July, 1987. I was 16. I was leaving home. The only home I had known till then. A small house in Raurkela. A small town in Eastern India, whose name literally means ‘home’.
I was moving to a wonderful school in a wonderful city, Kolkata, while my parents were moving to a far-from-great town, with far-from-great schools. To this day, I can feel, so clearly, in my throat – a dryness and constriction, and in my eyes – some paralyzed tears, and a diminishing vision.
e diminishing car, that had my father at the wheel, and my mother, who leaned out and kept a smiling front, “Bhalo theyko. Bhalo korey kheyeyo (Be well. Eat well.)”
Despite starting a promising new curriculum, in one of the nation’s finest schools 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.
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 powerful 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?