustrade outside a temple in the nook of a hill and looking down at a pale blue city spread out below.

When I walk through its narrow, labyrinthine streets and look up at the blue - exactly the shade of the sky just before it dissolves into night from day - I am pierced by a peculiar and exact sense of belonging. Behind each of those shuttered doors, there is a story, a person, a smile, a mystery. I want to open all those windows and parachute myself into their lives. However, the truth is that their stories are being birthed in the chaos cluttering the streets below. They sinew into form in the noise (barber-salon chatter, tailor gossip, and street debate), smell of frying kachoris and samosas and jalebis (served from the scalding oil in bowls of newspaper, the grease speckling the surface gray), totems of fruit in fruit-juice stalls, rainbows bottled in fabric and sari shops, and my favorites: the fancily-named Fancy stores, where you can dress up your wrists and hair and hands. I walk below the eaves, observing and remembering and photographing, carefully planting the stories inside my head, a squirrel squirreling food away in preparation for the long winter hibernation ahead. 

Seeb, Oman: Lonesome

Sometimes, I will walk past an abandoned sofa sitting outside its former house - and be reminded of its many siblings whom I have similarly encountered in the different places that I call home.

A sun-bleached, paint-stained sofa, which once held pride of court inside a fisherman's house in Seeb, will connect me to a long, floppy couch adorning a Pittsburgh's student room that I spotted in an inky alleyway one plangent June night. How easily do you find yourself calling a new place your home though, you think, a place that months before had been a mere name in your head, bereft of any associations - and now, when you see the name, Pittsburgh, it is already studded with markers of memories. A sofa = memory bridge: moments which tell you that perhaps you can be in two places at once.  

London, United Kingdom: Neatly Stacked

Sometimes, I am the person outside, looking inside; sometimes, I am inside, looking outside.

Does the inside become the outside/the outside metamorphosing into the inside? I have stopped thinking about from where I am looking; perhaps, it does not even matter as to where I am standing upon either. In my head, home, or rather, homes, have become akin to a set of revolving doors: simply step out and see what lies ahead when and where it opens for you.


I have told you where I am from. Where are you from?


  1. Beautiful !
    Such questions don't have easy answers and mostly don't matte in the real context. My muscat home is the 30 th home I have shifted to in my life and yet it is not the last one for this life time! Homes for some people like me are musical chairs, hop on to one that is being vacant! Finally I think the present moment matters and we should make the most of it wherever we are.

    1. Padmaja, thanks for your thoughtful observations as always. 30th home, wow - your analogy of musical chairs is so apt indeed! I wholeheartedly agree with what you have to say about living in the present moment - in the end, that's essentially what matters, no matter how much you are tempted to live in past-mode or future track. Home is where the present is:)


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