Rootlessness

Two things happened last night. I was catching up on the twitter feeds of some people (I’m trying to stay off, but sometimes I forage for things to read), when I found myself back in 2015 reading the tweet from someone mentioning that they had never stayed in a city for more than a year since leaving home. [This was in response to a medium post by Adrianna Tan, which is also incidentally relevant to what I am thinking.]

In another window, I had been chatting with a friend about how recently (over the last year) I had been feeling restless. About how I felt the need to move out of this city and this job, despite the fact that I am the happiest I have ever been at a job. I feel the need to get out to travel, despite the fact that I am working for someone who, if I were to ask to take a month off a few times a year to go travel, would probably let me.

This is what I started telling my friend:

I feel the need to move, but it is just a bit scary after all the time. The current work place is the most comfortable I have ever been. Which is also why I should move.

But, I feel the need to move also because I have the feeling that I am starting to put down roots. I’d rather move.

A long time ago, I knew a girl who was deeply rooted in who she was – marathi, konkani, mumbaikar. She was geographically rooted in that city. I loved her, and almost with an equally intensity envied her. By then, 4-5 years after completing college, I had already come to think of myself as someone without roots and someone who would never put down roots.

I grew up intensely shy. Those cultural anchors that help you say, this is my own, my native land, those never developed. I grew up with books, and was reading English very well indeed by the time I learnt Hindi and Assamese. If there is a place I think my roots lie, they lie in the London of Arthur Conan Doyle and HG Wells. Possibly, not even there.

So, when I go home, I am at home with my family. I just don’t feel at home in that city.

Everywhere else, I will always be an outsider. No Korenizatsiya for me.

After college, at some point I looked at myself and said, Ah, I’ll be a nomad always. Thus, I should move.

This is where I’ve been: I grew up in a house outside my hometown town, then spent 1 year in the town after I was 14, 2 years in another town, followed by a life largely outside the state. 4 years in college, 1 year each in Bombay and Hyderabad, 2 years in Calcutta, 3 years in Mumbai – but without a home base in the city for the longest time since I was always travelling. Following which I went home for two years.

And then came to this city – been here for five years now. It is the longest time I have spent in a single city after my childhood. This feels unnatural to me.

[The thing about constant movement is not atypical among my friends. Probably a quarter of my friends have had parents (fathers) in jobs that took them to different cities through their childhood. Probably only a handful of friends haven’t stayed in more than 3 cities after adulthood. This rather pointless question about roots and rootlessness doesn’t seem to bother them. A large number of them have bought houses in which they live – so presume they imagine themselves being in that city for a long while to come – for the next decade and more.]

I can’t seem to imagine deciding that this is where my caravan must stop. This is where I’ll break camp, and build a house instead. Recently, I have come to realize that while I have fallen in love with each city I have been in, tried to feel the city by running around, walking all over the city, eventually, as times has passed and I returned to the city, I found myself confronting a dimmer love for a barely familiar place. The idea of being there for all futures to come is not a happy thought.

And then, there are places to go, things to do – for example, I want to live above the arctic circle once. I want to live on the hills and by the sea. Perhaps in a desert too.

To do that, I need to leave this city before I grow roots.

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