As I perambulate this country – from North to South, from West to East, from Ladakh’s cinnamon mountains to Kerala’s meandering backwaters, from the lab of the goddess Mumba Devi to the chiselled elephants of Mahabalipuram –people often accost me and inquire with sincere interest about my origins: “Where are you from?”
I do appreciate their earnest concern for my provenance and yet I never feel at ease telling them what they desire to hear. It seems as by asking me this question they aspire to know more about my identity, my background, and hence about me. Albeit this assumption is not entirely erroneous, I believe this not to be the adequate approach and, therefore, question for the 21st century as well as the predictable future to come. How can I say where I am from? Right now I come from the valley. Ah, before that? From the road. Yes, I have been born in a certain country, but my father comes from another place, and so do my grandparents, both sides. I have lived in other countries, studied in yet another, loved someone from yet an entirely different one, read literature, saw movies, listened to music from yet another place, and do not get me started on the internet, or the other places I dream about visiting or even living in. I do not intend to countermand the argument that the locality where I was born and raised the majority of my lifetime forged me a lot, but still it reveals too little about me. What I am, my identity, my country, in this respect any idea, is a fiction, a narrative, a myth. The great thing about these narratives is that we, ourselves, can choose to tell them as we want – as long as we do convincingly so. It is my firm belief that the 21st century is not going to be a century, where it is important to tell our identity in terms of its past, exempli gratia, where we are from, but in terms of its future, respectively where or who we want to be. How do we want to narrate ourselves? What myths do we want to create? Thus, the question of this millennium shall not be “Where are you from?”, but “Where do you go?” I would reply, I am on my way to the world, a united world, via a unified Europe. And since I am an idealist who always lives with one foot in the future, I will even answer, if they still insist on asking me “Where are you from?”: I am from the world, and if you want me to be precise, from Europe. Or should I tell you the street that I am from? This does not only apply to me, but to everyone in the near future. For this time in history will be, once again, the time of nomads, of travelers. In some sense it has always been this way, considering the life is a journey metaphor.