Born in India, but raised in the UAE, Akanksha is a so-called ‘third culture kid’ (a person who has grown up overseas, immersed in a culture different from their families’). In this personal essay she talks about her conflicting experiences returning to the country of her birth, a journey undertaken as part of her search to find ‘home’.

A dated photograph of a young girl riding on the back of a horse, which is being led by two adults. In the background, green forestry and mountain scenery is visible.
Akanksha with her grandparents in Shimla, northern India © Akanksha Singh

Many travellers come to India to ‘find themselves’, and I guess in that respect I am no different.

I'm what they call a 'third culture kid.' I was born in India, but my parents moved us out to the UAE, then Singapore. I went on to move to Canada, Finland, Singapore again between jobs after college, and then Australia for a while. It's not that I didn't enjoy each of the places I lived in; rather, I was never quite the right fit for any of them (nor they for me).

I moved back to India to uncover my roots just over two years ago. After an unpleasant year in New Delhi, I wondered if I’d lost my connection to the country of my birth; if my expectations had been too high; whether – like many travellers who come on soul-searching journeys here – I’d been taken in by a false, overly romanticised, 'Eat, Pray, Love'-esque version of the country. 

It crushed me: New Delhi was the one place that was supposed to be ‘home’ – it was where I had the most familial ties, where I enjoyed summer vacations at my grandparents’ house, and where I’d spent the bulk of my time in India before we left. Yet, it didn’t seem to fit me in the slightest. Now where would I go?

Blurred crowds of people - implying movement - walk along one of the platforms in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai. The platform is flanked on either side by trains.
Mumbai is a colourful and, at times, chaotic kind of city © Tuul & Bruno Morandi / Getty Images

I headed south, to Mumbai. A hectic, chaotic, megacity. Art deco buildings fringe coconut-lined promenades. White-hatted dabbawalas on bicycles sweat their way to deliver carefully coded home-cooked meals to their owners in their offices. Unspoiled views of the Indian Ocean dotted by fishermen. Food. Trains. Traffic. Madness.

I took a small apartment in Cumballa Hill, just around the corner from Leonard Cohen's Bombay hotel (where the Canadian crooner spent the best part of a year battling depression), and a few blocks away from the Malabar Hill home where Pupul Jayakar, an Indian writer, hosted Allen Ginsberg (the American Beat Generation poet) on his second trip to India. 

On my morning commute I pass heritage hotels, hole-in-the-wall cafes and designer boutiques. Outside one trendy resto-bar a curbside full of booksellers – with their rote-learned recommendations – nap under the blue tarpaulins they use to keep their books dry in the monsoon and unbleached from the summer sun.

One day I ate lunch in one of the city’s leafy green parks, and watched as a blind boy approached a snack vendor. Before he even spoke, the vendor produced a pack of biscuits – a regular customer no doubt – and handed one to him. The boy pulled out a 10 rupee note, using its markings to distinguish it, and handed it to the vendor with a smile. Listening to the shrill symphony of car horns from the nearby overpass, I felt in my own pocket to see if I could identify any of the notes from touch alone.

Slowly, steadily, I began to love it.

A lone figure, dressed all in white, walks through a flock of pigeons in front of the Gateway of India, a monumental stone arch, in Mumbai. Some of the pigeons have taken flight around the figure.
The Gateway of India is one of the places Akanksha thinks about when she is away from Mumbai © Peter Adams / Getty Images

Moving to India, I learned there's no way anyone's lofty ‘soul searching’ expectations of the country can be met. It isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of place; it's the sort of place that takes some wear and tear to fit into. Like a new pair of hiking boots, it'll give you blisters before it truly fits.

But now, when I’ve been travelling for a while or visiting family abroad, I often think about the colours that stain Mumbai’s roads after the annual Holi celebrations; the view of the harbor from the Gateway of India; of being proudly ushered into the Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue on the Sunday after it was reopened. 

In short, I think about home.

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