You had me at O’Hare

Dear Chicago,

Today, I compete one year of calling you home. And very happy to. You had me at O’Hare. I’ve always been asked how it was settling down into a new city and country. I think I would say that it wasn’t difficult, simply because I never felt out of place. Feeling at ease from the day I got here, I know that you and I, we were just meant to be.

The time we met was serendipitous, and couldn’t have been better planned, I can confidently say now when I look back in hindsight. I came here, well, officially to study, but also as part of my bigger vision which was truly to discover an undiscovered version of myself. And you, with your multifaceted, versatile personality called out to me.

In this past one year, I’ve had an entire bevy of Chi town moments that I wouldn’t exchange for anything else. Late night walks around downtown. My early morning running sessions to the beach, where I’d sit in reflection mode often. The fireworks on the 4th of July. Sailing on Lake Michigan. Watching the entire city in all its beauty from the top of the Ferris wheel on the Navy pier. My first Chicago snowfall. Comedy at Second City. An entire list of coffee shops and restaurants that became go to jaunts. The relationships I made. And added to that of course, an intense academic education at a stellar institution, one that has left me richer in mind, ability and resilience. And every big and small experience within that. Almost overwhelmed by everything I’ve gone through in the past one year, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that in this one year roller coaster ride, I’ve lived an entire lifetime on its own.

I know not where I will go from here, but I do know that you, Chicago, will have a piece of my heart always. One where carefully stored to be treasured, are every bittersweet experience. Whether it was seeing you in four seasons, each as different as the other, from the brutal winter to the gorgeous summer. Or from the gourmet popcorn at Garrett to the deep dish from Giordano to the Nutella crepes at Eataly. From watching you celebrate when the Cubs won the World series (a rather humorous time because I celebrated jubilantly without having ever watched a single game of football, to seeing you as a white sheet of frozen snow in the infamous Chicago winter. You are much loved, Chicago. You are truly are.

Love,

Now, A Chi town native

Of Belonging and Unbelonging

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was born in a city. And she grew up in that same city. And she lived her entire life there. And whenever she said ‘home’, they knew exactly where she meant.

Except that I’m not that person.

Because I grew up in one place. And then lived in another. And another. And another. Which meant, that after a while, while my hometown remained the same, the term home stopped implying a place. Rather, I found that I left my heart in multiple places over time, and there sprouted many ‘mini’ homes, each of which I came to love as much as the other, if not more. And it took me a while to understand how home didn’t always mean a place, it meant an emotion, a feeling, a certain sense of ownership and belonging to the place one lives in. And what’s more, in my case this didn’t just pertain to a single place, rather a series of places, each of which I once belonged to. And once you’ve belonged to a certain place, you’ve belonged to it forever.

I’ve fiercely belonged to my hometown Kolkata, a place where the classic culmination of old meets new formed the backdrop to my growing up years. Where memories of the sight of the majestic Howrah Bridge and it’s younger cousin the Vidyasagar Setu, the smells of the pungent fish markets and the wet smell of the earth before it rained in the monsoon, and the sounds of the dhaak during the Durga Puja linger on in the mind, even years after having actively lived there. Where summer season meant swimming every afternoon at one of the numerous British clubs, and the short winters, rounds of badminton in the evenings.  And if there’s one thing one hometown has taught me amongst others, it is the importance of being rooted in one’s culture, of never forgetting one’s humble origins, irrespective of where the future might take them.

I’ve belonged to the the tiny county of Warwickshire in the UK, where I went for my undergraduate education, and where I technically came of age. Where I grew to love the occasional, yet gorgeous British summer, witnessed and lived through snowy postcard winters, and discovered an undying love for Pimms, mulled wine, scones & jam, strawberries & cream, and hot chocolate with marshmallows & Nutella.

I’ve belonged to New Delhi, and its newer, glamorous sibling Gurgaon, where I started my first ever job, where I came to love the diversity and the colorful chaos, so eminent of the place – from the noisy, crowded bazaars of Chandni Chowk, to the more contemporary skyline of Gurgaon, marked with highrises and glass buildings with MNC logos. Where every person from the rustic auto-rickshaw driver to the salwar-kameez clad aunty in the metro to the young professional caught in the rat race, had an individual tale to tell.

And now, here I am, writing this in Chicago, possibly another pit-stop along the way, for I am optimistic that this life will take me places. And while it hasn’t even been a month of my having been here, I already feel my ties to the city being nurtured and only strengthened over time. The hustle-bustle of the big city, with its picture-perfect suburbs and the prevalent artsy vibe have won me over, and I know this is a place I shall grow to love over time and hold close to my heart. And like every other place I’ve lived in, I know I’ll belong here, too.