As I heave myself on to the local ferry, camera slung over my shoulder, a group of kids lean over and shout ‘Which country? Which country?’.
‘England’, I reply, ‘but I live here now. I’ve been in Cochin for two years’. The children look puzzled until I add ‘I’m now Indian, India is my home. Look!’. I hold up my wrist next to theirs and joke ‘Same colour!’. The children burst into fits of giggles and I half smile, hoping I can convince them that India is indeed my home, at least for the moment.
In Ernakulam, the commercial area of Cochin, I feel pretty much at home. I know the shops, their proprietors and some even know me by name. I believe I am now part of the community and when I tell people India is my home, I mean it.
But really, who am I kidding? On the ferry I am surrounded by Indian tourists. I may be on my way to do my weekly shop, or popping in to the industrial area to pick up some tools, but as far as they are concerned, I too am a tourist. I am forever being asking to pose with them for a photo. “One photo, one photo”, they shout, which really means ‘look at the strange white, fat man! Let’s get a photo of him to show our friends back home’.
The fact is I am, and forever will be, a tourist: I’m rich, by the average Indian’s standards; I live on a boat that I am free to leave on at any time; I own a UK passport; I take photographs constantly, because what I see through the lens is new, exciting and different; I’m pale; I’m big; I dress like a westerner on holiday; I talk strangely. Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as an Indian-born Englishman, at least not in Ernakulam.
So where is my home? What defines my home?
In truth, Esper is my home. Wherever she drops her hook, that’s my home, and for the moment it is India. After two years I can now get off the ferry from Bolgatty and wander into the commercial area of Ernakulam and not get shouted or stared at by the locals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t see me as an outsider. Perhaps it means they have accepted me as a familiar face and the novelty of my presence has worn off, but a local who’s home is Cochin?
No, a local I am not. I’m that odd bloke with a tattoo who lives on that plastic white bubble with two sticks in the expensive marina, a long-term interloper who will one day leave and move on to the next destination. And that will become my new home.