Obviously, it doesn't make sense to draw conclusions about a country by a mere visit to two cities, but these cities did give me a peek into what the country is all about these days, and its future direction as well.
My last visit to Poona was in 1990 or thereabouts, and though it was a big city back then, it still had a somewhat laidback look about it. Lot of bicycles, motorcycles, few cars, lots of greenery, but now there were very few bicycles and so many cars jostling for space and traffic jams that were causing bottlenecks almost at every major traffic signal.
Bombay is no different to this situation as it has been a big and prominent city for a far longer duration, and most Indian cities appear to hold 'Bombay' as their benchmark. Whether or not that is a wise thing to do is a matter of conjecture for urban development professionals because, for better or for worse, most cities seem to imbibe the worst of Bombay and forget to imitate the city's positive aspects, namely, the self reliance and the entrepreneur zeal that does not seek government patronage for anything.
Another interesting thing I have learned is that salaries have shot up sky high in the past few years, and there is a lot of wealth and purchasing power in the hands of the middle-class. The prevalence of major brands and swanky malls is another clear indicator that the new religion of consumerism has managed to set up its massive temples here as well.
As a lifelong expat Indian, these observations make one think twice about a lot of things. It is clear that India is headed towards greater economic strength, and when that happens, where does that place us -- that is, Indians who have lived in the Gulf all their lives -- in this present scenario.
Do we still stay here in Bahrain and other countries in the Gulf with meagre salaries, and watch our compatriots earn lot more in India? Do we miss out on the excitement that's surely ours in an economy that is headed towards the ionosphere? Do we sacrifice promised vibrancy for safety, however, dubious it may seem?
I have found myself asking these questions while wandering the streets of both the cities, and I have to admit that it has made me question many of my favourite rationales. Many of my friends have reached heights of success and carved out names for themselves in ways that wouldnt have been possible if they were in Bahrain. Yes. That is certainly an enviable situation and one that would make anyone question everything.
However, when all the points and counter-points are considered and re-considered, one thing is clear. If making money was the only reason why we were here in Bahrain and the Gulf, then, surely, we would take the first flight to India like many US based professionals are doing at the moment.
But for us who have lived in Bahrain and the Gulf our entire lives, the Gulf is not just a place where we earn our bread and butter, it is 'home' in a very vague sense of the term. I dare say 'vague' because the countries where we reside in can never be 'home' in the true sense of the term because we are not nationals. And on the other hand, India can not be truly 'home' because we havent lived there our entire lives, and hence, the emotional bonding we have is a feeling acquired from our parents and from the cultural underpinnings that have defined our mental makeup all these years.
Obviously, the sense of belonging we feel towards Bahrain and other Gulf countries we have grown up in, is partly because, we have seen these countries transform into modern metropolises right before our very eyes. We do feel a sense of pride when we look at these changes, and it is, without doubt, a very natural response.
But is this sense of pride the same thing as calling something 'home'?
I still dont have the answer to that question because, even today, I'm still wrestling with it. I do have a 'hometown' listed in my passport, a hometown that I left when I was four years old, a hometown where most of the people I was close to are now in the cemetry, a hometown that only gives me a sense of identity and nothing else.
But is that the same as 'home'?
Home is where the 'heart' belongs, or so the cliche goes... and where does the expat's heart resonate? Does the expat have a heart in the first place, as some people here ponder derisively. Or are there layers in the heart that the expat - or for that matter, the human mind - has still not able to clearly fathom?
Obviously, I haven't cracked the code as far as these questions are concerned, and am not sure if I ever will or even would want to. Somehow I'm satisfied with this vague sense of belonging I've been accustomed to since childhood. If I'm suddenly thrust into making a choice would be really hard because I'd finally have to decide on something or the other.
But one thing I do know, and that is, Miraj (my official hometown) will definitely have a place in my heart because this is where my parents and grandparents lived, However, Bahrain will always be 'home' even if I leave the country and settle somewhere else in the future. Miraj might be the town where I was born, but Bahrain was the place where I grew up, did my schooling, had my first crush, suffered my first heartbreak, learned to appreciate art and writing, made lifelong friends, acquired a sense of identity and purpose, and became a man.
So where do I belong? Do I need to belong anywhere? Is there any need to?
Questions that do not have easy answers, however, hard we may try to analyse them.