Where are you from? These seemingly harmless words have been the bane of my existence. Others who have relocated frequently as children will relate to this dilemma like me.
There are those who have grown up in the same house, the same neighbourhood, the same city with the same friends and studied in one or maybe two schools. They know every nook and corner, every tree, every shopkeeper in their area. They know everybody and everybody knows them. It’s their town.
Then, there are people like me.
Among all the sly, the shy and the brilliant children at school, I was mostly the new kid. We relocated a lot. I studied in a lot of schools and lived in eight cities across India for the first 18 years of my life. Being called to the head of the class every three years to introduce myself, has been one of my most dreaded memories till date. I eventually came up with a smart, funny introduction and fared better in the later years.
All this time I have wondered, would life–would I–be different had I grown up in one place? What is home to me? My exploration of this subject threw open doors to understanding what felt like living out of a suitcase.
Nomads of the day
Moving is an intensely emotional experience which can lead to radical changes in one’s personality. In fact, it ranks highest on most people’s lists of the most stressful events of their lives. You don’t only leave behind your home and belongings but also the relationships you invested in. If sorting through your possessions wasn’t bad enough, you also get to choose between things you have accumulated over months or years–what to keep and what to throw away? With every object you pick, comes nostalgia. And it is possible to ignore the physical discomfort packing and moving causes, but to snub the erupting nostalgia is practically impossible. When you survive the process, you end up in a new city with everything you own compressed into boxes and bags, ready to be pulled out and repositioned. You end up in a new place–ready to begin again.
Moving elicits a roller coaster of emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness and more which can be hard to fathom. However, while it could be extremely painful at the time, looking back it isn’t as bad. For Priya Syriac, an army kid, who had to relocate frequently while growing up, the excitement of going to a new place and meeting new people overtook the pain of moving. “There was this fear of a new school, of a new place, but at the same there was excitement. I got very good at packing. Even now I can pack really quickly. I know what I need, I don’t panic when it comes to moving,” says Priya highlighting the positives of residential mobility.
I rarely formed strong attachments with people because I never really saw the purpose of investing time and effort in short-lived relationships, as I knew I would soon be moving again.
My behaviour was recently legitimised through a new research. According to which people who move a lot tend to view both, the things they own and their relationships as disposable.
This is not always the case though. Stanley Jose, a Bengaluru-based real estate consultant grew up in more than eight cities and studied in 10 different schools. He says he has formed strong social ties throughout his life. “I am still in touch with my school friends. These are not fleeting contacts, these are 18-20 years of friendship. I have kept in touch with few close friends right from school days,” states Stanley.
“Home is my grandparents’ and extended family’s home in Kerala. Home is also the places I have stayed in. And they remain special even today. I have great memories from every place I have lived in.”
Where is home?
Growing up in different cities, I never experienced the familiar comfort of having one room and living in one house. I rarely felt a sense of belonging. I also did not have a sense of entitlement or possessiveness to a particular place. Today, home to me is where my parents live, irrespective of the city, state, or country they live in. It is home simply because everything in it–the smells, the sights, the memories and the people–is familiar.
“Home is my grandparents’ and extended family’s home in Kerala. Home is also the places I have stayed in. And they remain special even today. I have great memories from every place I have lived in,” says Priya.
“Nobody remembers the sofa you own, the painting on your wall, your curtains–what people do remember is you. Living in different cities while growing up is an enriching experience. It cannot be substituted with anything else,” says S R Singh, a senior journalist based in Indore–who has lived in many cities across India–highlighting the merits of relocating frequently.
Do these people wish they had grown up in one place, in one home? Not really.
Vardhman Singh, an IT professional currently residing in Odisha, constantly moved as a child. “Though, I am guilty of sometimes wishing to have lived in one city all my life and having the experience of knowing a city inside out, these feelings are short-lived and hold no candle to the multitudes of experiences I’ve had and the many kinds of personalities I have encountered through the people I’ve met,” he says.
At the end of this story, I have realised those who have moved frequently, have no regrets. “I would never want to grow up in one place. In fact, the only regret I have is that we didn’t move more. My father didn’t get posted in the Northeast after I was born. I would have loved to live there,” Says Priya.
Moving is an experience like no other. It leaves you many shades and memories richer. It gives you many homes, many friends, many uncles and aunts. It brings with it lessons in independence and detachment. You are at home with the philosophy of impermanence, even when you are too young to fathom it. The big world out there is your little bubble wherever you live.