Whenever I meet someone for the first time, sooner or later during the conversation, the question inevitably comes to where I belong. Now, I have an answer for that, which I often give to people, though I’m not sure they always understand what it means. I usually say, I belong to all the places that I’ve ever lived in, which includes about 8 different cities that at some point in time I called home. People then ask me, how do you belong to all these places? How is that possible? What makes that possible?
My answer is – my sense of belonging!
Well, what is this sense of belonging? It must be a common experience, one which connotes acceptance as a member or part. Apparently, a simple word but one with a huge significance. I think a sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a community, in a religious group, some with friends, some with family, and some, as we often find these days, in social media.
In my case, I have found this sense of ‘belonging’ to different cities enriching my life in a myriad ways. As children, my brother and I travelled with parents, as my dad’s job necessitated it. In the beginning, I hated the move and the sudden change in the way we lived our day-to-day lives, with new friends, new school and a complete upheaval of an old, comfortable way of life. But, gradually, I began to enjoy this change. I carried friendships and happy memories with me each time we moved, and as I grew up, I learnt that this had not only earned me some very good friendships, but had also brought in a certain sense of adaptability within me, that made me want to experience new places and people even more.
In later years, travelling became an enormous adventure, but more than the excitement of charting new path and finding new places and seeing things, it has been an eye opener in helping me not only to adjust to, but also relate to very different things, that I’ve never experienced before – as in learning new ways of living, redefining my perspectives and understanding myself a little better. All these experiences, have shaped me and made me the way I am today. This possibly also explains why I feel that I belong as much to the undulating roads in the once-pristine hill town of Kohima, to the buzzing student city of Manchester, or the rolling hills of Cliftown Downs in the beautiful city of Bristol; as much at home in the bylanes of Jaipur and the markets of Quatre Bornes in Mauritius; at once being able to relate to the second-hand bookshops of Calcutta’s college street where I spent my college years to the swanky streets of the urban metropolis that is now Ahmedabad. Each time I visit these places, I find myself a part of it, as if I’m one among the many who belong there. And yet, if you ask me, I’m happy to admit that I absolutely love my current hometown – Bangalore, where I’ve been based for the last eight years. Warts and all, I love it all the same!
For some strange reason, I have been unable to single out one place or city as the place where I belong to. In the same breath, I must also admit that taking to new people and a new culture has not always been very smooth. I have encountered people at every stage who have had very different views though, that has clashed with my beliefs. Along the way, I have met many who have struggled to find a sense of belonging and their loneliness has been physically painful for them, as they have moved from one place to another in search of that one single place they can call home. At various times in life, I have also encountered people who have sought this sense of belonging through excluding others. Yes, I have been at the recieving end of such people too, but thankfully, none of them lasted long. I carried on nonetheless, moving, travelling, learning and making a handful of very good friends who accepted me as one of them.
Now, when I look back, I often feel that the more I have traveled, the more I have continued to carry some element of each place within me, that has enriched my life and my work and continues to do so, in a way that nothing else does! And every time I meet someone from any of these places, I feel good knowing that we have a shared history that makes our connection a little special. One such occasion was meeting a fellow Write-Triber/blogger Anamika, last month. We had a lovely time catching up. Meeting her four year old son Dhruv was like the icing on the cake.
I joined Write Tribe last summer. In the initial weeks/months when I was struggling to find my feet as a blogger, I recieved a tremendous amount of support from the group members. Today, months after those days of uncertainty, I can happily say I belong here with all of you my fellow bloggers, my fellow comrades, as much as I belong to all those wonderful places that makes me who I am!
If you asked me what this sense of belonging does to me on an everyday basis, I’d confess – to me it does a lot! A sense of belonging to a greater community improves my motivation, health, and happiness. When I see my connection to others, I get to know that we are in it together, through the good and the not-so-good times.
The fact is I’m not alone. Nothing could be more comforting than that 🙂