A Map Is Only One Story ~ Book Review

I have always belonged at the beginning of the world, and where it seems to end, where the sky meets the sea, where the sea meets the land, on a plane where the two become indistinguishable from each other and you can no longer tell if you are going home or leaving it.

Jamila Osman, A Map of Lost Things


A Map Is Only One Story - Book Review
Source: Goodreads

As an expat, I am innately curious about other people’s idea of home. So, when I came across A Map Is Only One Story, I promptly added it to my TBR. Edited by Nicola Chung and Mensah Demary, it is an anthology of essays covering immigration, family and the meaning of home. These are personal narratives written by immigrants and children of immigrants.

I’m amazed at the oceans people will cross to find a better life. To dream new dreams and find purpose on the other side of the world, miles away from home. How empathy is in short supply and how the color of your skin dictates your path in life and the opportunities that may or may not come your way.

I can relate to the sense of ‘foreignness’ portrayed in these pages. They depict what it’s like to be different, to stand out in a crowd, to be made fun of for your accent, to exist in two different worlds and cultures. More importantly, these narratives tell us what it is like to be an immigrant or a refugee in a xenophobic world.

These are my favorite essays from this collection:

  • Jamila Osman’s A Map of Lost Things takes us on an intimate and melancholic journey from Somalia to USA & Canada. She talks about grief and how it transforms the topography
  • Deepti Kapoor’s My Indian Passport is a Bitch showcases with searing honesty the travails of traveling with an Indian passport – endless paperwork, interrogations and visa fees
  • Nur Nasreen Ibrahim’s Return to Partition details her family’s crossing of the India-Pakistan border and the memories it unearths
  • Shing Yin Khor’s Say It with Noodles is a comic about feelings and food. It demonstrates how she uses cooking to express her feelings when language is a barrier
  • Kamna Muddagouni’s How to Stop Saying Sorry When Things Aren’t Your Fault is a wake-up call to those of us who apologize for things that are beyond our control. As the author so eloquently puts it, “Sorry is a coverall. It’s an accessible word to use when you can’t always express what it is you’re feeling beyond some amount of regret or sorrow.”

If you’re looking for an engaging non-fiction read, A Map is Only One Story is your best bet. It’s an honest take on immigration, family and the meaning of home.

Dispatches from Home: Life During the Pandemic

Photo by Joshua Miranda on Pexels.com

It has been 40 odd days since the lockdown was announced in my neck of the woods and nothing has been the same ever since. In the beginning, I marveled at my ability to cope with this new normal. Working from home (a privilege) was easy. I got to sleep in, avoid the long-ish commute to work and feast on homemade food. There were goals to be achieved and plans to be made during this ‘downtime’. And then it hit me, we are in the midst of a pandemic, not a sabbatical.

Nobody prepares you for the meltdowns that might come your way, seemingly out of the blue or the nightmarish dreams where you find yourself reprimanding people for not adhering to social distancing guidelines. There are peaceful and productive days interspersed with anxious, nail-biting days. All part of the human experience, I’m told.

The silver lining (if you want to look for it) is that we are dealing with a pandemic in the age of incessant digital distractions. We’ve got apps to keep our existential crisis and boredom at bay. People all over the world are finding a thousand different ways to cope. We’ve got balcony concerts, virtual hangouts, folks baking up a storm, home workouts, Instagram challenges and good ol’ Netflix. But sometimes even the best of distractions can’t keep the anxiety away.

I think of those whose lives have been upended by this deadly virus either by loss of loved ones and/or jobs. The frontline workers who deserve to be protected for keeping us safe and comfortable. The daily wage earners and migrant workers who are stuck with no way to get home. Social distancing is a privilege.

On particularly bad days, I think to myself, I’m not brave enough to handle this and on good days, I bake brownies. I always imagined the end of the world to be quick and painless (wishful thinking, I know!). No fanfare, no fire raining down from the sky, no judgment day – none of it. Not that this is the end of the world but it sure feels like it.

Our social distancing days are far from over but I’m feeling optimistic. When it is safe to do so, we will have our parties and sleepovers again. Grocery shopping will no longer be a nerve-racking ordeal. We will never take our freedom for granted. We will go for walks, jogs, hikes and coffee runs. We will dine together in restaurants.  We will go on adventures and make friends out of strangers.  We will live in a world where a virus isn’t holding us hostage.

Trams, Ginjinha & Glimpses of Home: A Journey to Portugal

Photo by Andreas NextVoyagePL on Unsplash

The trip that would change my life forever began with a plate of Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart. We were greeted with blue skies and a nip in the air. We headed to Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, our home for the next few days. Walking its narrow uphill & downhill streets in search of miradouros (viewpoints) was a rewarding experience. It was also a challenging one since I come from the land of mostly flat terrain.

The yellow trams snaking through Lisbon are a delightful constant. After a morning of exploring on foot, we feasted on Rissóis and croquettes. These scrumptious Portuguese street food staples instantly transported me to my hometown of Goa, a former Portuguese colony. We happened to stumble across Livraria Betrand by accident. Walking into the world’s oldest bookstore was surreal. The only disappointing thing about this quaint little bookstore was its surprising lack of merchandise.

Next on the list was the charming district of Belém. We had breakfast by the river Tagus and walked to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument followed by the Belém tower & other places of interest. It was an unseasonably warm day and there was a lot of walking involved.

Porto was a mere 2.5 hour train ride away. I was particularly thrilled to visit it since it housed the famous Livrario Lello. This stunning bookshop served as an inspiration to J.K Rowling for the Harry Potter series. Needless to say, the bookstore was super crowded with my fellow potterheads. Glad to have made the pilgrimage to this charming little place, I left the store with a smile on my face.

We didn’t have much of an itinerary for Porto and my friend suggested that we take a cruise on the Douro river. While the cruise was long, it was something that we needed to rest our tired and achy feet. On this cruise, I learned & experienced something new. Lock is a water navigation device used for boats to transit between different levels of water. My words won’t do it justice so here’s a video for your viewing and learning pleasure.The cruise ended with a Portuguese brandy (Macieira) for me and a latte for my friend. The journey to Porto would be incomplete without sampling some fine port wine and Bolinhos de Bacalhau (codfish cakes) and sample we did!

Sintra, a popular day trip from Lisbon was to be our last stop in Portugal. It is famed for its national park, palaces & castles. There’s a fair bit of uphill hiking to get to Pena Palace but it is worth the climb. A great opportunity for architecture buffs. My absolute favorite, straight-out-of-a-movie site was the initiation well at Quinta Da Regaleira. It gave off some seriously dystopian vibes.

And if anyone asks, the way to my heart is a shot (or two) of Ginjinha, the Portuguese sweet cheery liqueur. It tastes like Christmas in a shot glass and what could be better than that?

Where is Home?

Photo by Sean O. on Unsplash

I’ve been an expat for most of my life. It’s a term that’s been used and abused to describe my kind. Expat is code for ‘this is a temporary arrangement so don’t get comfortable’. And so I’ve been on the lookout for a place to call home, a place where I can belong, quirks and all.  A few years ago, I came across a riveting talk by Pico Iyer where he asks a very simple but loaded question: where is home? And I thought to myself, where indeed?

I was born in the sandpit of abundant riches and given the sheer number of years I’ve spent here, this is ideally where home should be but it has never felt like one. This is the place I spent my preteen and teenage years navigating the vagaries of life. I felt the sting of foreignness and the comfort of community in equal measure. This was also the place where I rekindled my love for the best form of escapism: reading. The sandpit broadened my horizons, literally and figuratively. I found my place in the world, far away from the confines of my tiny hometown.

I’m from a tiny Indian beach state. It’s where I spent my childhood swinging from banyan trees, building sand castles, riding my bike and fearing the wrath of the nuns at my very Catholic school. Over time, the biennial pilgrimage back to my hometown felt less like a holiday and more like a chore. I felt like a fish out of water. Things moved at a glacial pace, there was no concept of personal space and public transportation was a joke. The occasional insufferable relative was the cherry on top.

After years of mindless paperwork, I am now the citizen of a country that colonized my little hometown for 450 years. And yet, calling myself a citizen of a country I only spent 8 days exploring feels pretentious. It was a thrill (and a challenge) to roam its hilly cities. The only thing connecting me to this country was my surname and a shared interest in a tiny Indian state – my hometown, their former colony.

Three countries that have heavily influenced me but zero places to call home. During my travels, the longest I’ve stayed in a new place is a fortnight and that’s not enough time to gauge whether it can be a potential home someday. There have been many hopefuls – a Spanish coastal town, a Turkish city and a tropical island but I’m still looking. They say home is where the heart is and mine is all over the place.

And so the search continues!