“Guess who is home?” jumped a message on whatsapp from a friend who lives in Boston, having moved there a year back from Mumbai after her wedding.
The question confused me. Although I could discern that it meant that she was back in Mumbai, I couldn’t resist replying “But you were already home!”
Home. That place where you look out from. Where you go away from, come back to. That point of reference for everything. And when you lose that reference where do you stand?
You see, in our family we don’t know whether we’re coming or going – it’s all my grandmother’s fault. But, of course, the fault wasn’t hers at all: it lay in language. Every language assumes a centrality, a fixed and settled point to go away from and come back to, and what my grandmother was looking for was a word for a journey which was not a coming or a going at all; a journey that was a search for precisely that fixed point which permits the proper use of verbs of movement.
-Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines
I have always been intrigued by the idea of home, about the ability to shift it away to another country. To call that home, while still visiting the place you grew up in. Noting how things have changed, (how much traffic!!) convincing yourself that it is no longer what you called home and returning to the comfort of home.
I could never understand how a lot of my NRI friends could do that, could go away, develop roots in a different place and never return. It feels like you are going away from home and never returning. But I haven’t been able to get past the idea that there is no one fixed home. That it is not a concept that can’t be established somewhere else. You look for greener pastures, find something, you up and go, and put down your roots there. Like trees that could walk, or more recently like transplanted trees.
ಇರುವುದೆಲ್ಲವ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಇರದುದರೆಡೆಗೆ ತುಡಿವುದೇ ಜೀವನ?
– Gopalakrishna Adiga
How does one reconcile the longing for greener pastures with the one for home? Are they conflicting instincts? Or things that occur in patterns, one after the other?
For long I felt that I was searching. I went out, tried two different continents, sometimes getting carried along by what seemed like winds outside my control. I walked the leafy roads, with sparrows chirping, of Melbourne. Experienced the cold and grey of Seattle with its distinct seasons. I eventually upped and came home. For a few years, I got asked the question “Why did you move back to India?” mainly from NRIs who wanted to fall one side or the other for good. I could only answer it as “I didn’t see a reason to stay on.” I never reconciled to calling anything else home. I was away, and one day I came back home.
And once back in Bangalore, I searched desperately for a home, to find a place where I could put down roots, and just be. 7 years on, I know I am where I want to be. The roots I put down take the form of a garden where I can grow things, in the form of bookshelves I fill up, in the form of the cat that can’t be transplanted anywhere – I stay where you’ll stay. Years of repeating patterns – the Honge tree, and its falling and growing leaves. The warblers, the shovelers, the starlings, the wagtails that turn up during winter. The Kacheris of summer. The monsoon rains, and the spiders and snails that come with them. Every year they repeat their patterns, their arrivals. Yes, in smaller numbers each year. But they’re there and I am here waiting for them every year. I am home. For now.