I am 18 years old. In these 18 long years, I have lived in 4 major cities, across 3 countries and 2 continents. I was born in Mumbai, moved to Singapore when I was 7, moved to Delhi when I was 16, and then at 18, proceeded fly over to the next hemisphere to set up camp here, in Toronto, around 5 months ago. It’s safe to say that I have absolutely no idea where exactly I am from. (To add to the confusion I happen to be South Indian, but have never actually lived in the south of India). This identity crisis and lack of belonging is likely to be a life-long struggle that is both tragic and irrelevant to this blog.
What this routine displacement has provided me with though, is an insight into what makes a city. Four major cities – each completely different from the other, and each having become a piece of me in the little time I spent there. A city girl in every sense of the word, I can recognize my city’s pulse, see past the concrete jungle and recognize what makes it unique. Such as the sheer vibrancy and insanity that seems to resonate through the streets of Mumbai – this is less a city and more a universe unto its own. Whole worlds reside within the boundaries Mumbai, whole epics can be written on mundane lives of its citizens. I know I romanticize this city (like countless authors/singers/filmmakers/playwrights… before me), but this is the first home I ever knew.
But when I think of home I conjure images of Singapore. Structured, pristine and perfect. A city that is organized and efficient almost to the point of dystopia. A city that was literally built from nothing more than marshy swampland, Singapore now exists as the financial and commercial hub of Asia. A city obsessed with perfection, and constant improvement – I watched it grow, develop, thrive and change as I grew alongside it.
I have always been familiar with cities. Yet, 5 months in and Toronto remains just as much a mystery to me as it was on my first day, fresh off the boat airplane. It’s a strange feeling to step into alien territory and then to remind yourself “This is home for the next four years (and possibly more)”, a strange feeling because home has always been more than a continent away. And now I have been handed this metaphorical pen, and been told to scrutinize and examine a city that is still strange to me.
How to see beyond a façade when one’s still sees everything with the constant awe and naivety of a tourist.
And that’s why I have taken this course, because I want to be able to see beyond the façade, to be able to ignore the window dressing and peruse the blueprints to this city instead. Because until I can recognize Toronto’s heartbeat from that of the million concrete jungles around the world, I can never truly be home.