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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Of Continents, and Countries, and Cities ...

The countdown so far: 4 continents, 7 countries, 51 cities.

Not much, maybe, but not bad for starters. Especially given that until end 2005, the countdown was just one continent (Asia) and one country (India).

The targets are lofty. I'd like to visit at least 50 countries in my lifetime. This should include all the (non-imaginary) countries Asterix and Tintin ever visited; all major religious capitals; and all the new seven wonders of the world.

For me, more interesting than the number of places one has visited are the number of places one has lived in. I'd define "lived in" as "staying continuously in a city/town/village for at least one month at a stretch, and for at least two months in all". That, I think, is sufficient time to explore a place fully and to get a fairly representative sense of how the life of a local would be. Per this definition, I've lived in eight Indian cities (Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pilani, Bangalore, Jamshedpur, Mithapur) and one South African city (Johannesburg). Plus I've also lived for two or more months in disparate stretches in Ranchi, Pune, Patna, Goa and Kandla. So that makes it anywhere between nine and fourteen cities in toto. Again, this may not sound like too much, but until just over a decade back, this count was merely three (Kolkata, Mumbai and Ranchi). Also, this list includes two national capitals, seven Indian state capitals, three of India's four metros, and three semi-rural townships. And Hyderabad and Kabul may possibly soon be new additions to this list. So, again, not bad for starters!

So, which of these places is "home"? Tough question! One of my old classmates put it superbly when he recently told me in New York, "In today's world, life is all about being location-agnostic". When I ponder over this statement, it seems that's exactly how it should be! For young qualified ambitious professionals in this fast-changing interconnected world, opportunity could knock from anywhere, and we should always have our bags packed and ready to go! And we can live far from home and yet reach home in less than a day - no matter where we are in the world, and no matter where "home" is. Whether from Mumbai to Moldova, or from Delhi to Denmark - everything's interconnected; everything's right here, by our side. And the world, which took Phileas Fogg 80 days to circumnavigate, can now be done in much less than 80 hours.

Still, even for the seasoned traveler, there always is a "home", a place one can always come back to and know it's been waiting, waiting for your return; where the sights, and sounds, and faces, and narrow lanes, and musty shops, and old shopkeepers, and dewy grass, are all familiar; where the soul knows it belongs to; where the heart knows peace. I, too, have such a home. Indeed, I have two. The first is Kolkata; or, more specifically, 20 Royd Steet, our ancestral family home. The other is Mumbai; Bandra in particular. No matter where I live, these two places will always be home to me.

What's "home" for you?

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