I woke up with a start to some extremely loud (not to forget really annoying) Tamil religious movie song. Heart beating wildly, I opened my eyes and wondered what had hit me this afternoon. I looked around, trying to find my bearings, and realized I was home.
Well, technically, my parents’ home.
But still, home.
After all, what does “home” mean when you’ve been living away from home for 12 years? Is it the wonderful hostel rooms you lovingly set up? The house that you shared with two friends and jointly bought crockery and threw parties together? The single room by the terrace that you used to retire to after work, or the house in Delhi that you moved into with your partner on the occasion of getting married?
Surprisingly, after having so many variations of “my” space, home still means where my parents live, even though they have moved five times in my years living away from them.
That’s probably because elements of home remain unchanged: Carnatic music to wake up to; the sound of water filling a bucket; of crispy newspaper pages being turned late in the afternoon, when Amma gets a break to read the news; the smell of tamarind and tomatoes boiling to make the divine concoction called rasam; lit camphor pellets as offerings for the gods. If I close my eyes, and I sense any of these smells or sounds, my mind thinks “home,” not “parents.
I find it rather odd that I would still think this way. After all, I’ve spent the last many months slowly creating a new joint space with my partner, filling the house with an assortment of things that are now “ours,” sourced from local markets to travel purchases from a variety of cities and towns. Our house is taking shape with our things, memories and our own sights and sounds. Today, for instance, he’s not in town, and I miss hearing the songs that he plays every morning. MS Subbalakshmi’s voice interspersed with the hisses of the pressure cooker and smell from the agarbatti that he lights to start the morning on a calm note. The silence feels unnatural, something feels amiss.
Why, then, is this not yet the home for me? Of course, to the everyday Delhi waasi when I refer to my home, I mean my house here, not my parents’. What then makes home?
The corner of my mind whispers that it’s the place I can be a child again, having parents wake me up and come up with plans to keep me engaged. Where, sitting at the table, Appa, Amma and I, all engaged with some aspect of cooking – chopping, grinding and so on –get into long discussions about the pressing matters of life of that time – job, investments, plans, family relationships, travel and so on. Where even as they fuss over my health and take me to doctors and dentists, the thought wriggles in that increasingly it should be my turn to care of them, not the other way round.
It is the place where there’s been hardly a change in how I’m dealt with, no matter whether I’m a student, married, employed or sick. Where I’ll always be the child.
Something that unfortunately doesn’t happen in the Delhi house, because, well, my partner and I are both the adults. We are the ones running helter-skelter trying to make things comfortable for people visiting us. To make them feel at home in our place.
What would make my house home? Does it come with buying your own place, or furnishing an empty apartment from scratch and stepping back to admire your handiwork? With the steady humdrum of married life as you chug along and create more joint experiences than you did with your parents? A pet, perhaps, or children?
I have no answers or clarity. For now, on my phone, “Home” has the number of my parents’ landline phone, with my Delhi number saved as something as banal as “VV Landline”. I wonder if my parents will be alarmed at these thoughts and if my partner will be nonplussed reading my confused account of home. I’m sure I’m not the only person who grapples with the idea of two homes; perhaps my partner does too, having followed a very similar trajectory in life with regard to staying away from parents as I did – I haven’t asked. Maybe that’s why, for now, he so easily understands the context if I say “I want to go home.” Slowly, though, we’ve both started using the name of the different cities where his and my folks live, to be clear when we refer to each other’s parents’ home. Maybe, unconsciously, my mind is recalibrating the word “home.”
Pic from https://www.flickr.com/photos/zedzap
I’d originally written this article for Spark, an online literary magazine that I co-founded 8 years ago and currently edit.