Here's a confession: I have Country 99.5 WKLB programmed as a radio station in my car. Most days, I'm sure I'm the only Bengali woman in the Boston area who can recount the "top five at five" country hits of the day.
There are many possible explanations for this strange new addiction in my life. First, as I like to tell intellectual types at parties, it's the best way to learn about one layer of American culture. A writer like me, who's only lived along the coasts, must study life in the heartland, in the South, and especially in Texas, where stereotypes of a big, bawdy red-white-and-blue identity seem to abound.
But if I'm to be really truthful, which I must be out here on the Fire Escape, there's more going on than detached anthropological exploration. There's something happening at the heart level. Songs about magnolia blossoms, fishing on the lake, sunsets, and country quiet are just plain peaceful when you're fighting traffic on urban streets. As an immigrant, I hunger for sense of place, of rootedness. Remember, my ancestors farmed for generations before my parents fled for the big city. I, too, was designed to have deep country roots — albeit in jute fields and rice paddies, not corn fields and cow pastures. And country musicians, the best ones, croon fervently about place.
Inevitably, though, a wistfulness comes, a longing to to live in the "land where my fathers' died," like these country songwriters. It's the same melancholy I experience listening to Rabindranath Tagore's songs about the beauty of village Bengal. When I start to feel too displaced, I switch over to my kids' hip-hop station, where edgy lyrics and a pounding beat take me back to the city. On an urban fire escape, I know from experience that a good story can always make me feel at home.