What is home? And what is homeland? Are they same? To where do I belong?
September 2013, Sri Lanka
” How far is Mumbai from Bangalore?” asked Banuka, our guide and driver in Sri Lanka.
“A thousand kilometers by road,” I replied.
“Thousand kilometers! I can travel up and down my country twice, in that distance!”
Early 90s, Primary School at Bangalore
In Chorus: “India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters.”
“What is your native place?”
“Why don’t you move to Mumbai or Delhi? Better opportunities for photographers there,” suggested a good friend.
“No. I have a home here. I don’t want to uproot my networks and start from scratch there. I don’t really have to migrate elsewhere. This might be a small place but has opportunities too. I just have to find ideas that are meaningful to pursue and that I can relate to.”
I have a home in Bangalore. But, a question that is always on my mind is what exactly is my homeland?
To where we belong, is a question that is intrinsic to our identity. Nationality maybe broadly used to answer the question of belonging. I have many Indian friends living abroad. Some of them do tell that they want to return to India someday as they belong here.
Can I be anywhere in this huge country and find a sense of belonging or feel at home? Can you?
During my travel to foreign countries I have been asked many generic questions like, what is the staple food of Indians? how do I say hello in India? I always respond by first explaining the diversity existing across regions and communities within India. I tell them how most of these questions don’t have just one answer to them, as things vary from one region to the other, and from one community to the other. I love, cherish and celebrate this diversity. No doubt about it. But, is the idea of home and belonging encapsulated into nationality?
I was born near Udupi in the year 1982. I spent my early years of my childhood in Vijayawada (Andra Pradesh) and in Agra (Uttar Pradesh). The later years of my life have been in Bangalore city. While growing up, the question to who I am or where do hail from, always had the answers as Mangalore or Kudla (Those were the days when Udupi and Mangalore were part of an undivided South Canara/Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka). So, I grew up with the idea that I belonged to Mangalore. Later on, bifurcation of coastal Karnataka districts suggested a political realignment in the answer – I belonged to Udupi!
Give me a break! Can the relationship and attachment with a place change when the boundaries on political maps are redrawn?
I have now been living in urban Bangalore for more than two decades. During that period, I have visited Mangalore and Udupi several times. When my grandparents were alive, the visits would be more frequent. As a child I spent most of my summer vacations at grandpa’s house. After passing away of my grandparents, the visits have become less frequent. And with each visit now, I see a continuous change in everything that I felt was part of the idea of my homeland. “To where I belong?” is a question that is now again put to test. I find myself increasingly as an outsider in my native place. I speak the language, but I am a stranger in the streets there. The number of people I know there are dwindling in number. Either they are dying or are migrating to places elsewhere. Maybe, I always was an outsider in Kudla. An outsider who lived in the big city but frequently hopped onto the overnight buses that took him to Mangalore. Now, can’t I be an outsider and still belong to this place?
Yes, I can. My feelings, my memories, and my identity is very invested in this place. I love this place like I love my soul mate. I could belong to a place, like I can belong to an individual in my life. Maybe this an old-fashioned love story, where long distance doesn’t really mean the end of the story. I love my homeland.
As a visual commentator and as a photographer, there are many facets of my homeland that interest me. The contrasts between the homeland and the place I actually live, the love-hate relationship with the two places, the contradictions that my roots throw at me, the loss and disappearance of a way of life, the changing face of homeland with which I have to constantly get acquainted with, and more contexts keep my mind forever occupied. Subconsciously, all these years I have been making photographs under these multiple contexts. But, they are all inter-linked and connected with the idea of belonging and homeland. It is now time for me to curate and share these projects.
The diptych photograph shared at the beginning of this post, explores the contrast between my grandparents home(near Pangala, Udupi) and my house in Bangalore. The space is a main parameter for this juxtaposition. In practice, there never was any clear defined boundaries or borders back in Pangala. The houses rarely kept doors locked, and neighbors kept visiting each other frequently, there was a symbiotic relationship with everyone. Space was not an issue. The place seemed more green than the garden city I now live in. The modern garden city is actually a network of concrete structures with spaces restricted by both closed doors and a different value system.
Note: Starting from today, I have added a new category called “homeland” to my blog for posts on the subjects of belonging and homeland. Also, I have also created a separate and Facebook page for this project to connect with people on Social media. Do like the page “MyHomeland.Project” and stay updates