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November 13, 2016

Where Is Home?

Text by Radhika Swarup. Illustration by Hemant Sapre

Is it the place you’re from or the spot you’re hanging your hat at the moment?

‘Let’s go home,’ my children say to me after an extended trip to their grandparents’. Home for them isn’t the house I grew up in. It isn’t the country I grew up in, either, and every time they talk of going home, I wonder just where it is.

Is it more than the four walls you live in; is it more than a bend in the road that first allows you to see a familiar landmark?

Is it more than the streets you have walked for years? Is it more than the park you take your children to every weekend?

Of course it is. Material possessions are just that. They allow you to be comfortable, to belong to a club. They’re not home.

What then, defines home? We are increasingly global citizens, travelling beyond the homes we grew up in. Seeing new worlds, speaking new languages, living new and unfamiliar lives. Is home your childhood? Is it the memories of your growing years?

Is it rain lashing on your window, miles away from India, reminding you of the monsoon?

Is it staying glued to the television, or pressing reload on an office browser when you should be working, just so you can follow the Indian cricket team win, lose, lose again, and then snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Is it that first cup of ginger tea on misty mornings on visits back ‘home’?

Is it the first mango of summer?

Is it the scar your knee still carries from that childhood bike fall?

Is it when you see a Hindi movie with a friend, complaining all the while about the slapstick humour and the unlikely dance routines, pretending not to love the spectacle of it all?

Is it your oldest friend still remembering your birthday, even though years pass between visits?

Is it going back to your university town, and seeing a version of your own teenage self? Younger than you are today, more energetic, and more idealistic. Less worn down by the world. Is that home?

Or is it the song that comes on the radio — after all these years — that transports you to your first crush, to the throes of your first romance?

Home doesn’t just rest in memories. You won’t find it in shadows, or in regrets. As I have travelled and moved home — localities, countries, continents — I have come to sense that you can’t define home as a physical presence. Nor is it a yearning. It is not an absence, a lack of something or someone.

Nothing remains static. We all change, reacting to new experiences. New people we love start to signify home. Children, partners, friends.Home is the property you build. It is the family you create. It is those you nurture — friends, parents, companions. It is the people who allow us to shape them as much as they shape us.

Home is aching to get away from your family. It is escaping from their squabbles and endless dramas about homework, torn books and wrong clothes. It’s getting away from them for a weekend, relishing your brief freedom, and then aching to get back to their small, warm bodies and tight hugs. It is complaining about your first-born always coming into your bed in the early morning, and then missing them when they don’t.

It isn’t just memories of your childhood. The past informs who you are, it allows you to feel younger, or older, to feel happy about where you’ve come or nostalgic about what you’ve lost. But it isn’t home.

Home is what grounds you. It is what makes you feel like you belong. It is the people who allow you to change them as much as they change you. This may be a pet. This may be a partner or a child or a parent or a sibling. This may be your own treasured company. This may be someone who frustrates you as much as they delight you. But it is someone who gives as much to you as you give to them. It is someone who allows you to be lazy on a Sunday. It is someone who lets you just be. And that, by any definition, is home.

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