Every time I get on a train the words of the Simon&Garfunkel song, Homeward Bound, come back to me. Where home is takes on different meanings as you get older. One has many homes. As I return to my home town of Vellore for a couple of weeks, I walk a once familiar path, but one I now see differently.When I was in college, the twice yearly train trips from Delhi to Vellore, took me to what was unequivocally my home. My “home” in Delhi was a one room paying guest shared with 13 girls, with one bathroom and a hotplate that periodically had a hissy fit. It was a home of sorts, I guess and our fraternity grew in our combined loathing of the squalor we lived in and our fervent hatred for our landlady (who we’d plot to tell the Indian Revenue Service about… on a day that never came).
When my parents moved to Malaysia in the last year of college, then that become a temporary home on my vacations. Home was where they were. Vellore and the CMC college campus was my home for 18 years, it’s hard to think of it as anything but home and yet now it isn’t mine at all because we don’t live on the college campus any more. If you count all the houses and places you’ve ever lived in for more than 6 months as home, then I’ve had 13 ‘homes’ so far.
My parents no longer live in my home town but my in-laws do and that’s why I’m here for a couple of weeks. My fitness regime has been suffering so in an effort to keep up, I’ve been walking a path once so familiar to me but now almost foreign. When you travel, even if it’s back to your home town, all your senses are jolted awake, turned to the setting marked ON.
This once familiar path was the home stretch – turn the corner at RICA (Academy of Prisons and Correctional Administration), the bus would race down the flat stretch passed the banyan trees with their parcels tied to the hanging roots, and come to a screeching halt as it changed to second at the Polytechnic turn. I’d peer in to the lives and homes of the families who lived by the roadside from the bus windows up high as the bus lurched up the hill in first gear. The college hill on your left that once seemed so imposing when were kids, a popular birthday party hiking trip, then turn right, through the college gates and home.
Walking this route from RICA to the college stadium at Bagayam I realised yesterday it was a measly 2.3 kms walk. What once seemed such a difficult climb up the hill is now I realise a very mild elevation akin to the little pimple currently troubling my lower lip. But being on foot, I’ve had a chance to really look at those once familiar landmarks again. The banyan trees with the parcels or offerings tied to it is actually an ancient form of tree worship. Almost every culture and religion has some form of tree worship or trees standing as symbols. Movies and literature have taken this on too: the White Tree in Lord of the rings, Ewoks worship trees in Return of the Jedi, the talking trees in Narnia, the Eywah life-force tree in Avatar. Who knows how long these offerings to the Banyan tree, considered holy in HIndusim, have been up there or in whose name they were proferred. But I’ve seen them since I was little.
The cluster of government buildings opposite the sprawling Polytechnic acreage I only now know to be the Department for Agri-marketing. Then there’s the people who for as long as I can remember have lived in a cluster of houses right by the road. Who knows who they are or about their lives but they have lived out their lives in the public gaze for an incredibly long time, unable to be relocated even by roadworks.
The college hill, once so imposing like a large mountain, now just a small hill.
I don’t get to take that final turn right in to the college campus gates any more.The place I lived for 18 years is now like a gated community and I have no rights to enter through them. I feel like I’m trespassing and the inquisitive gaze of the guards on duty make me shuffle on by quickly towards the stadium where every sports day I had from the ages of 3 to 10 were held. The track which once seemed too large to orbit, now just a 5 minute loop.
Right now there are thousands of people, of which I am one, who live in towns, cities and countries that they were not born in, raised in, studied in or worked in for most of their lives. Where do you come from? It’s such a simple question but in today’s world the answers are getting more and more complicated. Where you come from is no longer the same as where you live. We have many homes. One you associate with where you grew up, one where your parents are, another where you studied, still another where you honed the beginning of your career, where you pay your taxes, home could be where your husband or wife is/was. In which case I could say that Vellore is the home I grew up in, Nilgiris is the home I holidayed in, Delhi is the home I studied in, London is the home I began my career and adult life in, Wellington was my home as a newly wed and Vizag is the home where my two most precious loves are right now. But if ancestry is where your home is then I’d have to turn to Palghat or Kumbakonam and Birjumilki in Nalanda in Bihar – places I’ve never spent even a day in.
According to Pico Iyer, the notion of home is like a house – constantly going through upgrades and refits in its changing meanings. He says for many of us home has less to do with a piece of soil and more to do with a piece of soul. Apparently the floating tribe of people living outside the country of their birth is around 64 million – what would account for the fifth largest nation on earth.
‘Home is where the heart is’; home is where you hang your hat; home is what you carry around with you. “Where you come from is now much less important than where you are now and where it is you’re going.”