10 March is Tibetan National Uprising day. A friend posted this poem on Facebook:

The Tibetan in Mumbai
is not a foreigner.

He is a cook
at a Chinese takeaway.
They think he is Chinese
run away from Beijing.

He sells sweaters in summer
in the shade of the Parel Bridge.
They think he is some retired Bahadur.

The Tibetan in Mumbai
abuses in Bambaya Hindi,
with a slight Tibetan accent
and during vocabulary emergencies
he naturally runs into Tibetan.
That’s when the Parsis laugh.

The Tibetan in Mumbai
likes to flip through the MID-DAY,
loves FM, but doesn’t expect
a Tibetan song.

He catches the bus at a signal,
jumps into a running train,
walks into a long dark gully
and nestles in his kholi.

He gets angry
when they laugh at him
“ching-chong-ping-pong”.

The Tibetan in Mumbai
is now tired,
wants some sleep and a dream.
On the 11pm Virar Fast,
he goes to the Himalayas.
The 8.05am Fast Local
brings him back to Churchgate
into the Metro: a New Empire.

— Tenzin Tsundue

It’s a reminder of the alienation that exiles feel. And the complicity of ‘locals’ in that.

Strangely, when I read the poem, my dominant feeling was homesickness. [And I fully recognize here that there is no parity between my homesickness and that of the Tibetan in exile. My homesickness is marked by the transnational privilege to return – home for me is a just a flight away, an expensive one that precludes frequent returns, but the possibility is open.]

There was a time when this homesickeness would trouble me, not for the fact of it, but because when I moved to Hong Kong, I felt the need to pick a side. And after five years in Hong Kong I picked Hong Kong. The end. Or so I thought.

Last month, I gave a lecture on Salman Rushdie’s essay Imaginary Homelands, in which he talks about writing in the diaspora. I reflected on an incident that happened when I was in Bombay in December. Or rather, as I was leaving Bombay. As the plane was taking off, I pointed out the city spread out below us to Nene who was peering out of the airplane window. Suddenly, I trailed off. V, who was sitting in the row behind us, poked me and whispered, “Are you crying?” And I realised that I was. Ten years after leaving Bombay, I realised that some roots are never severed. Something is always left behind.

I have finally realised that home can be two or more places. On does not have to pick a side. When I leave Hong Kong, there will be a part of me that will keen for it. I have put down roots here too. My ties to Bombay are the ties of birth, the ties of familiarity, of blending in, of roads that can be navigated unconsciously. My ties to Hong Kong are the comfort of safety and ease, the exhileration of the aesthetic beauty of the skyline and the buzz of the international, the jolt of the strange, and the nostalgia of the early years of marriage and learning to be an adult. If Bombay is family, Hong Kong is a friend.

I lived two years in Hyderabad too. I should have put down roots there. But I didn’t. The city didn’t take to me and I to it. I fled every opportunity I could, and when I had no reason to be there any longer, I packed my things and never looked back.

 

 

 

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