“Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more
She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside she is free.
She is leaving home….”
(She’s Leaving Home, by The Beatles, Album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”)
First Week of July, 1987. I was 16. I was leaving home. The only home I had known till then. A simple little house in Rourkela. A small town whose name literally means ‘home’. I was moving to a great school in a great city, while my parents were moving to a far-from-great town, with far-from-great schools. I remember my speedily blurring world, and constricting throat, as I waved. At the diminishing car. At my father, who was at the wheel. At my mother, who leaned out and smiled. “Bhalo theyko. Bhalo korey kheyeyo (Be well. Eat well.)”. Despite starting life in a school of my choice, my world fell apart. With my family split between four cities, there would never again be a time in my life when we would share the same space as home.
30th July, 1989. I moved to Delhi to pursue architecture, and my parents moved to Kolkata. Because my parents changed apartments so frequently, my sense of home had to expand to embrace a whole city, one that I returned to every summer. As the train pulled in through rice fields, abundant greenery, a horizon fringed with skinny palms; the warm, sweet smell of moist soil, and a favorite Bengali tune filling the air, I knew I was home! Far, far away from the dusty heat and aggressive landscape of Delhi.
“Dhono dhanne pushpe bhora, aamaderi boshundhora
Tahar maajhe ashe desh ek, shokol desher shera…”
[In our world full of wealth, rice and flowers,
There is one country that stands out…]
17th January,1997. I started my life in the US, and my definition of home changed again. From that of a city to a country. ‘Back home’ meant India, even though Berkeley, California, has been very much my home away from home.
Over the years, home has come to define a physical environment that gives me an immense sense of settlement and comfort. In my case, it ranges from the country of my origin to an object – the white retro leather couch where I often lie in ‘deep thought’.
However, 20 years, and many moves later, come a gloomy day, and my mind still wanders back to a singular time and space, to the house that had been my home for 16 years. Seated around the dining table on a stormy, monsoon evening-sharing laughter, chai and pakoras with my mother, father, brother and sister-bathed in the warm yellow glow of incandescent light. Nothing elicits such overpowering nostalgia, even though all my moves have been out of choice, out of curiosity, out of seeking more.
What then of those that are forced to flee their home? Their country? Or those that live like the hunted in their own country? In their home? Or those that have no country? No home? How do they live? How do they cope? How do they make sense of the lunacy they live in?
In the coming weeks, I will be exploring issues around forced displacement.