A few years ago I was lucky enough to go to school at INSEAD. It’s a university that can claim to be truly global: our class of four hundred represented more than 60 nations, the campus was spread across two continents (Fontainebleau, France and Singapore) and I was able to use the alumni network to get a summer job in San Francisco. I’ve never met more people from more backgrounds, ethnicities and heritages in my life – and probably won’t unless I go work at the U.N.
It’s fascinating to meet such a diverse array of people, as it truly gives you new perspectives on the world. However, there’s a slightly darker side to it as well. Many of the people I met don’t truly feel like they have a home anywhere and instead have joined some global nomadic tribe (someone tried to brand the tribe Globopolitans – fortunately it hasn’t stuck). I must confess that I feel an honourary member: I am Canadian, but I also have British citizenship and live and work in New York City (I’m only an honourary member as the full-fledged members are Pakistanis who live in Sao Paolo, etc.).
I’ve wrestled with how to capture the sentiment of members of this tribe, but lacked the words to articulate it. Fortunately, I just finished reading Granta’s 100th issue (I’m a year behind) and Salman Rushdie has nicely summed it up in his short piece Heraclitus:
It’s an age of migrant writers, voluntary migrants and involuntary exiles and refugees. For such writers instability is a given, instability of abode, of the future, of the family, of the self. For such writers the lack of an automatic subject is a given, too. Some, like the longtime Somali exile Nuruddin Farah, carry Somalia within them just as Joyce carried Dublin within him, and never turn to other places or other themes. Others, like the diaspora Indian writer Bharati Mukherjee, redefine themselves according to their changed circumstance, thinking and writing, in her case, as an American. Others, like myself, fall somewhere in between, sometimes looking east, sometimes west, but always with a sense of the provisionality of all truths, the mutability of character, the uncertainty of all times and places, no matter how settled things may seem.