From The Peopling of New York City

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Who Am I? Seriously.

This question (if taken seriously) will probably make the most intelligent of men sweat. How do we ever know who we really are? I don’t think our choices; social, political and religious beliefs or habits define us. I believe we are defined by far littler things, however, ones that matter to us deeply—our happiness and sorrows, our opinions of others and ourselves, we as sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, our worst and best childhood memories, our past etc. I can’t possibly answer these questions as they pertain to me in a paragraph or two. In fact, I can’t answer them at all because they will change as I age and I gain a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. As I age I will also probably see my past in a different light and our past defines to a big extent who we are. By now, I’m sure everyone has realized I have nothing to say about who I am. Its like a jigsaw puzzle—I have some of the parts but a lot of them are missing but without them the puzzle won’t make any sense. But I’m sure about this: whatever I know about myself, I mean, who I am as an individual person, I have learnt through my relationship with other people. I have learnt that I can love and hate the same person, I can die or kill for another person, I can make a person hurt without hurting them physically, I can be brought to tears with merely an expression. And many more. I know everyone has someone they feel this way about. But I believe that realizing it and understanding the meaning of these feelings make us truly ourselves.

History of My Family

I was born on July 19, 1990 in the city of Kolkata to Badal and Rupa Das. I have lived in the “City of Joy” for more than half of my present life and I cherish every moment of it. Due to my father’s employment in a bank that frequently transfers its employees from one place to another both inside and outside of India, I couldn’t live in my birth city without the apprehension of being uprooted from my school and from the company of friends and family to move to another city. Other than Kolkata, I have lived in two other cities—Shantiniketan and New York City. My life was as different as it could be in these three places. The transitions weren’t always so smooth. However, the difficulties I faced always seem inconsequential compared to what I’ve gained in return. Living in Kolkata, surrounded by my extended family, instilled in me the values that are native to my culture. Shantiniketan made me aware of my identity as a Bengali. Lastly, living in New York has opened doors to social freedom and a good education.

The life of my parents couldn’t have been more different than mine. They had experienced moving around in their childhood but not the way I have. My father was born in East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh). His family is only one of the millions of people who were forced out of their homes in both sides of India and Pakistan. Families who moved to either side had to start completely new all over again. My mother was born and lived n India. For her, moving around from one city to another wasn’t about the opportunities they offered but about the quality and pace of life. She enjoyed city life immensely but always held on to the values she was brought up with.

My family, both maternal and paternal, has a strong connection to Bangladesh as most Bengalis in India do. This is probably because once upon a time the countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were all collectively called India. People of these three countries still show similar way of thinking like utmost respect for elders and teachers, belief in arranged marriages, importance of big families and such. The countries also share similar history and similar problems of poverty, political corruption and social injustice.

My family’s history has shaped the way I have lived for all my life. I had to conform to certain rules and regulations that were both cultural and religious. I have also had to face discrimination because male children are considered more reliable than females. It also led to the internal conflicts about how to differentiate between right and wrong that I faced when moved to NY. On the brighter side it has made me hardworking and put in me a compelling desire to be successful in life and give my parents the same comfort in their old age that they have bestowed upon me in my childhood.

New York and I

I have a one-sided love and hate relationship with New York. I love being here; love the co-existence of so many cultures in one city, its liberal attitude, the possibility of being a New Yorker without being an American; love its tall buildings, museums and beautiful parks, the blue rivers and the beaches. I hate the materialistic attitude, hate the fact that they mess up all the cultural cuisines to satisfy the most number of people, hate the malfunctions and corruptions in the workings of the city, hate the dirty subways, the MTA and poorly managed public schools.

I have been in New York for the past four years and yet there’s so much to learn even about the places I thought I knew. New York is not monotonous. It’s fun, social and chic but sometimes rather unfriendly. My favorite place in New York is Battery Park. It’s noisy, fun and chaotic with friends, yet serene when one just wants to sit and look on at the water. I have been moved and thrilled by the place every time I have visited.

One of the things that make New York unlike any other city is the fact that it has something to offer to everyone. It gives hope of a better life, encourages dreams and gives many people the opportunity to start over. The cultural diversity of New York only makes it better. From my own experience, the similarities and differences that I have seen between cultures have made me more open minded and tolerant than I would have been had I stayed back in India. For examples, who would have thought that my best friend and confidante would be a girl from Pakistan? If we had met in our countries or anywhere else, we would probably by shooting daggers at each other to say the least. That’s the magic of New York.