by Mandira Pattnaik
Before any of our reckoning happens, one must first assimilate. Consider “Home.” Feel about home, feel it under the skin, like the warm rush of blood. Home — the inspiration of poetry, the soil of longing, the destination of all return. Garden, hearth, dwelling, domicile. Ah! It evokes a whole gamut of emotions!
I always feel a little jealous of people who can speak so adoringly about place, about a fragment under the sky. Home is undoubtedly a familiar set of things that lend themselves to concrete representation: cobbled or tree-lined streets; bustling taxi-parked corners; shopping boulevards; or the farmer’s fair where you met your future husband. Home is also much more than the physical existence of a single place. The argument is to embrace the wider spherule, encompass the varied limitless set of experiences one may identify with and be proud of.
As many of us who have grown up in multiple rural and urban spaces, imbibing newly-arrived cosmopolitan culture in a mixed and diverse nation on the throes of dramatic change, it is the expansive definition of home that I decidedly embrace. At least some of these regularly creep into my writing. The Vera Moda store, the neighborhood butcher’s place, or the signs of destruction from a recent flood, position themselves as greedily in my narratives as a bohemian beach or a maddeningly busy bazaar. It’s like a grand buffet table waiting to be plundered.
I suspect every time I look at the distant leather-factory chimneys, at the west-facing balcony of the apartment across the street, at the rusted hinge on my bedroom door, it is with a surreptitious motive. I conspire to make them characters in my writing; the same way as I do with the recurring tropical storms, the punishing summers and the torrential monsoons. A bus on the shoulders of a snaking road, encroaches in my story about dreams. Suburban dwellings woven near the rail tracks in Chennai become the hilltop hamlet of Shillong. The familiar and the unfamiliar exist in a juxtaposed reality. I love the fascinating garbs they take from my imaginary wardrobe, and dress themselves up, like going to a fancy dress ball — a level of cross-universe absurdity that, I’ve no qualms admitting, I sometimes disapprove of! But of course, all these are home.
As many of us write from a non-native English background, we’re sometimes found wanting on global pop culture references. Writing long, detailed dialogues is also a problem-area. To compensate, I like to capture the beautifully and emotionally surcharged imagery abundant around me, the endowment of an ‘expansive’ home. I remember the cloudless sky on the day we left a place I was singularly attached to as a pre-teen, the glowworms on my first jungle visit, and the particular twang with which a grocer spoke though his language was foreign to me. I’ve saved them all these years, filed and tagged to use later. Or, the halcyon in my garden now, the one I’ve watched “for a full half-hour” like Wordsworth!
My idea of home is an urgent calling to respond to what I see and hear: a daily commute, a festival, a museum included. Being a perpetual outsider means one can be at home everywhere. Somehow I feel detachment and embrace are not mutually exclusive.
There’s a home everywhere you look, feel at home about it. Who lives in a home has plenty!
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