I think a lot about my country, when I travel on assignment. Especially of what a 'home' country means.
Lately, I've been given the option of leaving. Of going to the US or Canada. Or some other place, where work visas and nationalities are easier to come by.
I refused. Mostly because I had no clue if and when I could return to India. I didn't even know why it was so important to return.
Last week, in the train - from Dehradun back to Delhi - the answer came to me in the shape of an old woman who boarded the train ahead of me. She was wearing a salwaar-kameez with a cotton dupatta draped over her greying head.
In a fraction of a second, without having to think about it, I knew that this woman belonged to Himachal Pradesh, or perhaps the lower reaches of the hills in Uttaranchal. I knew it in the way her dupatta rested on one shoulder and curved up to her head. I knew it in the cut of her kurta.
Don't ask me how; I just knew.
I know a Haryanvi shirt from a Rajasthani choli. I know a Lakshmangarhi choli from a Kutchhi choli. I know the Rabari tribe from the Garasiya tribe by the colour and trimming on the women's skirts.
I know a married woman by her ivory bangles and the shape of her anklets. I know how a young girl may flirt with her sister's husband, and how a man may not marry his 'cousin-sister'. I know a South-Indian accent from a North-east Indian Accent and a Bengali accent from Bihari accent.
And I am afraid that no matter how many years I spend elsewhere, I will never know such things about another land; and unless I know all these things, how can any country feel like home?