“When did you get home?” a friend asked me yesterday.
“Last night,” I replied.
“It must feel good to be back,” she said.
The pause on the phone was long enough to be awkward.
“Yes,” I said. I wanted the conversation to end.
But what was home? That word has always been problematic for me. I have always straddled two continents, two cultures, a feat that becomes hard at times like this.
My closest friend Eugene in Kolkata and I used to discuss for long hours what being home meant. Was it in Atlanta, where I have lived for 23 years, where I work, where I laugh and love? Or is it in my native India, where I am not an “other” or a minority, where I can bask in my Indianness, where I am in my element like I can never be in America?
After my parents died in 2001, going “home” to India became emotionally exhausting. Kolkata was not the same without my Ma and Baba waiting for me at our flat on Ballygunj Circular Road. Some of my trips after that were short — I was but a tourist on a fleeting journey. Others were punctuated by weddings and funerals and other events that made them extraordinary.
This time, it was different.
I spent a lot of time with my father’s sister, my pishi, in Kolkata and his brother and his wife in Delhi. My uncle and aunt are the only two of my father’s seven siblings who are still living. Three of my aunts and uncles died in painfully rapid succession in the last year and a half.
I felt a need to soak up my family as much as I could.
I was also on assignment for CNN for part of the time I was home. I found it refreshing to report on my own people for a change and to work alongside Indian journalists.
Now, I am back at my desk at CNN Center in Atlanta. I look at the sun and think that it also shone over India today, many hours earlier. I smell India in my notebooks and clothes and long to make that long plane journey back.
I am an American by nationality and in many ways, by identity. Yet my heart remains Indian. Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.