A special place in your mind
Home isn’t just a where
It’s a why, a how, a who
Also a with whom.
Home is where the heart longs to beat.
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Here’s a post from a long time ago. I’ve tidied it up but the memory remains (anyone get that reference?). Here’s to my discovery of myself, to my finding home.
When people ask,
“Born and brought up here?”
I have to pause to think how to answer. I’ve tried various versions of ‘Born in the Capital and grew up in Island City’. That’s so pretentious, isn’t it? But it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel fair to either city to say anything else. I could just nod my head. After all, who cares where you spent the first month of your life, if you’ve lived elsewhere after that? But it is the first month of my life (actually more, if you count the months my mother was pregnant with me). It’s the place on my birth certificate. It’s where my mother hails from. How can it not be important to the question of where I’m from?
It’s an odd feeling to belong to two different places simultaneously like this. Just like our relationships with people, there are invisible bonds that link us to places too…places that contain strong memories, places we’ve experienced life most in..
Each visit to the capital brings up parallel voices inside of me, conflicting, contradicting and highlighting the differences in the two places. If a city could be the motherland, I’m the proverbial Krishna, originating from one and flowering in another.
Mumbai has left an undeniable chappa on me, shaped my thinking and attitudes. Visiting Delhi however, invokes odd feelings that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I suppose it is a symbolic return to the womb, a reminder of how life could have been, still could be. Having a birth certificate from a city links you to that place for life. Mumbai is in my every waking moment and movement, in my brisk ‘lets-get-down-to-it’ attitude, my indifference to crowds and noise and precision-honed efficiency. Delhi however, whispers its hidden influences in my intellectualising, my love of the good life and long conversations.
It’s cold. But not coooooooooooooold. That’s the first thought that hits me as I alight at Nizamuddin. I remember the dire warnings I’ve received over the past week about the winter in Delhi. Sure, everyone looks plumper (and that’s saying something….the average figure pays testimony to well-fed stomachs) and brighter draped in woolens and feathers (And I always thought these were the grey things that pigeons shed!).
As the day progresses, I can’t help reflecting that in Mumbai food takes longer to cool than to heat up. And oh, what an odd feeling to keep feeling hungry every hour! Mom is delighted and hints that my weight-gain plan might succeed if I shift here.
Shopping is always a great experience in Delhi, even for shop-a-phobics like me. I love the colour, the sheer feel of the ‘arty’ look, kurtas, jholas, mojris and trinkets. Idly I muse that I’ve never seen Delhiites wear any of this, though its considered the ‘Delhi look’. And oddly enough I’ve only seen all of this stuff on Mumbaikers who proudly say “I picked it up on my last visit to Delhi”.
The people look different; even their skin ailments look different. I can’t see any of the familiar pimples and acne that adorn Mumbai faces. There are instead, red splotches and little bumps which I assume must be a combination of colder weather and skins endowed with far less melanin.
Every single person I arrange to meet offers to pick me up or drop me back or both. Hmm, I think, I can’t imagine my Mumbaiker friends doing that any more than I can imagine my permitting them to. As always I hate not being able to travel around freely but I take note of the gentle solicitousness it seems to invoke in people here.
Books, books, BOOOOOKS!!!!! I’ll never be able to hate Delhi so long as it has its books. Mumbai’s workaholism drowns out any possibility of culture appreciation. If Mumbai is the place to make money, Delhi’s the place to spend it. I also see a band playing in one of the corners of Connaught Place. Intrigued I stand and listen to the music belting out of the makeshift speakers. How wonderful, the drummer’s a girl! I can’t imagine amateur musicians making music at street corners like this. Come to think of it, where would they play….Churchgate station?
I gape, all open-mouthed wonder at the neat manicured lawns, shining signboards and broad roads all through our jaunts. I make snide comments about how Mumbai pays at least 1/3rd of the country’s taxes and gets so few benefits in return while the Delhi lives off the rest of the country’s earnings in splendour. I remind my co-passengers of the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ and get muttered threats for reply.
No trip to Delhi is complete without the mandatory visit to the chaatwala. Yum, yum I drool as I watch potatoes and unidentified stuff being mauled in as unhygenic conditions as possible. Oh, to hell with hygeiene I tell that nagging voice and tuck into the ‘halka masala mixed fruit chaat’. My mouth was on fire for an hour afterward. Grr, Delhiites must have cast-iron cauldrons for stomachs.
Somewhere in the back of my consciousness floats pictures of homeless people, victims of the tsunami. I wonder, if a natural disaster had struck up north, would Delhi have been so complacent and matter-of-fact? Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that springs to mind.
Not that there aren’t conversations. Politics, politics, does every single Delhiite from age 7 upward own a degree in Political Science??? I feel woefully ignorant in all this chatter. That’s until someone mentions a movie and the talk turns to Bollywood. Then I inform them that I’ve stayed within a kilometer from the Big B’s residence and that Vivek Oberoi was my senior in college. HAH! I love the grudging admiration that shines in their eyes as I throw out these facts with an air of disdainful nonchalance.
Saturday and its time to leave. As the capital gears up for a weekend (what’s a weekend to a city that seems to be either lazing or partying during the week?), I pack my bags. I’m so relieved, so relieved, so utterly delirious to be coming back to Mumbai. On my train I’m glad that the other family in the cubicle is from Mumbai and I won’t have to endure declarations of ‘Dilli sabse number one city‘. I spend the journey reclaiming my Mumbainess. I take an almost devilish delight in graphic details of Mumbai trains to a group of youngsters on their first trip. I see one gulp and I smirk. I chase every stereotypical notion of Mumbai and wear it almost desperately to prove my origins. As the train whizzes into Borivili, I sigh, home sweet home. Nothing reminds me more about how much I belong here, than a visit to Delhi. Yeah, Delhi does that. It’s never very far away and I’m afraid it’ll claim me someday. But for now, my Island City holds me safe.
Mid-week I stared at my computer screen wondering what to write. I had promised myself earlier this month that I would write more from the heart and less because it was ‘engaging content’. I struggled. I thought my love affair with this blog might have died. I thought my need to express my raging sentiments in an open space and throw my heart open to strangers might be a thing of the past. I need only have waited a day.
Yesterday I met Jinal. This was our fourth in-face meeting. The first time was years ago. Three different people who had no connection to each other, mentioned her in conversation. Who is this person that everyone wants me to meet, I wondered. A couple of days later, I found an email from her saying she had read my blog and would be in Mumbai and would I be free to meet her for coffee? Coffee turned into confessional, friendship came pouring out of that one conversation we shared. It continued over chats and emails written as if they were no different from that instant connection we made over the first coffee. Yesterday I told her I even remembered what she had said, that made me fall in love with her. See, that’s how Jinal is. Easy to fall in love with, easy to say that to.
We talked about the space that we both inhabit, this time as professionals. Years ago, when we first met, we were both like kids running around and clutching at the shiny, colourful thing that digital connectivity was. Now we each navigate it as business drivers shaping its numerous uses for commercial enterprise. We spoke of the new developments in the field, contrasted India and the US in their digital topographies. We compared notes on people that we knew in common.
Then in the evening, Jinal went on to address a talk titled ‘Geographies of the Heart‘ at the Godrej India Culture Lab. I had wondered what it would be like to listen to a close friend, not over the cosy intimacy of a coffee but as she played a certain role on stage, cast with a projector and Powerpoint for co-actors. She spotted me and gestured to the row behind me. Her parents were sitting there. She opened her talk introducing them to the gathering as well and admitting that she was nervous because this was the first time they were to hear her speak on stage. I knew then, that my apprehensions were unfounded. Jinal would be Jinal, even labelled with a fancy corporate designation and in an impressive setting, no different from the warm girl I’d met in a suburban coffeeshop. It’s hard to describe why her talk affected me so profoundly. Maybe it is the girl herself and how sensitive and warm she is herself. But I think it also has a little to do with the story she told. I often feel it too.
We might be the only generation ever to know this painfully sweet thing. We grew up with single channel Doordarshan and now we navigate diverse connections of multimedia-enabled, access-layered communication. Communication is the building block of relationships, isn’t it? And of attitudes, of thought and ultimately of action. Dare I even say it? Digital connectivity has opened up a new lifetime for us. Jinal and I might never have met, had it not been for blogs, for common friends who in turn were linked to us, not by a shared school or workplace but by the platforms that we were exploring together. Her ideas shape some of mine as I imagine mine shape hers.
I became an active voice in conversations about the LGBT community because a friend, someone I met through digitalia again, was gay and going through a difficult time with her family. I found myself suddenly wearing the mantle of crusader for women’s rights when my personal diary became a source of interest (and very occasionally inspiration) for younger women who read it. My ideas about responsibility, about politics, about feminism, about culture, about art and writing and about myself changed and evolved through these conversations. I was all set to be a good middle-class Tamil girl who would go on to a respectable career, an appropriate marriage and family life. Instead, I became ME (none of these things but, curiously so much better). I often dwell on the problems digitalia has brought – the lack of human interaction, the unrealistic schedules and their effect on health, the hyper-stress laid on young adults. I don’t enough think about the many gifts it has brought us. Digitalia shaped my power, my place in the world. How much more of a blessing can that be?
It seems silly to me now that I would think that my love affair with my blog is over. That’s akin to my saying that my interest in life is done. Because this connection, this ability to talk to you, to a faceless stranger seeing my words on a computer screen or a smart device, this dissolving of geography, time, race, age and gender – this is what my life is about, has been for about half of it. I am so lucky. I am digital and that does not make me a robot. Quite the contrary, it makes me a global citizen, one who has the privilege of friendships across the globe, conversations & insights that aren’t money or country restricted. The world is my playground and I say that with immense gratitude.
This would be a good time to tell you that in the middle of this month, I completed a decade of being IdeaSmith. I can’t really remember the exact date but somewhere in the May of 2004, the word ‘IdeaSmith’ popped into my head as I looked at the sign up screen of a blogging platform. This journey has shaped me, given rise to interesting associations and brought me a career that fulfils and enriches me. Thank you so much, thank you for all the love and the connection that made this possible. What a wonderful 10 years it has been!
“This home looks really broken down.”
looking at the photograph.
I heard pity in my friend’s voice. For a heart that had made room.
But I remembered the goodbye. A welcome that wasn’t returned.
And the plastic mask-shield came back to protect me again. From rain and from pain.
I read out this post at the Caferati Open Mic at Prithvi day before yesterday. Coming on the heels of a 2hour commute, it felt especially apt. 🙂 And the evening ended on a lovely note.
Let’s take a trip, you & I. Let’s go looking for home.
HOME. Home isn’t just a where.
It’s a when. It’s a why. It’s a who. And also a with whom.
Home is in somebody’s hug, when they hold you in just the right way. Not too close, not too tight. When arms but also face, torso and stomach fit into you or onto you. Without design but perfectly right.
Home is in an old song that you first heard in happy times.
It’s a scent that brings back a good memory. Like your first boyfriend’s cologne. Frying fish like your Goan neighbors used to cook. Talcum powder from the baby you’re holding, reminds you of your own childhood.
To a reader, every library and every book store is home.
But home isn’t just memories of pretty things. After all, memories are tangled messes but unique messes nevertheless. A room that is messed up exactly the way you define a mess, will feel like home. Is it clothes that fall out in bundles when you open the cupboard? Newspaper tatters? Food drippings on the refrigerator shelves? Or intricate pencil marks on the wall? The messes that we learn to live with, follow us loyally and make a bunch of bricks seem like home.
Having somewhere to go back to, even if you don’t, is home.
And then people. People who recognize the same references that you do. People whose skin is the same colour when everyone else is a different hue. People who think in the same language. People who call God, the same name. People who sometimes have answers to your questions but mostly, have the same questions too. You may not like them, but hey, they’ll sure feel like home to you.
This blogger calls her blog, home.
Home is objects that have moulded themselves to you. Worn-in shoes. Old undergarments aged to comfort & holes. Hair of the texture and colour you were born with. Toothbrush bristles bent to the contours of your mouth.
The bed you wake up in, after a good sleep will feel like home.
Home is the numbers on a clock and a calendar that carry many stories. Hot summers when everything tastes of mangoes. June approaching with the mixed dread/excitement of back to school. The date of your birth in every other month of the calendar.
Home is having the happy birthday song sung to you.
Home, where you’re used to reaching without thinking and finding just what you were looking for. Mints in the middle drawer. A pen wedged under the keyboard stand. A crumpled handkerchief in your right pocket. A phone number listed under 1 on speed-dial.
Home is who you call when you have nothing to say.
Everyone and every thing that inhabits the world of your vices, has a place in your home. Cigarettes, alcohol, toxic relationships or bad eating habits. Home is every person who shares your vice. Also the objects that fuel it. And finally, the reason you turned to vice in the first place – that’s home too. But take heart, the ex- once felt like home. In conversations & experiences that heal you, there’s home again.
Home is the person you list as your emergency contact.
Home is what stays with you after you’ve shut the door. It travels with you in your suitcase, your pocket, your mobile phone and even in the smell of your own hands. It’s a hard thing to know yourself but it’s easy to know what you recognize.
In a long life of shifting structures and changing addresses, I hope you’ll always find your way home.
The picture above was shot in the study of my last house. It was the first home I’d ever created of my own. This room was my ‘safe space’ in the house. My favorite space in my favorite place. It was peaceful and overlooked an overgrown, untended garden with no disruptive city sights or sounds. At exactly 4pm, a pair of parrots from the house (yes house, not flat) down the road would start chirping. That was my cue that the sun had ceased to attack and the curtains could now be opened. And each evening as I’d open the window, the herb plant I’d kept on each window sill would send up a whiff of its own special scent.
Occasionally, when a close friend would stay over, they’d sleep in there. It was the warmest, most welcoming haven I could offer someone I cared for. I felt like I’d taken the softest, loveliest part of my heart and built a room out of it.
A month and a half ago, I was made to leave by someone I trusted innately. I miss it a lot. I feel like something valuable has been stolen from me. I feel like a huge gaping part of me has been ripped away and I’m finding it really hard to forgive the person responsible for it. Maybe I never will.
But there’s another feeling, a new one and that’s something for an intense, feeling person like me. Every time rage builds or pain, I find it catching in my throat. Instead of letting it rip out, I stop in my tracks. I find myself gasping, my chest racking for breath that seems a few clawing steps away. I let it wash over me. Then sometimes and it’s only sometimes, I feel it ebb. And all there is, is silence, the kind I’ve never experienced before.
I’m still looking for that safe space, that spot of serenity inside me. But since I’ve seen it a few times, it has to be in there somewhere. Serenity has to be something no one can take away from you.
Strangers are walking
All over the space
That I so lovingly built
Inch by loving inch
Minutes, hours and days of dreams
And soap water and scrubbing
And cleaning, folding and smoothing
And filling with love and colour
I’m standing on the outside,
Clutching a bittersweet memory
While inside, the revelers debate the idea of home
A home I created that has no room for me anymore
What would the heartless know about home?
But perhaps they do.
It takes one to talk about it.
And another completely, to build what I did
A home for the heartless.
Home is a place of comfort, but not necessarily luxury.
It’s discovery, soapy finger by soapy finger, under layers of dust & other people’s existence. It’s building it, one familiar memento at a time. It’s owning it, inch by inch with every step, every piece of my own life that I put down in it. It’s looking around and saying, “I created this.”
Home is a state of mind, as much as of a place I’m at.
It’s where I feel able to take off my clothes, my masks, my inhibitions and my fears. It’s the place I fall asleep, when everywhere else is just a space for a nap. It is a place, a time, a person, a mood, a state of being that recognizes me, that facilitates me, that makes it possible for me to be me, that says, “So-and-so lives here.”
Home is where I lay my hat but it’s also where I rest the deepest, most precious part of my soul. There’s nothing more personal than home. Home, truly, is where my heart is.
Two very different pop culture references to home:
First, Jagjit Singh in an Asian Paints ad, which puts into words that irrevocable attachment we feel to home:
“Har ghar chupchap se yeh kehta hain, ke andar isme kaun rehta hain
Chhat batati hain, yeh kiska asmaan hain
Rang kehte hain, kiska yeh jahaan hain
Kamron mein kiski kalpana jhalakti hain
Is farsh pe nange pair, kiske bachche chalte hain
Kaun chun chunke ise pyaar se sajata hain
Kaun is makaan mein, apna ghar basata hain
Har ghar chupchap se yeh kehta hain, ke andar isme kaun rehta hain
Kyonki har ghar kuch kehta hain”
“A home whispers of who lives inside it
The roof tells us who owns that piece of sky
The colours speak of whose world that is
Whose are the dreams that sparkle in each room
Whose are the children who run barefoot on these floors
Who has adorned this space, bit by loving bit
Who has made their home within these four walls
Because every home says something”
And secondly, a Simon & Garfunkle song called Homeward Bound which tells of that intangible sense of incompleteness & yearning that surrounds us when we are far from home.
“All my words come back to me,
in shades of mediocrity,
like emptiness & harmony,
I need someone to comfort me.
Homeward bound, I wish I was.”
We all need a place to belong to and home is what lets us know that there is room for each of us in this universe.
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