This was originally written and posted on July 23, 2007. As a result, some of the references are quite dated. That will not interfere with the theme and question "What does the word home mean to you?"
There is a possibility of me moving back to Calcutta for about a year and a half. Knowledge of the plan has been, but naturally, triggering off lot of questions on whether I am happy to be heading back home. Well, the question is not an easy one for me. Answering these also bring back some memories.
I was a day scholar in school. The boarders used to glow with happiness at the end of each term at the thought of returning home. The “home sweet home” inscription had a special meaning for them. That was when I used to live in Asansol.
But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.
I wasn’t raised in Calcutta it seems everyone expects me to think of it as “home”. I am not so sure. “I am I said” by Neil Diamond goes like this: L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time. And the feeling is ‘lay back’… Well I’m New York City born and raised. But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.
I visited Sumit in October 2006 at San Jose. He and his wife drove me to Palo Alto to watch “Aniket." It is about a not-so-fictitious couple attempting a defection back to the “homeland”. They try to fit in and enjoy the best of both worlds but eventually realize that Calcutta has moved on. It survives without their presence anyway. The couple has no option but to rejoin the lost tribe of the Bay Area Bengalis.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.
That evening over dinner and the drive back our conversation touched upon the subject of what the definition of “home” is. In the “Death of the Hired Man” he says “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” To which she rebukes “I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
If you have a reservation in a hotel or a guest house they have to take you in. But that does not make it a home. Nirmal in The Hungry Tide says something like “Home is a place that you refuse to be driven out from”. But for the nomad like me, his wife Nilima’s words “Home is a place where I can make a cup of tea to my liking” is better.
Home is a place where I can make a cup of tea to my liking
In the last eight and a half years I have lived in Bangalore for forty two months, a bit over twenty one months in Calcutta, eleven and a half months over various locations in the US, close to twenty Pune, two in Mumbai, two in Noida, about one in Germany and three weeks in Canada. I think I understand Shaw’s feeling “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” But then I also remember the feeling of homecoming that my wife and I had once when we returned to the project accommodation at Bangalore after a week long trip to Calcutta.
When I mentioned this to a colleague of mine I was surprised to find that I had struck a chord somewhere. He told me about this town in Maharashtra where he had spent the early years of his career. It is a small town where he does not have any childhood memories, assets, or relatives. The few friends who have not moved on are the only familiar faces he gets to meet when he visits the town. But each time he does so he is happy to be back home.
Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head.
Someone called Tad Williams wrote “Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.”
I think I will buy that. To lighten up the mood I will end with a more frivolous quote. “For a lot of people, the weekly paycheck is “take-home pay” because home is the only place they can afford to go with it.”