As of this day, it has been almost six years since I left India to Sweden. A lot has happened in these years.
I accomplished what I came here for – obtained a Masters degree; started a Ph.D. in automation in which I have crossed the halfway mark and successfully defended my licentiate; started a relationship and upgraded it to a marriage – with a wonderful person and not my thesis!. More importantly, these years in Sweden have transformed me, at a very basic level, in more ways than I can imagine. I find it hard to locate one or more English words in my vocabulary to even express the extent to what has changed in me. If I am allowed to borrow a word from Urdu, I would say it is my ‘adaab’1 that has changed or rather evolved.
It is important to point out here that these changes were not something that comes from a void. They are a result of my experiences in a specific environment. The environment is shaped by the people I meet, the things I read, and the socio-political scenarios that play out around me, of which I am a part. The person I am today has deep connections to the epistemology and rhetoric that I was exposed to, in India and here in Sweden, resulting in a very interesting mix of ideas. I am confident I am not alone to have this feeling. Almost every person who has emigrated from their place of birth to another land with a drastically different culture (more specifically language) feels this in one way or another. Here I speak about the feeling of uprootedness.
Uprootedness is a feeling of not being belonged (unbelonging, if that is a word). It must not be confused with the feeling of being unwelcomed.
This feeling, of uprootedness, manifests when we are put into a cultural environment alien to us. Since culture is, more often than not, passed on from one generation to another, it takes a generation or two to erase the feeling of uprootedness. One can, of course, learn the culture of the environment, but it is still not entirely possible to absorb everything.
For example, in these six years, I might have inculcated some aspects of Swedish culture. However, since I did not have a childhood here, it is hard for me to relate to cultural nuances, of say, child upbringing.
One may argue that this feeling of uprootedness is only for the land immigrated to and not the one emigrated from. The argument provided for this could be the childhood memories, and a common language provides a sense of belonging. While true to some extent, it fails to address the change in rhetoric and culture that has happened during the absence. I left India in mid-2013, and have visit home at least once a year, in the last 6 years. Each trip is so much more different than the previous one. The kind of rhetoric changes so quickly, the gap between my cultural identity and that my counterparts in India keeps sometimes increasing to a level where we do not understand each other.
I have mentioned language several times, and I think I should elaborate a bit more upon it. Several studies have shown how languages shape the way we think. A new language gives one the ability to think from a different perspective. Gaining the ability to think in multiple languages is definitely a hard but rewarding task. The recent movie Arrival showed this in a sci-fi setting.
Khaled Hosseini in his book And the Mountains Echoed has this quote that beautifully relates language and culture:
“He said that if culture is a house, then language was the key to the front door; to all the rooms inside. Without it, he said, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.”
Tribesman-ship, religion (stripped of its dogma), patriotism (not nationalism), have historically tried to provide a sense of belonging and community. In this new age, the internet promises the home of global citizenship, and English (thanks to colonizers and the internet) have provided us with a common language that may help provide a sense of belonging. Still, I think it is a long road before we can untangle the feeling of uprootedness and create a more connected society.
Gothenburg is the city which has grown on to me. Every time I travel to any city, I ask myself I can see myself staying at this new city; if I would miss Gothenburg. Irrespective of what the answer to the first question is, I always long for Gothenburg. Not just because it is home, or because I have spent the last six years here and become very comfortable in my own bubble. But more importantly, it is the first place I moved out to. It is the city I started building my life from scratch, far away from the shade of my family and company of friends. Hence, this city will always be special to me, and the memories I have from here will always remain special.
Many authors before me have written about this feeling of uprootedness in their own words. These words from The Prophet by khalil Gibran are what I am reminded of every time I think about where truly I belong. Here the protagonist, after spending 12 years in the city, sees the ship that will take him home.
But as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart:
How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.
adaab translates to literature. And since literature of a given time and place defines the culture of that place, the word has connotations of culture. ↩︎