Of Kalonji and Tylenol

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"Hey man, haven't see you in a while," said the man at the gym. Actually it's more than a while. It's been four years since I left San Francisco for Calcutta and almost two years since I've been back for a visit.

Once I was part of the Indian diaspora here trying to find stores that stocked spices like kalonji or onion seed. Now I am part of the Bay Area diaspora scouring markets in India for organic pine nuts and extra-strength Tylenol. And even as I throw away old couches and mattresses, I hold on to that San Francisco gym membership as if it tethers me here.

"What do you miss most about the Bay Area?" my friends ask. Late night quesadillas. Sushi. Public libraries. Green space. Clean air. Seeing an African-American bus driver talking to the Chinese grandmother while a Latino kid bops along to his headphones.

But there's plenty of India I miss here as well. Home cooked food. Fresh mangos. The sheer energy of a billion people. Sometimes I am unable to sleep in San Francisco. It's just too quiet.

As an immigrant I have known all about the angst of  moving continents, hyphenating my identity, trying to belong, struggling to hold on to a culture that keeps slipping away. But going back home has been no less of an immigration.


I do drink the water in India but my values carry a San Francisco accent.

Sometimes I think it leaves me stranded between two cultures, homeless in both. But I'd rather think it just means I have two homes. A little yellow house on a steep street in San Francisco with a raggedy backyard where the rosemary I planted grows in profusion without me. The other in Calcutta where the kadam tree I have known from childhood still bears flowers like tennis balls. They both appear in my dreams.

Friends ask, "Are you there for good?" "I am there for now," I always answer. It sounds like an evasion. But for twice-cooked immigrants like me, it is the truth. For now.
With a Perspective, this is Sandip Roy.

Sandip Roy has just published his first novel.