Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Never-ending Question Of Return

Once you left home, my friend told me, you can never go back.

I said I must, as I only wanted to travel to see the world. To learn, as I believed in Gu Yanwu's dictum - walk 10,000 miles, read 10,000 books. I went only as a student, as an adventurer who wanted to live in different places, speak different languages, learn different customs and make different friends. It was very different from wanting to migrate, escape from my roots: Far from it, I dearly loved my city, my house, everything that wrapped around my childhood.

Indeed, my friend had a point, despite the copious amount of beer he would have drunk before he said that. That is the perennial question in a non-resident's life, the question of return. There is a constant weighing of opportunities, the choices being made at every step, the desire of self-renewal up against the desire of being yourself. Besides, home is only an idea frozen in time, not a house just, but the people and the voices and the habits that reside in them. Once you leave, all changes. The people you expect to see when you open the door vanishes as if in magic, the voices change, the habits alter: The house may remain, but it longer remains home.

There is a counter-argument, that home is where love is. Home is that place where you can drop your guard, be yourself and live without conditions, surrounded by people you can call 'my folks'. But that is habit again. Love, in that sense, a habit, a pattern of expectations that you grow over a long period of time, and often based on conditions that you impose. You build friendships where you stay, often based on coincidences, sometimes based on interests. So, seen that way, a traveler builds homes all over the world, even when he is not rich, as he builds these friendships and moments of habit and love and a sense of being.

But I live in expectation still, that I can return. I know the place I return to will be different, but it will still be my journey's worth. I quoted Eliot elsewhere in this blog: 'We shall not cease from exploration/ And at the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time'. In a way, the return is the ultimate adventure, a knowing that was unknown, a rediscovery of my own self and identity. Seen that way, a return is the final reward of any traveler, regardless of how far and wide they traveled, because all of them were only searching for a way to rediscover themselves. All their lives, as is mine, are journeys of return. They always knew where they were going, but just chose a different path to arrive there.

I know my journey wouldn't cease till I return.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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