Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home
By Mahuya Paul
Sitting in my swanky 3-bedroom apartment in Bangalore, it’s probably easy to immediately see how far I have come from the series of rented houses that I have had to live in when I was growing up in what I used to call my hometown – Silchar. And that’s just one example of the material changeovers that I have gone through. From buying branded items, to eating in expensive restaurants, to taking foreign vacations, there is a lot that comes easily to being a Bangalorean. And I am not saying that if I had not moved out of Silchar, I would not have been what I am today, or who I am today, but it would not have come so naturally.
But that’s just the tangible, material stuff. I am a completely new me since I have had the space to think aloud, and open up. I remember, long back, when I was pursuing my Masters in Gauhati University, I had an epiphany – I realized that I could be who I am, outside my restricted surroundings in Silchar. And even as a 20-year-old, I somehow knew that this was the doings of new surroundings, amongst people whose criticism I did not care for, and being grateful for the opportunity to embrace the happier, and exuberant version of me.
When I first moved to Bangalore almost two decades ago, I loved the essence of the garden city – warm people, cool weather, and very metro. For some reason, I did not feel left out as you do when you visit a new city, alone. And I say this because when I visited Delhi the first time, I wanted to run away from the place because it was so hostile. I just assumed that the rest of the metros would be equally unwelcome. But Bangalore was a pleasant surprise!
I got a job almost the very next day after I landed here. In a neighborhood school. This is something I would have never opted for in my hometown. I was the queen there – scoring a 1st class 1st and waiting for the local college to offer me the position of a junior lecturer, taking things slow, as we always do in small towns – no catching up to the next best paying job, or huffing and puffing at the corporate ladder, or saving furiously to buy the 20th floor penthouse in a gated community. But you reach a big city, and immediately understand how important it is to start earning your own money, to respect every kind of job, and to be grateful for all the opportunities you get.
From that day (my 2nd day in Bangalore), till today, 18 years later, I was never without a job, and almost always with a variety of options to choose from, until finally taking up technical writing as my career. Back home, I was clueless about jobs outside teaching, banking, and being a lawyer. But moving out to a big new city opened avenues that I wasn’t even aware of. I interviewed and was accepted for many different jobs in my initial years – office assistant, copy writer, call center executive, program analyst, and so on. And I never judged any position as demeaning because earning your own money is more important in a new city than worrying about not landing a white-collar job immediately. I mention this because you don’t get the impetus to go out and do just about anything if you are living comfortably off in your parents’ house.
The tides have so turned. After her retirement, my mother came to Bangalore to live with us, and she has been here ever since. I can see how the cosmopolitan crowd has left such a good impression on her too. Meeting and talking to different people helped her break out of the limited visions that are generally associated with the small towns. My only reason to go back to my hometown was my mother. And since the time she moved in with us, the urge to go back vanished. Life in Bangalore is so comfortable. And everything that I have achieved here, material or spiritual, is beyond my dreams.
I arrived here a champion – never scoring a second position in my exams, never failing at any earlier endeavors, never having to face any kind of defeat. Because in my small town I ruled. So it was a major shock when I did not qualify for the MBA school that I applied for. And then when I was passed over for a promotion, despite being a good performer, I cried for days together. While the experience humbled me, and made me realize that failures are part of growing up, it also made me more competitive. It took me a while to understand that big cities come with bigger, and unknown challenges, and that it’s okay to fail. The experiences changed me as a person. I learnt to accept things I could no longer control.
Did I lose my roots in this process? Or did I find a new home? I believe it’s the latter. I am lucky that Bangalore turned out to be a kind city, and I grew along with the city. I saw it explode with 25 million more people in the last 15 years! The old buses are replaced with swanky Volvos, the new international airport, the soaring real estate prices, and the Silicon Valley boom. When the city expands, the opportunities do too. It became so much easier to pursue my hobbies – be it singing, swimming, or theatre.
In 2003, I made my first official foreign trip to Australia, and have never really settled anywhere since. The very fact that Bangalore international Airport has direct flights to almost half the countries in the world makes it easier for me to follow my passion for traveling. I started looking at the world with a whole new eye. And while I was lapping in all the fun outside, I discovered the happiness that comes from the inside. I made new friends here, and learnt to respect myself while being patient with others.
The city is also a hub for meets, and parties, and gatherings for likeminded people. Some of my closest friends are people I met here. It’s a cosmopolitan mix and my understanding of the world took a different meaning after I started spending more and more time with them. Back home, I was discussing Bangla songs, and Bangla cuisine, and Bangla movies with Bengali people. Our opinions were very biased and limited. It was so refreshing to discover other cultures and learn about them.
When I moved to Bangalore for a better life, it was the ultimate destination. And in a few months, I knew that this is where I want to settle down. So, it was quite surprising for me when I discovered that Bangloreans themselves were looking beyond. I watched, first with wonder, then with awe, and finally with a lot of envy how people uproot their entire lives here in Bangalore and go forth in pursuit of a better life in the West. I could not relate to it initially – it was beyond my understanding that a person could leave the cosy warmth of his family and voluntarily go and struggle to make a foothold in a distant land. It took me a while to realize that displacement as a choice is almost always a positive experience. When you decide to try out a new life, you are responsible for it, and you take everything in its stride.
Photo: Mansa S Kumar
Mahuya Paul is a free-spirited soul with a penchant for travelling, storytelling, and writing. She believes in changing the narrative for women in modern India, and has over the years been closely associated with various diversity and inclusion programs. She works as an Information Architect with SAP Labs, Bangalore. However, with 34 countries in her ever-growing list, her true passion is learning and networking through travel.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.