Inbetween: Countries & Cultures, is a space for candid discussions around transient identities as individuals move to a new country of residence. In this space, the individuals share some anecdotes from their life and experiences as they make our way through a new space, culture and society.
In conversation with Siddhi Gupta, a recent graduate from Royal College of Art. She is an illustrator working at the intersection of education, culture and communication. Siddhi tells us about her time in London and how she continues to live with her takeaways from this journey, back in Delhi.
“You have to go away to come back home. You never truly have a sense of home until you leave home.” — Neri Oxman
I had never lived this far away from home before. To think of it, I had never travelled this far, alone or otherwise. London was hence, from day one an adventure. It was different from Delhi and I wasn’t hoping or looking for similarities. But what instantly established the difference was not the weather, nor the structure of houses but the whopping price of bananas. I could buy a whole dozen in Delhi for the price of a single banana in London. I was very poor in London compared to my comfortable middle-class status back home. It wasn’t a bad thing, but this became an anchor that guided my time in the city. For any student in the city, I have a few tricks up my sleeves to save every last penny.
One of these tricks was to walk as much as possible. I couldn’t believe how expensive travel in London was. I was grateful that I could walk to and fro from college everyday. Fond of walking as I was, I looked forward to the walk - thinking of it as ‘me’ time. But this was in stark contrast to Delhi where we are spoilt by choice when it comes to modes of transportation (walking being last on the list). I was soon walking the London walk with my daily footsteps averaging between 10-12k.
But this was also because I couldn’t survive if not on my own two feet. I immediately fell in love with my independent life in London, with owning a set of keys and taking charge of my bank account. Fairly protected at home, we had help for daily chores and my parents ensured that most things like groceries, cleaning and cooking were taken care of. Literally, all I had to do was to make sure I did my work well - whether that was attending school or later my job. I had never realised what a luxury this was until I had two part time jobs and had to take care of my sustenance not just survival.
This reflected in the things I carried in my daily bag, the apps I frequented most and the mood of my phone’s photo gallery. I had never felt this grown up and I am not sure if Delhi would have let me have this feeling. There was a constant sense of distance from home but also a feeling of freedom and responsibility that is very empowering. Yes, Delhi is and will always be home and that remains an undisputed fact, but I discovered that I was capable of making a home elsewhere and that it could be just as comforting and warm. London deserves some credit, and I am grateful to it for allowing this.
I have been back in Delhi for almost a year and home means different things to me now compared to what it did before my time in London. I was equipped to take care of myself and it has taken time to find how I can effectively contribute to our household of six. My parents have noticed some differences in me since I have returned as well, and they are still getting used to my transition from flavoured milk to black coffee. However early I may wake up, my morning routine is often dependent on what time my parents leave for work, because until they do, it is family time.
As humans, I believe we adapt to cultures and we make new cultures where we can’t. We make communities wherever we are and grow and thrive in their presence. But in this our roots get deeper and we come closer to appreciating and acknowledging the meaning of home. Because whether we realise it or not, what we find comfort in, what we call home are but versions of what we leave behind. Versions we then complete with our realities, our immediate environment, our new culture, somewhere in-between.
I have grown immensely as an individual in this journey from home to new home and back home. I notice that homes are made, run and kept by people, and it requires many small efforts to keep them going. In my new in-between where I (strive to) live an independent life at my parent’s home, I find my office hours interspersed with house chores. This is similar to London in various ways, but it is not how I remembered home to be and it’s an anomaly I am now (almost) used to. Whatever may change about this place and whatever may change about me, it is amazing how this will always be home. ‘This’ here is not an address but a culture and community and something more that can be put into words. It is this ‘x’ quantities of what we bring to the table that allows us to create and live in the in-between.