‘Home’ by Warsan Shire

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

Your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

No one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

You have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

No one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

No one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

The
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

Or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here

 

A question I want to avoid

I always go home in October. To celebrate Durga Puja in the sleepy little temple town called Bhubaneswar. It has been an annual ritual. My colleagues are used to me taking leave during this time of the year.

Today, one of my colleagues asked me, “When are you going home for Puja?”

I kept a straight face and said, “Not this year.”

Home is not a place. Home is where your parents live, laugh, cook and feed you and most importantly wait for you to come back. They wait for you and you wait to go back to them. Once your parents are gone, home is not the same. Something changes. You ache to go back yet you don’t feel like. Because there’s nothing to pull you in that direction. The umbilical cord with home gets cut. The emptiness of your home empties you from within.

I am feeling empty since I changed the page of the calendar from September to October.  Don’t ask me this question, “When are you going home?” Not in October.

The Rains

The rains have gone away finally…unless the raindrops decide to surprise us during October. This monsoon has been a disappointing story — no soaking in the raindrops, no singing under the clouds in gay abandon. Leave aside one rainy evening at a cafe. The flooded streets, the dangerous man-holes in the midst of all those talks about Gujarat model of development has robbed me of my romance with the rains. While rummaging through old files on my desk top, I found this piece on the rains which I wrote some years back. So, here goes an ode to the lost romance of raindrops.

Image

LOVE, LONGING AND POURING RAINS

Rice, fish curry, mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil and pouring rains —  that’s early childhood memories. Sitting for hours near a window and seeing the rains lashing against the lamp post always came naturally to me. Rains are much more than manna from heaven. They bring back smells of wet earth of a land I left years back, they bring back memories which come and kiss on the cheeks but then gently go back again to the never-ending paddy fields of a verdant earth.
Rains falling on the roof of my house lulled me into sleep as I curled up in my comfortable bed. They were not just falling rain drops they were like God singing lullaby in the middle of an otherwise silent night.
Rains bring back images of Ma waiting with a towel in the veranda as I returned from school all drenched. Rains bring back memories of me and my younger sister dancing away to glory in the garden just as the clouds became darker and darker.
Rains bring back memories of a stern teacher coming to the class and declaring that “It’s a rainy day”…. The clanging of bells didn’t matter after this much-waited announcement. The desire to run away was too intense. The calling of the rains was too intimate.
Rains bring back songs from yesterdays on the CD player. Raj Kapoor and Nargis singing ‘pyaar hua ikraar hua’ under an umbrella was probably one of those first brushes with the world of romance and it also made one see that other aching side of love with those immortal words ‘Maloom nehin kahan manzil. ’Years after even as I am waiting for the rains in a desert state like Gujarat, I have gently let my ‘manzil’ to fly past my window.
Rains bring back memories of that tempestuous night when desires and hopes softly met on a rock in the last range of Aravalis. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Even years after, I still can feel that magical touch, the stillness of the night and the ever elegant raindrops. The rain soaked lamp post for a change looked like an invader into an intense world of love and longing.
Today soporific stillness hangs heavily in the air. I am looking at the sky with a longing eye. Will it rain today? I say it with a silent prayer. The door has been kept ajar just to let the gushing rains enter into my room and embrace me with all its warmth.
It will not just be rains….. It will be a collage of images and people peppered with memories of love, longing, desire,  and much more. And may be I will go back to that memory and sing  ‘Yeh sahar bahut purana hai’ along with the lashing rains. And who knows it might be an Equal Music. As they say.

(The picture is clicked by Ano Patel, a young  journalist and whose camera, I think weighs more than her weight… yet she manages to capture lovely images.)

21 LOVE AND MONEY

I don’t understand money. But I love money. I respect money. I have lot of respect for men and women who earn their money through hard work and honesty. I believe money can change lives. Yes, money can be destructive. But then passion can be too.
One of the greatest highs of my life was when I got my first pay check. I started my first job with a Delhi based research organisation and my first project was ‘Juvenile Delinquency and impact of mass media.’ Getting the first salary was equivalent to having a feeling of freedom. Its sweet taste lingered in the mouth for a long time and erased the pain of a really hurtful break-up I just had then. I still remember the thrill of taking a DTC bus and going to Connaught Place to do justice to my first salary. I bought my Kodak Korma camera for Rs 1500 from Studio India. The handsome elderly gentleman who owned the store said to me lovingly “May you have years of exciting journey with this one.” Seventeen years have passed since then and I still have that camera (I must add that my husband has changed more than six cameras in last three years). On the same day, I also bought the music cassette of Scorpion (those days everybody sang ‘Winds of Change’, ‘Still loving you’ and ‘Always Somewhere’). I still listen to ‘Still loving you’ and ‘Always Somewhere.’ Now on a blackberry connected to an iball speaker.
In the mid 90s, money was never much. And even when I changed my job to India’s leading news agency, money was still not at all impressive from any point of view. We used to call ourselves ‘moongphali patrakar.’ Moreover, finding a flat in South Delhi  in limited money was not an easy task. But somehow we sailed through— you know there’s something called chance or luck. I had no money to buy impressive artworks or artefacts to fill up the blank walls in my home but I did go to the Cottage Emporium to buy a huge batik painting of Buddha and got it framed. If it’s my home, it got to have table lamps (daddy darling, you must be laughing from up above there for this obsession of mine). I did go slow on my expenditure to bring home that beautiful table lamp from the Cottage Emporium. Little money made me ‘think creative’. So I bought three colourful matkas from a roadside potter and just kept them in one corner of the room to add that element of ‘ethnic, colourful touch’ to the decor.
Strange as it might sound, I never had then any feeling of deprivation. I still don’t have any. I am happy with what I have. I am not the one who romanticises lack of money. I personally feel poverty is the greatest curse on earth. Not being able to buy the medicine you want to buy for your loved one can be soul destroying. At the same time, to nurture a material desire, saving money for it and then buying it is also a great act of pleasure.
But looking back, I feel that those days I along with my friends had no concept of saving. Anybody who had a little more than Rs 5000 in the bank (in our friend circle) was envied!!! And when my back account showed an amount of Rs 10,000, I happily booked a second class ticket in Tamil Nadu express and travelled all alone from Delhi to Kanya Kumari. Credit cards were not popular then. So, I had taken my money in Travellor’s cheque and I did manage to save a part of it too. The pleasure money gave those days were pure, unadulterated. When we had less, we lived for the moment. When we have more, we live for tomorrow.
Indulgence at home came in the form of fruit custard and chicken curry with chunks of potatoes. And indulgence outside meant relishing an ice-cream named as 21 love or Manhatten Mania at Nirula’s. Nothing matched the joy of having a Chinese meal at Golden Dragon in Panchsheel Park. On most occasions, the dishes we ordered were the same —  Golden Dragon special fried rice, chilly chicken dry and diced vegetable in hot garlic sauce.
It’s a different story now. Money has different connotation now. But I still don’t understand money even though I love it. And after all these years of being in a profession laced with temptations, I am sure of one thing —- Money can’t buy my soul, my heart, my core. I would rather happily eat a humble meal at my home than have a ‘free’ meal at a swanky five star restaurant. I will not have the burden of ‘obligations’. I will earn every morsel on my plate through my hard work and my skill.
And yes I do miss Nirula’s 21 love and Manhatten Mania.  More so when I am in Ahmedabad—!!!!!

PS: I read somewhere that when the gypsies curse, they say “MAY YOU WIN A LOTTERY.”

October, my muse

The autumn nip in the air, a sense of anticipation, festivity, celebrating my father’s birthday, family get-togethers— that has been October for me for decades. October makes me happy and a little bit restless too. Even without knowing, I become a better person, a tad more giving and a little more forgiving too. October is the month which sees the start of the festive season in many parts of India. Dusty Ahmedabad (where I now live and work) suddenly looks like a new bride as Gujarat sways to garba beats and revels in the intoxicating romance of the nights. Yet that doesn’t entice me. The colour, the celebrations, the frenzy make me feel like an outsider. That’s why, I run back to Orissa to add more new images to the collage called memories.

But remember the saying: The home you leave is never the same you return to. This time I am returning home during October (after giving it a miss last year). There’s an element of pain and sadness within me. October now reminds me of what I don’t have (the loss of my father and my beautiful loving aunt) rather than what I have. Or may be I should just look back with fondness and celebrate what I have gathered in the journey of all the Octobers that have passed by me but stayed in my heart for all times to come. Here’s to you, October.

DIARY OF MRS RICH(A) KAPOOR

This piece is a pure work of fiction. Any resemblance to any living/dead character, any place or incident is purely coincidental. Feminists across the world, please forgive me if you think that this piece is anti-women (which is not at all my intention.) I have nothing against the Punjabi community. In fact, I love them for their ‘bindaas’ attitude. They give me much fodder for my sociological analysis (even though I neither get invited to any conferences nor I get paid for all this). Some might find this writing politically wrong but right now I really want to break free. 

DIARY OF MRS RICH(A) KAPOOR

I am Mrs Rich(a) Kapoor married to Mr Raj Kapoor who is the President (now corporates have Presidents, Vice-presidents which was previously reserved for nations. Anyways, this is the age of multi-nationals) of Bigggsupport (which is into retailing). We live in India’s dream capital called Mumbai. I grew up in Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi and mind you my parents are quite well-off. I went to Janki Devi Women’s College in Delhi to study political science. Please don’t think that I was aspiring to be another Plato or Socrates. Or I was going to change the way the world thinks or lives. Only losers think that way.
Was I good in studies? Don’t even ask me. I only knew how I sailed through my graduation. I managed to clear my examination thanks to Seema who was staying in a hostel and always craving for home-made food. So there I found my savior in the form of Seema and her notes (see we Punjabis are very good at this art of determining ‘profit-loss’. For nothing we rule Delhi even though half of us came with nothing during partition). Thanks to my mom’s endless plates of chhole bhature, aloo paratha, gobi paratha, mooli paratha, matar paneer and butter chicken, Seema was forever willing to come to our house and help me in studies. Every time Seema came to my house, my mother just vanished into the kitchen. Within fifteen minutes, (like the spiritual guru who produced apples, oranges and gold necklaces out of thin air), my mother produced gobi parathas anda aloo parathas in endless numbers. Seema just couldn’t understand this quick magic, But never mind, we Punjabis are like that. We roll parathas the way One Mr Tendulkar scores on a good day (only difference is that we are more consistent than Tendulkar).
As in our family, studies are linked to bidding time for marriage, nobody really took mine seriously. My father offered motichoor ladoos to everybody in our entire neighbourhood the day my results were announced. I was not a university topper, never mind we Punjabis always look for a reason to celebrate. We open a bottle of whiskey even when a hen lays eggs. So, it’s perfectly fine. Not like those South-Indians who serve rice-sambar even in a wedding feast. We live life king-size. We gave ‘Patiala peg’ to the world. Have you ever heard of a ‘Kolkata peg’ or a Kerala Peg? I tell you, nobody can match us.
I knew that I would be married off after my graduation and I was happily waiting for Mr Right. Do I need to explain what men want in this country? It has been always three Bs ‘Boob, Butt and Belly’ (Didn’t somebody say, take care of a man’s stomach along with his libido, he will be like a mouse in front of you). Men from my community have a fascination for another B: Bhangra or Balle Balle. They just need an excuse to break into a balle balle. My mother was a wise woman. Just before my marriage, she told me, “Never keep him hungry— neither in the day nor in the night. Give him what he wants. He might wander once in a while but that’s ok.” That was my mantra.
Being well-endowed (In many ways I can give competition to Pamela Anderson or JLo) has its advantages of keeping the man under control. My marriage happened with lots of shor shar. I was looking like a million bucks bride. Those pseudo intellectual friends of mine who were pursuing their Masters in JNU raved about my ravishing looks on my D day even though they also gave me lectures on how I should have pursued a Master’s degree and then a career. Hello, am I crazy to work on double shifts —- both at home and office? All this independence or women empowerment talk is western concept. You just have to know how to play the ‘power’ game.  Don’t you all read how all these Bollywood star wives in Pali Hill, Bandra, Juhu behave? Well, in today’s world if you have money, you can be anything from being an interior designer, fashion designer to a jewellery designer. And then you can come with that killer line : “I was always passionate about it”. Move over Coldplay (I hope, you know it’s a music band. My teenage son is crazy about Coldplay), it’s wordplay now.
Did you utter that word boredom? How foolish can you be? Didn’t Hrithik Roshan’s character said in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, “Agar mere paas 100 crore hoga toh boredom ka baat bhul hi jaao (I will never be bored if I have Rs 100 crore).  I am smarter than him. I have my husband’s money to blow up. Money is sweeter when you don’t have to sweat to have it. What financial independence these career women are talking about when all the while they are working like honeybee. See me, I am living life like a Queen Bee. You just have to make right moves in life. And look after a man’s need. In the end, a man’s needs are so simple. In case of a man from my community, it’s more simple : kukkad (chicken) and kudi (gal). That’s it. It got to be legs in the end. As simple as it can be. No high funda stupid Marxism theory that Mrs high-voltage Banerjee taught us in college. Remember Neha Dhupia’s famous statement, “Only Sex and SRK sell.” In the end, it’s all about sex. Only foolish women (I mean those so-called thinking women) keep on talking about love, intelligence, humor, compatibility and all that rubbish. They need to read Richa’s philosophy to live life like a queen. If a man wants humor, he can very well make Raju Srivastava his friend. Or watch those innumerable comedy (read horror) shows on television.
And mind you, I lead a very busy life even though I have Ramu and his wife Savitri at my home to cook, clean, wash and do any random work that I fancy. As we are ‘loaded’ people, so we have three cars with three driverjis to ferry us all around. The kids are grown up now by both American/Indian standards. Even now, we judge everything by American standards. Never mind even if that land has lost its glory and struggling hard to beat economic recession. Thank God, for giving Papaji some sense to say ‘No’ to that Mr Chopra (for my marriage) who lived in New Jersey. No matter how much dollar you make in America, you can never afford Ramu or Savitri. And just forget about driverji. See my cousin sister Dolly who’s forever washing dishes (of course in the dishwasher), cooking, taking her children to music classes, karate classes, kumon classes (the list is endless) and in the end even mowing the lawn. India is better any day, recession or no recession. These days you get everything in India from Louis Vuitton to Jimmy Choos. Moreover, once in a year we definitely go to either Europe or USA for family holiday (Singapore, Bangkok is for low-class people. You see we are high-class Punjabis). As a family, we all love Bollywood especially one Mr Johar. He’s soooooo our kind. Believing in family dramas unfolding in Swiss Alps or London.
I am busy all through the day. These days the kids are busy, the husbands are busy, the wives are busy. Everybody is busy. The Great Indian Family is very busy. The kids are forever busy  watching Big Bang Theory/ Two and half men on TV, downloading songs or talking over the phone. Anyway, they want their share of ‘space’ (did some philosopher talk about ‘personal space’ in 21st century, really can’t remember…. you see it has been almost 20 years since I graduated from college). My husband is busy in the boardroom. God knows what happens in those meetings? In India, people are only good at meeting and eating. And when are not doing that, they are busy ‘mating’ (even though nobody talks about it openly).
I am busy looking after my self. I love spending time in a salon doing my manicure, pedicure and all kinds of cure. I love to pamper myself by going for that sea-salt therapy at this ‘O’ spa. The modern times is all about looks and packaging. No wonder, V magazine recently did a story on how 40 is the new 20, 60 is the new 40 and 30 is the new 10. I am now thinking to go for that ‘blood group’ diet my friend was talking about and  then look absolutely chic (as my cool son says). My mother always told me, “Keep him hooked to you.” I am extra smart than my mom. I always ask hubby dear to buy that diamond necklace or that Prada bag when he’s enjoying on the top. See, I know how to keep a man under control even when I am lying below. In life, it’s all about giving and taking. I am generous while ‘giving’ and I take it through those credit cards of my husband. Mumbai is full of malls. Phoenix mall, Oberoi mall, In Orbit mall… the list is growing every day. With shopping, time just flies. There’s so much to see, try and buy. Only if days were lots more than 24 hours.
I am not like those ordinary housewives (oops now they are called home-makers) who only attend kitty parties or organise havans at home. I am cool, I am tech-savvy. I am on Facebook and I simply love it. Being on Facebook is the best way to beat mid-life crisis. I don’t know why all these sociologists are targeting the teenagers for being FB addicts. Women of my age really need Facebook to boost our egos. Every morning I thank God (Read Mark– sorry I can’t remember his difficult surname. See if he were a Chopra/ Khurana/ Kapoor it would have been so easy to remember) for this wonderful thing called Facebook. Now I don’t have to host a party to flaunt my Shiraz or Merlot or talk about my last trip to Prague. I just have to upload my pictures and there will be 10 likes immediately. When I am utterly bored then I just put my camera on ‘Auto’ mode and there I go. Standing prettily in my cocktail dress  or holding that ceramic tea cup which I recently bought from Good Earth. From my Blackberry (Now I want  an iphone… may be tonight is the night to ask for it), I log on to Facebook once I say my ‘love yous, bye byes’ to hubby dear and kids. From our Honda Accord to my little adorable pug named ‘Muffin’ — everything is there on my Facebook. Once in a while, I cling to my husband or throw my arms around him and show the world that our romance rocks.  And of course thanks to one Ms Kapoor who takes care of my evening needs. I love her for making my evenings so entertaining with all saas-bahu kahani. If I would have my way then I would have given her a ‘Bharat Ratna’. Believe me, my life is so  much more fun than that of those intellectual (read pseudo) friends of mine who are still discussing Plato’s Republic in some goddamn seminar.
But you see, I am not the one to call it quits. To show that I have also brains (in addition to boobs and butt), I once in a while put a line from Rumi, Gulzar etc etc as my status message on FB (Google is mankind’s best invention). You don’t have to read any book. All that you have to do is copy and paste. There are always 24X7  ‘free souls’ to ‘like’ these lines. I am the smart one to like my own status. If I don’t like myself then who will? Didn’t wise men say, “Self-help is the best help.” Most Indian men know the value of ‘self-help.’
No matter what people say, I am a truly liberated woman. I know how to keep power in my hand. I know how to keep the ball in my court and serve it perfectly. Last week, when I met one of my friends from Delhi at this upmarket SoBo restaurant called Moksha, she (who was flaunting her Mangalgiri cotton sari as if she were wearing a Sabyasachi, I tell you these JNU intellectuals) asked me ( trust the pseudo theory-expert bitch she’s), “Why am not I doing something meaningful? Am I not bored?” I looked at her as I twirled my wine glass and said “Honey, it’s so tough to be a mother of two kids. I am so busy, where’s the time?’”
Well, it’s a different thing that my kids’ doors are always closed once they are home. After all, they all want their space and they have a life of their own. But then my mother had told me long back, “When you are a woman, keep the truth in the pit of your stomach. You will never go wrong.” Like my mother, I never go wrong.

Where have all my songs gone?

Aa janhamamu saraga sashi

mo kanhu hatare padae khasi

These were not merely songs sung by Ma before putting me to sleep. They are childhood memories that stayed with me like a photograph. It was not about living life on the edge. It was all about celebrating life. Joy. Hope. It was about touching the sky. Or rather the sky, moon striking a chord. Kissing you in the stillness of night. Comforting you as you get lost in the world of dreams. Even now when I look at the moon from my balcony, the song comes back naturally to me. After all, it’s the same moon everywhere. And there is a timelessness quality about it.

These are the songs that I couldn’t erase from my memories. They were not part of my textbooks. No questions were asked about them in exams. There was no need to memorise them as no grades were attached to them. But even then they stayed in the mind for years to come. Long after I have forgotten what they taught me in that prison called classrooms, these songs have stayed with me.

For it was like living many layered life through the voices of my mother and grand-mother who took us into the magical world of happiness. In many ways that was the charm of our childhood when there was nothing called satellite television, no fast-food joint or for that matter coffee bars blaring out soulless remixes. These songs moulded us, kneaded us, baked us …. and in the end gave free spirits.

There was a song for every season, every festival, every occasion. The words came without any effort. If Kumar Purnima started with ‘kumar punei janha go….phula baula beni’, Raja festival started with ‘banaste dakila raja…”. The voices wafted through the banyan trees, through the meadows, the paddy fields.

Every time a story was told by Granny, it ended with a song.
“My story is finished,

The flowering trees is dead.
O flowering trees, why did you die?

The black cow ate me up.
O black cow, why did you up the tree?

The cowherd did not tie me up.
O cowherd, why didn’t you tie up the cow?

The eldest daughter-in-law did not give me rice.
O daughter-in-law why didn’t you give him rice?

My small child was crying?
O my small child, why were you crying?

The black ant bit me.
O black ant, why did you bite the baby?

I live on the ground….

And when I come across soft flesh, I just bite”
In strange ways the thread continued. The songs were meant to bring us back from that world of fantasy to the world of reality. As Granny sang those songs in her melodious voice, there was hunger for more. But then the end of the song meant coming back to the swing of life. To carry forward.

Should I end the story here? Will it be ‘the end’? Or end of the beginning?
Post script:

It is a cold December night. The windows in the moving train bring heady images into the dimly lit compartment. Many Indias come together through those windows…. the magical, mystical, mythical. Urban. Not so urban. Beautiful. Not so beautiful. It is all about a journey that you take once in a year to renew contacts with your family members. To remind yourself that you are not rootless in this world. And you also have something called ‘Home’. Or to be precise ‘Back at home’. Where you know everybody from the postman to the milkman. And the moment you enter into the train compartment, you feel that you have almost entered Orissa. Even from a distance you can hear somebody talking in Oriya. Or some aunt taking out a dabba of ‘pithas’ and the aroma takes you to another surreal world. As the sun goes behind the horizon, the night really looks inviting. The moon is shining outside. And the clouds and the moon are seen chasing each other. But then now nobody dedicates a song to the gleaming moon.
Suddenly you find a young mother struggling to put her young son to sleep. No…. oriya lullabies sound alien in his hi-tech world. His mother puts the mobile to good use. And there comes the song ‘It’s time to disco.. it’s time to khisko’. Well, that lulls the little boy to sleep. He connects to the dreams on silver screen.

I don’t think Bollywood’s much sought after director Karan Johar will ever read this one. But he has arrived. From Mumbai’s ‘Fire ‘n’ Ice’ to the world of a small boy— he has conquered all. And he doesn’t need trade pundits to tell him so, I guess. But I really can’t say whether I am happy or sad.

The times are different. Neon-lit streets now speak of dollar dreams. And songs now mean flesh flash. And where does a granny or even an ageing mother figure in this world of money and instant nirvana?

But still then I am longing for the voices of that long forgotten Orissa i.e the soul of India.
(As the Chinese saying goes: Birds don’t sing because they have answers, birds sing because they have songs)
But where have all my songs gone?

Ma,where do I go next?

“Where are you from?” That’s the question I have been facing ever since I left home on a sultry July morning two decades back. And yet they say “You will never discover new lands unless you leave the shore.” I left home to search for life outside the boundaries of my home. To find new homes in new lands. Yes, it has been twenty long years. And I have not got another home in all these years even as I am chasing life in neon-lit streets of different cities. Warm friendships. Houses full of books, masks, paintings and an occasional smell of mustard oil emanates from my kitchen. Yet in the middle of the night, I long for home. For that sense of belongingness, for that sense of completeness. And above all, a place where I don’t have to cater to the question ‘Where are you from?’
As much as I say I am an Oriya, it’s not the geography that really allures me. It’s not the familiar landscape that calls me. Yes, I miss the lashing rains and the dark clouds playing hide and seek with the mild late afternoon lazy sun. But in the end, home is more of an intimate idea for me. It’s like a love affair. It’s a sense of fulfillment. It’s the image of my mother serving a delicious meal and me never even wanting to eat outside whenever I am at Bhubaneswar. It’s me sleeping most comfortably and peacefully under a mosquito net (a ritual I have not followed in any of the places I have lived).
I live today for I think of that tomorrow’s journey where the arrival signage in Biju Patanaik domestic airport would welcome me. And even before the conveyor belt starts moving, I can see my sister standing on the other side. And the intimacy of home creates a rush of happiness.
Home is like an album. Every page you turn, you discover something new. Even though you are turning it for the hundredth time. Home is like reliving every moment that has touched you some time and gone far away. Home is your Ma waiting for you even though you had told her that you will be having your lunch with a friend. Home is not about French windows, meadows or even lush green fields. Home could be in the middle of a desert or a forest. It has to have that sense of warmth and love.
There are times on mellowed evenings, I look out of my office window and I see hundreds of people rushing ‘home’. I see Jain monks walking barefoot with no ‘home’ to return to. Yet walking with a deep sense of purpose. I think of the Baul musicians who are taught that they should never live under the same tree for more than three days. And then the thought comes across to me : what exactly am I looking for? The home I left is never the home I will return to. The colours have added a new smooth sparkling feeling to the walls. But it’s not the same. Twenty years is fairly a long time. Too many changes have crept into my life, my parents’ and my sisters’. All of us are battling our own battles in life. Each of us have diffeent issues to settle. Each one’s aspirations and desires are different. Yet even in the midst of all that, I still call that duplex building in Bhubaneswar as my own home. Even though it does not have the paintings that have become a part of my life for last so many years. Or for that matter the so very me romantic soft yellow lights. But still then a strange sense of familiarity, completeness overpowers me when I step into the gate of my home. I become comatose on reaching home. The world outside seems totally irrelevant to me. Even my own mobile phone looks like a stranger to me. And I am happy switching it off for most part of my vacation! That’s home for me when the essential me is nicely and happily curled up within me with little physical or metaphysical needs.
It’s actually a strange story. It’s a story of two tickets. The ticket from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar gives me an unexplainable joy.One look at the ticket, I feel a sense of joy. Suddenly, the dates on the calendar resume a new meaning. Anticipation of happiness tickles my tastebuds and adds a sense of ‘life’ to my life. And the ticket from Bhubaneswarto Ahmedabad always have a different story. An aching story. A story of leaving a part of you behind. Migrants, immigrants all over the world have the same story. Of their intense desire to have a home of their own in a whole new world. It might be strange but two years ago, my younger niece Simrita had come from Atlanta to Bhubaneswar. For her, “India is fun, lots of fun, gifts and mausis to love and pamper her.” In her mind, she has also weaved a unique way to have the best of both the worlds. So she says, “From Monday to Friday, she will be in Atlanta as her school is simply great and the weekends she will spend in India.” And while she was going back to her ‘red house’ in Atlanta, she was weeping inconsolably in the aircraft and when the air hostess asked her what’s the matter, like a true American child she said, “Just leave me alone… Don’t you know I am leaving home?” Home is a strange emotion. Even for a five year child. It’s intriguing. And for adults, many times it’s a clash with the economics of life.
But I must say, Ahmedabad is the place where I have felt closest to being home. Even though I face the question, “Where are you from?” here quite frequently, but I still feel a strange sense of kinship with this dusty, unromantic city. Or may be I am wrong, sometimes even there’s a tale of romance in the dust. I am an Oriya trying to carve a life for myself in this wonderful land of entrepreneurship. And at the of the day, I swipe my card and say to my colleagues, “Bye, I am going home.”
And amidst all these, my brother-in-law asks me “Why are you there? What are you doing there in Ahmedabad? Come back home. Life will be better.” I tell my younger sister “Why are you there in the United States? What’s there in that country other than dollars? Come back home.” And we have been telling each other the same thing for years. And now even our own questions sound repetitive to us. Many plans have been made. I have made ‘need based’ changes to my CV thinking that I would look for a job back home. But beyond that I have not done anything. In the meanwhile, my parents have aged. My charming elder sister also has some grey hair now. And I still continue to be away from home. Much like my younger sister.