This month on Art of Life we take you to the region in India I have always wanted to visit, Rajasthan. The allure of the palaces of Maharajahs and their Maharanis gives this part of the country a romantic feel, one filled with the promise of beautiful architecture and of course, stunningly intricate jewelry. I wasn't disappointed.
I have been to India many times -- as a child on family vacations and as an adult for work, but I can't say I know the country nor that I've seen all that it has to offer. The only parts I usually visit are Delhi and Punjab and what I've learned is that India is so diverse, both geographically and culturally.
When it comes to the luxury tourism industry, India is a leader. They have learned how to use the history (turning palaces into hotels), the diversity (what you see in the north is quite different from the south whether it's the food, the people, the landscape), and the culture to allure people from around the world in search of something different.
To be honest, when I was younger I never understood it when people would say they wanted to visit India to find spirituality. I know I'm Indian by my ancestry but I still felt a sense of culture shock the first time I visited the country without my parents about 10 years ago. I remember thinking how different it was to everything I had grown up with. Not to mention the extreme poverty that was right in front of me. But then it hit me. Just a few days before I had to leave I remember feeling so sad because no matter what there is a genuine sense of curiosity among Indians living there and a sense of wanting you to feel at home no matter who you are and where you come from.
While many still go in search of spirituality, for me it's different. I'm visiting the land of my ancestors, my family. It gives me a feeling of depth and history. Yet it's not necessarily a sense of homecoming.
One question I get asked a lot is, "Where are you from?" Seems like a relatively easy question to answer, right? Not exactly. I've had to think about how to answer that question many times and each time I'm about to answer I wonder, should I give them the short answer or the long one?
The short answer would be to say I'm Indian. After all, you only have to look at me to know that. The problem is, I have never lived in India and saying I'm from there makes it sound almost false. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely proud of my heritage, of belonging to what my mother likes to term, "A proud Punjabi-Sikh family." But to say I'm from India implies that I have lived there and have absorbed all that being an Indian entails.
I was born in Hong Kong and lived there till I was 14 when we then moved to Toronto, Canada. I lived in the U.S. for more than three, and I now live in London, England. So when I'm asked where I'm from, I think about all these places that have shaped who I am and how I think about things. To make it even more complicated, my mother never lived in India. She was born and brought up in Shanghai, China, and no, she's not ethnically Chinese. My father, though, is the real thing: born and brought up in India and moved to Hong Kong only when he met and married my mother.
It's true that our ancestral history lays the groundwork for defining who we are but who we become has a lot to do with where we grow up and live. I know that each city I've lived in has certainly contributed to my life experience. Who knows where I'll end up?
I'm not afraid to move to another country if it's what I want to do and where I want to be. In any culture there is that same history of movement. Our forefathers left the land of their birth because many felt they had to whether it was to avoid persecution or because there was a need to find better opportunities to provide for their family. I know that many of us who do that now certainly have a great appreciation for different cultures and countries. There is a sense of feeling comfortable anywhere we go. That said, we also add to the cultural landscape of our adopted homeland.
I'm sure I'm not the only one that has to face that question, "Where are you from?" time and again. I'm still searching for the best way to answer that question. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.
Wherever you are and whatever history and culture you follow I wish you all the happiness 2007 has to offer and hope that the art in your life is colorful. For now though, I'd like to thank you all for contributing to this blog with your comments. I look forward to reading more in the New year.