I sit in the same corner table, looking through the glass of Heathrow. Staring in smug contentment as aircrafts land and take off. People going and coming home with a sort of wistful energy that a wasp with a loud buzz would convey.
Two empty cups sit in the table in front of me. One I had nursed and the other, she had held. The coffee is gone but the conversations remain. She is gone too. The ruffled fabric of the cushion on the chair, the only other trace she has left behind. ‘So, how many days have you been away from home?’, she had asked a while ago. Her first question. I am still at the first question.
‘Two weeks’, I had said.
‘I mean HOME’. She had emphasised. With an emphasis that a stern teacher would reserve for the slowest student.
She wasn’t talking of where I lived now. She was talking of where we had lived earlier. Where we went to school together.
With the careless ease of slipping into the favourite shirt that got tucked beneath several layers or new purchases, we had dived in. Deep conversation abounded leaving me with abundant joy to think and talk of the easy times when innocence was still our skin. Now, she is gone. Her flight was on time and mine has ‘delay’ written in the air. The empty cups are on the table and the conversation runs in my mind.
So what is home? I ask myself. Still with the first question she popped. My mind darts in many directions. I watch one aircraft take off and my mind follows my eye.
It is but natural to think of HOME as a physical structure. The one that gets built with steel rods, bricks, mortar and paint. From time immemorial the need for people to add structure and territory to safety has existed. The cave men sought out caves for psychological safety as much for physical sanctuary. Over generations, the building of a home has morphed into a ‘life purpose’! It still is, for large parts of India.
I remember what it took to build our home. My dad ran to the architect and then made a dash to the bank. He worked insane long hard hours, to get the structure up. Mom kept the family together while he was at it. Me and my brother watched from the sidelines sometimes lifting a pipe or moving a brick. It was the quintessential man on the moon moment for him when he did build it. We called it HOME. He thought we would live in it forever. But it turned out quite otherwise.
As our age of making our own living arrived so did jobs. We nurtured new dreams of living under bright lights and bustle that big metros invitingly held out. Upon their urging me and my brother flew the nest while dad and mom stayed on. Since then, we have made homes our of mere houses and raised our families in different cities but we can say for sure, that we can never ‘outgrow’ the HOME that dad built. We were, and we are, wedded to the place mentally.
But now, our dear HOME that dad built will tell a curious visitor the tale of poverty of residents and the plentiful silence its privy to. The occasional hosting of the grandchildren, giving the arc of effort in its construction some angular (and only) redemption. But perhaps the building isn’t privy to how often I visit it. To take the memory route to get there, just takes a closing of the eye. Sometimes, that isn’t required either, when you could reach there with wide open eyes and easy ears.
My memories of HOME come alive when I recall conversations. Some hard fights, tender moments, the spanking that we got when we lied, the company of good books, lazy gawking and good coffee. Of course, good coffee! Memories bring the HOME alive. A sanctuary of care and love whose walls come coated with familiarity and ease. Where even the pillars seem to understand us well and the floors take to the careless toss of a well-worn shirt with a muted grin.
Memories sparkle and rush out like pieces of iron sighting a big magnet. If a home is this accessible, is it a building in a particular place or is it an ‘idea’? To a migrant like me, memories of the place are as sacred as the place in itself. Long after the people moved on and the blue sky turned gray, the twinkle in HOME’s night sky comes from the glow memory offers.
Somedays, sitting in the new home, a memory begets sighs. A longing for what it was and how it would be to go back there. The famous lines from Garden State that my good friend Manu put into my head several years ago come alive
“You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone.
You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know.
You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something.
I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place”.
HOME gives us renewal. But home can also dull us into inaction. With its familiarity and comfort. It does a few things to us. It makes us take to it and our lives thereon with a certain air of settled certainty.
Thoreau‘s brilliant thoughts on ‘living deliberately’ can bring a thought or two. We need seek out the unfamiliar and make new homes. For it is in the balance between the ‘wild’ and ‘cautious’ that new bearings must get taken. These often lead us to tearing down old ideas, learning anew and building new ones. Not only are homes built on the ground around us, but also what we structure our minds with. Perhaps, that makes all the difference.
A few days ago, I had a conversation with my brother. About home. Our HOME. We were sitting in a foreign land and talking. We are both migrants with stickers and seals in our passports that ease our entries and exits from places we now call ‘home’. We are migrants too, of a luckier kind. Our migrations forcing upon us a need to reinvent ourselves, renew our relationships and take new bearing. That it hasn’t been easy, is a story that will remain silent. But what retains eloquence is the idea that the HOME that dad built, remains our personal centre of reference.
It connects us back, I realise, not only to what dad and mom put into the building but what they put into us. While the building gave a dimension of physical space and comfort, the real giving was in the treasure trove of moments they have left in us to cherish. It is ironical that building stands in silence, for it has got us sing new songs in faraway lands.
The home’s essence lies in what we put inside it. The care with which we load its beams with strength walls with colour tell stories about the hopes we have for our future. Our children’s future comes from the moments we fill their lives with. The time that we take to talk to them and be with them. It constructs a sense of identity and gives us an inner resilience to build all over again with a sense of imagination and hope. Hopes from which new homes and new futures can get created.
Hopes that can cause us to honour this space with the title of HOME!
I continue gazing through the glass window of Heathrow. Another flight lands and taxis away. So there, if you aks me ‘so where’s home’, I have this blogpost as an answer for you.
How wonderful would it be to sit down and go on a long memory ride to hear your stories of pillars, beams, lessons and moments. I will buy you a coffee and spend a few hours with an inviting ear and a careful presence. Perhaps you will open to me, the grooves of your memory lines and the tenor of your dreams. And through the images of your HOME, I will see a little bit of your soul.
When even a bit of the soul is worn on the sleeve, dots connect and new skies become visible for everyone around. Of course, new skies make old clouds irrelevant.
Written after viewing TATA Tiscon steel bars being made at the TATA Steel plant in Jamshedpur as part of the #buildingblogsofjoy campaign. Arresting sights & sounds of iron ore morphing into steel rods and some smelting conversations with people who exquisitely choreograph this, makes me think of HOME. What it takes to build a house and the stuff that makes it a HOME. Part of a blogger group, put together by www.blogadda.com. Do read the posts from others for a different take. They are listed here. Vivek Patwardhan, Lakshmi Sharath, Shruti Garodia, Shoma Abhyankar, Vamshi Krishna, Sammya Brata