The last time I moved lock stock and barrel to a new country was nearly 10 years ago. I was more immature and certainly more impressionable. I imbibed the new culture with gusto, and before I knew it, I had to take out my passport to prove my nationality. I had blended so well into Singaporean culture that people often had a hard time believing I was not born and brought up there.
And I have moved again, this time to Deutschland. A lot of things are different this time. For one, I am not a pauper student or a confused teenager or a “wide eyed young li’l thing”. I don’t speak the local language and so its not as easy as speaking a new strain of English ( popularly known as Singlish in Singapore). And foreigners are not all that common here – you are certainly more likely to meet a non-Singaporean in Singapore’s streets than encounter a non-German in the German streets. Well, that has two effects : one is, despite my Asian looks, people don’t expect me to be a foreigner. And then, when they hear my broken-German, they are very surprised.
As I try to fit in, a few questions haunt me? How far can I go? How far do I want to go? And how far will I go? – On the path to becoming a “German”. Well, I don’t mean in the sense of getting a German residence or passport (they are matters on which I will decide purely based on my head, and not my heart and hence are irrelevant here). Perhaps, these questions haunt me because Germany is a country with a very strong identity of its own. It is less homogenised with the “universe” than several other countries I have visited. “Well, Germany is different” is the favourite refrain of one of my colleagues and as much as I find that constant reminder annoying, I have to admit he is not too far off from the truth.
I like bratwursts (sausages) and potatoes. I like the carnivals and the christmasmarkets and the intracity beer rivalries. And I like jogging by the Rhine. I can now successfully make the German guttural pronunciations. I can now stare at people in trams without flinching when they stare back. And I can be methodical and anal when it comes to details. As I stumble down the path to becoming integrated to this temporarily-adopted society, I wonder where all this will end.
I am no novice at immigration. And I know its possible for a new kid on the block to belong. It is just how much one wants it. And what happens after you belong? When you move again, do you take a part of that with you? And when you acquire a new identity or a sense of belonging to a new place, do you have to give up a part of your old self to make place for the new?
I don’t know how it will be to trace back my steps. If I go back to India now, will I be as much “Indian” as I was 10 years ago? As much as I want the answer to be yes, truth is that I don’t know. Will I have to “Indianise” the parts of me that was Arabianised (I also lived a part of my life in Saudi Arabia) or Singaporeanised or Germanised.
Is there really such a thing as a global citizen? Can you ever feel comfortable in several countries? Now, that I think is possible. The more relevant question is, as human beings, do we need to know that we belong to one country? Or can we be happily promiscuous about our nationalistic identities?