The previous piece I wrote about the gated community I lived in was exclusively about the kind of privilege and protection this place offered me – aside from the obvious shelter it has given me for the last 12 years. I’ve now been here for three weeks. Since I moved out of Bangalore for University in 2015, this is the longest amount of time I’ve spent in my house barring one month in May 2017, which, despite the lockdown and everything, offers some time to think about how much time has actually passed since I’ve come here.
This is the only “home” I’ve known in India. Of course, there’s the family house, and well, the first house I visited in Bangalore where my dad resided, and places in Pune where family stays. However, none of those places are where I have grown up, or places where I have space all to my own. Actually, I’ll amend that. I do have space all to my own at my chikamma and uncle’s home – and I’ve laid down a marker for a future space all to my own wherever they are at all times. However, those places will not hold the emotional attachment I share to this house, even when its empty. Even when I return home to an empty house, and I have to maintain all of it, I consider having it a privilege, and I am oh so grateful for everything it has given me.
It is very difficult to think that 12 years have transpired since we relocated to India as a family. In several ways, both geographically, and emotionally, a small piece of my heart rests in the Middle East. Despite that, I have grown to love India with everything I can give to it, and love Bangalore especially. I have forged strong senses of identity here, for my city, my State, and my rural, outskirt, suburb, which is closer to another town than it is to Bangalore City proper.
None of this identity, or sense of belonging would be possible without a sense of community. I spent the first 10 years of my life in an apartment building, with several friends, but no real sense of community because “community gatherings” and celebrations, so to speak, didn’t necessarily take place in a manner that involved everyone in the building. Of course we played games and hung out with a large number of kids in the evenings, and naturally, sharing common spaces bred some amount of familiarity, I do not recall being able to identify very strongly with the values of the people in that building. It is a given that I was younger then, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that nothing really aimed to foster a community spirit. My sense of belonging to that building comes out of the infrastructure it has and the memories I created, as well as my parents and the fondest memories I have of the both of them from our time in that place.
Moving to India was very different to that experience. We lived in a larger community, which meant more people to share space with. When we first moved in, I recall there being 30 families – and a lot of empty houses. That meant you knew everyone in the complex. You knew which houses and lanes were unoccupied and were free-for-all cricket territory. That knowledge and familiarity bred so much security, and so much joy. You had a constant set of friends, and a constant set of activities to do. Age-groups were non-existent: we were all just one big blob, classified as “children”. Of course, those below 6/7 kept to themselves at the time, but the rest of us, right up to the eldest at 17 and 18 – we all pretty much played in the evenings together.
The community grew larger though, and as communities grow, identities change. This was no different, and groupism became prominent – everywhere. It wasn’t as easy to identify every person, because people came in and people moved out. The place was in flux – and still is, to this day. However, assimilation and understanding, or retaining that identity, for the most part, was easy. It was just a question of compromise. From the mundane: which sport to play in the evening, to the larger questions that adults fought over – a lot of it just boiled down to compromises being crafted.
Today, to me, I hardly recognize much in the community. In my mind, oddly enough, I’m able to live in the time that this community was just 30-50 families. They form this core that I believe the rest of the complex has grown around. It is natural that newer families will not feel this way – and after all, everyone has their personal history, but I remember those 30-50 families with a fondness that feels odd to extend to anyone else. This doesn’t mean I’m hostile toward anyone, not at all. But nobody knows the struggles of having to wait for the railway crossing to open up, or the pain of going 8km to get groceries like that first bunch.
In the past 12 years, as is natural, people have grown and changed. Take me – for example. I’m almost done with my degree. I came here aged 10, and I’m sure people who knew me at that age struggle with reconciling the image of me at 10 with me at 22. Even if people don’t, I do. I looked – and sounded, so different. For me though, it’s the kids I saw aged 2 and 3 who are now in their teens that make it seem like I’m far too old to consider myself a child. It’s rather odd, that these are people who in my teens I could not relate to at all, but with whose struggles I can now relate to far more than much else. For me, a mystery of the Universe will always remain why it’s tougher for a 12 year old to relate to a 5 year than for a 22 year old to relate to a 15 year old.
My hunch? Board exams.
Common enemies unite even the most distant of cousins – and so it goes with all people.
My identity though is so forged by this community, that seeing these little people grow up to become bigger people has really punched home that hard reality that I am, myself, a little person who has grown up to become a bigger person. My surroundings clamour that I ought to accept this – it is but natural. The little kid in me refuses, but relents. He cycles around cheerily with a half-functioning bell and waves to everyone he knows.
Unlike the adult who thinks four times about whether a walk to the gate is worth it.