Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Anxious About Home

I have not been home in three years. Time, money and visa issues have kept me away this long. Before this extraordinarily long spell, the longest I had stayed away from home was a year. And now I am anxious to go back home for good AND am anxious about going back home.

The place I think of as home is Madras. First of all, why am I anxious to go home? Logically it makes no sense. I have never lived in Madras as an adult. I went to school there for a few years. My parents have always had a home there and I have spent every holiday there as long as I was still in India, all Deepavalis and all Pongals and so on. And most of my extended family, namely my aththais and chiththappas and mamas and perimaas live there. But all of this does not make it home, does it? I am too old in one sense and not old enough in another to feel nostalgia for family. So that can’t be it. What about friends then? But I have no friends left in Madras. All of them are either here in the US, or someplace else in the world, but none in Madras. As far as company and companionship goes, I am better off here than in Madras. So, that’s not it either.

And Madras must be a completely different place now from when I last lived there, oh so many years ago. I left Madras before there were so many Coffee Days and Food Worlds, before Lifestyles or Shopper’s Stop had opened, before there were Italian restaurants and Mexican restaurants that people actually went to. And even this knowledge is three years old now and I have no clue what the latest “happening” things in Madras are. I hear that young people, even middle class ones like me, now have such places to go as clubs and pubs and Salsa classes. If that is true, then the Madras they live in is different from the one I did.

Sometimes I think I want to go home because I miss little things. Having masala chai and vada in the afternoon, onion rava dosa and coffee whenever I feel like it, going to my neighborhood Shiva temple on Pradosham (I am not religious, but I love the resonance of people chanting Rudhram and the ringing of bells), the smell of Jasmine from vendor’s baskets in the evening, going to the smaller concerts during the music season and many more itsy bitsy things like that. But that is not it either. Each of these little things that I remember now through the rose tinted lens of nostalgia will in reality be accompanied by some irritant I have gotten unused to by now.

The real reason I think I am anxious to go home is a sense of nostalgia for a time when I lived in a place where I BELONGED. Now, what is this sense of belonging really? On the one hand it is a very real and material thing. On the other it is this ethereal thing that is hard to put to words. First, let me state the real part of things, which incidentally is also the part mostly inconsequential to my day to day life. If only by accident of birth, I am Indian and hence India is where I belong. The one place in the world I have rights and duties. If I do something wrong I can go to jail, but cannot be thrown out of the country as it is MY country, right? And if you are a serious citizen of the society you belong to, then you take your duties seriously and that adds to your sense of belonging. You stay politically and socially aware, take a stance on whatever the issue of the day is and try to do your two cents worth whenever the opportunity presents itself and you feel good about it. I was a serious citizen when I was in college, but as grad school progressed I increasingly tuned the world out and lived only in my own mind. Only recently have I opened my senses to the world outside and am trying to get involved again. Remains to be seen how successful I will be at this.

So much for the “real part”. The ethereal part of the sense of belonging one does not see until one has left the place where one belongs. When I was in India, my identity or sense of self was defined by how different I was from other people. But then, I left home, lived in strange places and met strange people and then realized how essentially Indian I am, how much of what I am now has been determined by the conditioning that the society I grew up in imposed on me. And since I have a positive feeling about the way I turned out, I yearn to go back to the place that made me become this way. Of course, if I felt negatively about the aspects of my character that came about by my social conditioning, like some of my friends do, then I would have felt differently.

And finally why am I anxious about going home? Well, this one is easy. My home is a different place now from when I left it. And I am a different person now even if you only consider the fact that I was 20 when I left home and will be 30 when I go back, an adult that has lived essentially by herself for a decade. When this changed person goes back to the changed home will they still belong together? That is the million dollar question.


Revealed said...

All the best with that. Silver lining type thing: Onion rava dosais and coffee are to die for even accompanied by all the irritants in the world :D. The commandments have been broken for less :)

CuriousCat said...

Revealed: Thank you! I feel the same way and hence the decision to go home anyway :)

blue dot green said...

You will see an old city with lot more cars and malls, ad more poor people... and a city whose infrastructure is over-burdened by the unprecedented development everywhere! ... but then its fun anyways... Home will always be Home!
Have a good time!

CuriousCat said...

blue dot green : " Home will always be Home!" you said, and thank you for that! I sure hope it will..