"Where are you from?" is a question I am often asked by strangers who approach me while I'm engaged in a variety of activities - shopping for provisions, paying for an auto, taking a nephew for a haircut, walking my dogs. These inquisitive folks never believe me when I say I'm from Bangalore. (I'm not lying, of course. I've lived in Bangalore for a decade now, and it's my home as surely as any other place I've been "from".) But my pale skin and light hair give me away, and the questioning strangers always give me the same skeptical look - the one that says they know I'm not really from Bangalore; I could not possibly be with my green eyes and freckles, booming about with my too-loud voice in a decidedly American accent.
Way back in 2006, when my husband (a real, born-and-bred Bangalorean) and I moved to Bangalore, our intent was not to take up decade-long residence. We simply wanted to spend some time with my in-laws. But after several months of living with our big, crazy joint family, it became obvious that our help was needed. There was a bevy of children, my husband's ailing (though still bad-ass) grandmother, a house that was too big, and an overgrown farm, all of which was being managed by my harried, saint-like mother-in-law. Seeing the stress she was under from taking on so much, my husband and I decided the best thing to do was stay and help.
In the years that have passed since making the decision to stay, a lot has happened. Children were born. (We currently have six nephews and a niece.) Festivals were celebrated - Diwali, Christmas, Ganesha puja, Thanksgiving. I learned how to make dosa batter and bisibelebath. I have told countless bedtime stories. We planted trees, and built fences, and installed irrigation systems. I learned to speak and read in Kannada. Our house has overflowed at times with children, and old ladies, and dogs, and cats, and chaos. There have been many unexpected twists and turns, and we have overcome our share of obstacles over the years, but my husband and I weathered the storms together, sheltered by our unwavering love and devotion to each other and our family.
Then in 2013, my husband's grandmother died, and it was her devastating death that served as the first indicator our time in Bangalore was coming to a close. You see, Amamma was one of my favorite people in the world. Despite being born 60 years apart into vastly different environments, we were two peas in one pod, fiercely independent women with a poetic streak and prone to the occasional passionate outburst. We both penned poems – hers in Kannada, mine in English – about the sodium vapor lamp that can be seen from our kitchen window.
Amamma was my role model, a freedom fighter who raised five siblings and a daughter all on her own, and when she died, it seemed to me that all of the joy had been drained from the world. The little things that I'd once found so fulfilling – tending to our terrace garden, caring for the animals on the farm - no longer filled me with a sense of purpose. Eventually, my husband and I agreed that we both needed a change, and the time was right for us to move. With Amamma gone, I was no longer needed for midnight trips to her room to rub Vicks on her paper-thin skin and soothe her cough with hot ginger water and honey. And our bevy of nephews and a niece has grown; they're all in school now and no longer require an auntie/nursemaid providing them with constant care.
So, over the course of the past year, my husband and I have been working on making our exit. There were a lot of things to sort out, but we're nearly done, and soon we will be leaving. And in the past year since making the decision to leave, the world has become tinged with the nostalgia associated with the impending end of something – the month before graduation, the last day of summer camp, the bittersweet final chapter of a much-loved book. I look out the window and see the monsoon clouds, happy to spend one last monsoon (my favorite season) in Bangalore, but somehow the towering gray monoliths are already a memory. The palm trees sway in the wind, and I try to memorize the sunlight as it reflects off the glossy green, because I know someday soon, I'll be staring at the bare branches of a sad winter landscape in a land far away.
I have a friend who was born in the U.S. to NRI parents. His family moved back to Maharashtra when he was a teenager, and from that time, he was (to put it mildly) not a fan of India. He found it baffling that I voluntarily left the U.S. to live in Bangalore. One year, I visited him and his family in Pune over the Christmas holidays, and the conversation turned to my life in Bangalore. My friend said that if he were in my place, he'd move back to the U.S. in a heartbeat, and I told him that I wasn't interested in moving back any time soon, because I would miss India too much. At the airport as I waited on my flight home, alone and bored, I made a list of things I'd miss about India if I ever went back to the States. The list included everything from health faucets, to biriyani, to the entire state of Goa. At the very top of the list were my family and friends. I've been making a similar mental list now that I really am leaving. Still at the top of the list are my family and friends. Also included are late-night drinking sessions at Toit, butter chicken from Empire, the BDA complex in Jayanagar 4th Block, the distinct "market smell" that is the intermingling scents of soppu and jasmine, the lovely highways of Karnataka as seen from the window of our beloved Maruti 800, buying books at Blossom, standing in the yelle bisilu of a winter morning and drinking filter coffee. I will miss all of this and an innumerable amount of other everyday things that have made up my life in Bangalore.
So it is with sadness, my dearest Bengaluru, that I bid you a heartfelt adieu. Thank you for allowing me to call your twisting lanes home for so many years – more years than I've lived in any other place in my life. I have lived with you longer than the time I spent in the green house into which I was brought as a newborn baby, longer than I lived in the house on the country road where I went to high school, longer than the years passed in the university town where I met my husband.
I will miss you, Bangalore, but you won't miss me. I have been just another face amid your thronging masses. I leave, having made no grand mark upon your landscape. And in a few weeks' time, in a country on the other side of our small planet, I will no longer even be able to claim you as my own. My tenuous status as a Bangalorean will vanish along with my residence, and I'll be relegated to the sad mistress at a funeral whose relationship is never to be legitimized.
But I know what you've meant to me, and that's all that really matters. A piece of my heart will stay with you always, and I will lovingly recall our time together for the rest of the days of my life.