Friday, January 09, 2009

Being Home

I am on my way back to England, after spending the Christmas at home. This has been first time I was off work and at home for a few days continuously since I left Kolkata in 2001. My intent to return to India at some stage in my life remains strong, and I spent the time renovating the house and revisiting some of my options in India [though not necessarily in Kolkata] if and when I choose to go back.

As I sit in Dubai airport now [this is becoming my favourite blog-writing ambiance], I feel no t much wiser, but more determined to return, sooner than later. This is a strange feeling, an yawning to be home, to be in a place which belongs to me and where I belong. True, there is an element of tiredness that comes from living in rented apartments in last nine years. Particularly so, as I almost always lived out of suitcase and never knew whether I shall be staying in the same place for more than six months in the future. This uncertainty, my friends would point out, is part of my character, and I do enjoy this in a way: But indeed, this still does not take away my keenness to call a place my home.

On some earlier visits, I had this being home feeling when I walked into my flat in Croydon after long overseas visits. This was about the feeling of certainty and relative permanence: knowing where to look for the TV remote [possibly a wrong example, as, in this particular case, a hotel room represents a far more predictable setting than a home, but one gets the sense] and the reassurance that if I leave a book on table, I am not going to leave it behind. Strangely, these overseas visits also included visits to. And, in context, it seems a bit baffling why I feel the way I do now, when it was the opposite before.

I think the answer is that home is more than just the sense of physical continuity. It is also, no, mostly about people - relationships which represent the same stability and permanence as physical spaces do. This explains why, most times, our own shabby houses feel more comforting than a plush hotel room. Certainly, I shall always feel more comfortable disagreeing with my father than about having polite conversations with a learned Rotary Club audience.

This is what happened to me in Kolkata this time. Strange as it may seem, I have not taken a holiday in Kolkata since I started working. That will make it a long 15 years. The rationale is rather simple: Whenever I took holidays while I was working in India, I went outside Kolkata; and I never took a proper holiday since I started working overseas anyway.

So, as I spent time lazily sitting in our living room, typing in blog posts, attempting to play Cricket on whatever is left of our lawn, buying groceries, seeing movies, and even attempting to see amateur theatre [an enterprise which did not succeed, but was very much like my university days]. I reconnected back to people. It felt exactly like a short version of my 'gap' year - when I waited to go to the university in 1989/90, and spent my time organizing cultural functions, playing cricket and trying to impress the girl in my life. That was a time when I would have stopped on the road so frequently to talk to a neighbour, gossiped about local goings-on, went out to play cricket in other localities, scraped by on a meagre pocket expense [buying a single chocolate bar to split in half with my best friend while we worried about the latest attitudes/ demands of our girlfriends].

This was supposed to be an 'unfree' time. I was an adult sitting at home, without a job or a steady commitment. I had no money to spend, except a meagre Rs. 300 I earned through tutoring, a job I profoundly hated and often absconded from. Most interactions with my parents were best avoided, particularly with my father, who was getting increasingly worried about my lack of directionlessness and who would often vent his anger in the presence of my many friends. I was not sure whether my girlfriend loved me, as I was unsure of myself and my future - and I would always act terribly possessive and abominably suspecting of anything that she did. Looking back, those days, I wanted to get moving, I wanted to get busy, and was terribly upset sitting around.

I did get busy soon thereafter. I picked up the advice of a senior friend and started learning computers. One thing led to another [to be fair, my father was also generous in paying the fees for an expensive computer course] and I was soon gainfully employed, almost obsessively so, burning midnight oil to learn new things in technology and customer relationship. But, since that day, I never felt being home.

Yes, it was almost like living in a suitcase like now, a mental suitcase, then. Yes, I lived in the house I was born in and had 'my' room. I went out to work early and took the same predictable commute. My friends changed, and I got close to people at work. My relationship with my girlfriend strained and I found someone more exciting, urban and ambitious. But I kept saying to myself that this is all temporal and I must return home one day.

As you would guess, that never happened. Though I settled down with my girlfriend eventually, I moved on from one thing to other at work, taking pride in my enterprise, my ambition and my ability to build work relationships and spot opportunities. I developed intellectually, and got interested in public affairs, politics and technology. I questioned the lazy nature that defines my city and lectured my brothers and whoever I could get to hear me out how other communities are moving forwarded. I developed, in particular, a great regard for silicon valley entrepreneurs and wanted to create miracle enterprises like them. I knew being home is not going to be important any more.

How wrong was I indeed? This time, the break in Kolkata reminded me of all that. I must admit Kolkata has changed too. It has started, as Rabindranath Tagore once wrote, going to Mumbai. I roamed around various shopping malls and multiplexes of the city, tasting the food court fares and assuring myself that life won't be that alien if I choose to return from England. I drove around in my brother's Mitsubishi Lancer, an absurdly big car for narrow Kolkata roads and for this age of fuel economy. I tried to enjoy as much the fact that we have been successful, both my brother and me, in creating a life very different from what we were destined to live.

But then, at times, I sat in our living room doing nothing. The winter sun rose slowly and cut the mist to touch the ground on our back lawn. I walked around barefoot on the dusty grounds and remembered a moment.

It was long time back, I must have been in college then. I was right there, on that lawn, barefoot. It looked like the same Sun, same sunlight and same shadows. It felt chilly just like the other day. I was standing there with the same purposelessness. That moment, I was thinking just like that lost day and time.

Then, I thought I wanted to go abroad and be successful; but the next moment, I felt a deep, plunging pain in my heart. The lawn was too dear, the sunlight was too dear, the moment was too dear to lose. My grandfather, my parents, my brothers were too dear to be away from. I thought myself I can't give this all up. No way. I always wanted to be home. At least so, for that one poignant moment of pain.

This day, I suddenly felt time-shifted and frozen. The slowness of life displayed in full abundance. I tried telling myself that attachment is a barrier to progress, to success. But I was as if glued to my past - the attachment overwhelmed me, and all I wanted to do is to be home.

I soon got back to myself, of today.

But, those few moments of time freeze, I knew I would be glad to be home.

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