“परत कधी येणार?”
“माहित नाही| आता तुरंत तरी नाही.” I answered. Unsure of my Marathi as I always have been.
“अरे!” said my society’s trustworthy guard as I looked at him puzzled, not knowing what to make of this exchange.
I was leaving Pune for another city after thirty years. On the face of it and in discussion with close ones it was just a move. A change of scenery. A new adventure with new possibilities. As I scraped the surface though, I realised I was leaving the only place I’ve ever felt I belonged to. To belong to a place is simple if your parents did and their parents and so on. You get this sense of being from a place from them, of attachment, as ancestral inheritance. But what if all you get from your ancestors is names and reminiscences. Rawalpindi, Toba Tek Singh, Rohtak, Delhi, Bidar and the trail finally leads to where you find yourself. You question the meaning of home. You question the meaning of belonging and answers are hard to come by.
Pune took a while to unravel as she guarded her nuances from the new kid on the block, revealing her secrets ever so slowly. My father’s cheat sheet could only take me so far. To navigate her पेठs and आळीs with confidence took years of knowing her; knowing her with an intimacy one can only know a lover.
Eventually she spoke to me. I could hear her breathe as I visited and revisited places which I associated with years of formative memories. Camp’s wide footpaths and eateries where my parents took me for our customary outings, Koregaon Park where friends and I oft got drunk while in college, the University’s green lanes which I walked with the woman I love, and the beautiful labyrinthine पेठs which took years of learning to negotiate without getting lost.
Still, she could spring surprises! A hidden lane which I had no idea existed. An old eatery which excited my taste buds, making me wonder why had I never discovered it before. She grew everyday too with me. Becoming more complex, more complicated, losing a bit of her charm and innocence. Just like me. But a part of her still remained the old city I grew up with.
I struggled with my Marathi, never for want of effort, improving over the years but never quite as good as my Marathi friends. My Punjabi was worse though, mirroring the diluted and debased version only heard in Bollywood movies and songs. Relishing my ghee-laced parathas with a bowl of भरली वांगी, my identity was always a subject of confusion. “Where are you from?” or “How often to do you visit home/Punjab?” were questions I dreaded. “I have never been to Punjab. I don’t know where I’m from.” I kept muttering, until Pune took me in. “I am a Maharashtrian, a Punekar”, I answered eventually. I learnt over time that despite my roots, my sensibilities were distinctly Puneri and no one could take that away from me. I had found home at last.
Now I’m the new kid on the block in a city far, far away from home; far from the one city I claim to know inside out. The one city I love. And the one city I think loves me back.