I am sitting on a long flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco and thinking how can one go home from home? I have mused about “Where are you from?” before and I doubt there will ever be a perfect answer to this question. The more I think about it the more I realize that I don’t want there to be just one answer. Growing up as an American citizen of Indian origin in Germany was the most natural thing for me. I didn’t know anything else and I would never trade it for anything else. It was a very unique childhood, primarily defined by Indian values with a German standard of living. The US was merely a future opportunity.
However, after spending a third of my life living in the US I am learning that I can get attached to places just as fiercely as I tend to get attached to people. All of a sudden I have two homes!
The second most common question I get after “Where are you from?” is “Would you ever move back to Germany?”. Depending on the day, mood, circumstances, what foot I woke up on, etc. the answer could range from “yes, in a heartbeat” to “hmmm, maybe not.” But over and over I hear the following roll off my tongue effortlessly every single time: “Yes, I would but I also like living here. If I moved back to Germany I would have no reason to be in the US. Living here allows me to go home a couple times a year and experience the best of both worlds.” You can call it indecisive, or opportunistic, or lazy, or simply an answer I will never be able to answer any other way because I belong to none and I belong to both at the same time.
More often than I can recall I have confused people by saying “Oh, I am going home next week.” My skin color gives away home must be India but the only place that I can truly call home is Germany. As you grow older it starts sinking in that home is not just a place, it is a feeling. The feeling largely created by your parents, siblings and friends as you were growing up. The environment that is part of your foundation and one where you can go back and let down all your guards without fear. But home is also the place where you live, work, have most of your belongings and create mundane memories. That would be California.
This is an appropriate time to thank God or evolution – whoever you believe is the architect of our brains and consciousness – for making us humans rather adaptive creatures. The moment I get off the plane in either Germany or California I get flushed with warm and cozy emotions. The kind you would get from a big warm hug. It is not so much ‘out of mind, out of sight’ but more of a ‘be a Roman when in Rome’ when I am in either of these two places. A sure shot giveaway that this is where I belong. (For better or for worse I never get that same feeling when I get off the plane in India.) It is only that seat on the plane that feels a bit like no mans land and it is usually bridged by utter excitement to see my family in Germany or sadness to have said my goodbyes to them on the way back.
Though most of you who know me personally would say I am fairly independent I do have a softer corner for people over places which makes me ponder over all sorts of existential questions the first week I am back in California, sitting at my desk, plowing my way through work email: Why am I here? What am I doing here? Does this email really matter? What if there is ever an emergency? Why am I not with the people I love instead? How long will this go on? How did I even get into this? Depending on the intensity of my stream of thoughts it can continue anywhere on the spectrum from ‘What’s the meaning of my existence?’ to ‘Chuck it. Let’s go have a piece of chocolate and think about when I can go home again.’
Having two homes comes with hard choices but double the happiness:
Standing in a grocery store in Germany you will see my eyes pop out from all the marvel and excitement I experience grazing the bread and dairy aisles. Basking in the sun at a lakeside California park you will see my grin widen at my fortune to be a resident of the Golden State. Strolling through a Weihnachtsmarkt during pre-Christmas season in any German city you will see my soul warm up with joy and my mouth water at the prospect of Zimtwaffeln. Getting that ridiculously cheap yet gorgeous dress at a US mall will let you hear the sound of chaching in my wallet. Knowing my childhood toys and memories are all pristinely safeguarded in my parents’ home you will see a glee of comfort spread over my face. Seeing me sit in a movie theatre to watch a desi movie with my desi friends at Century theatres you will see my passionate hobby come to life.
How can I choose? Why should I choose? Can I not have two homes about 6,000 miles apart and play hopscotch to my heart’s content? It is like never wanting to – or rather being able to – choose between which parent you love more. Or for those of you who have children, never being able to love one child more than the other. I love both with equal parts of my heart and I cannot be grateful enough to call these two incredibly amazing places home.
I am about to land in San Francisco but I’ll see you again soon Frankfurt!