Where is home?

I have always struggled in my mind and searched my heart for the right answer whenever confronted with that question.

“Home is here,” I tell the lady at Starbucks who has picked up a conversation with me because the barista is brewing a fresh batch.

“No, I meant where did you grow up? ” she asks after she has told me about her recent trip to New Delhi and her upcoming trip to Bangalore.

“Many different places, I have never been at a place for long. This is home now.”

“How many (places)? ”

It always seems very interesting to people when you tell them you have been through 8 schools from elementary to high, you have lived in few different places in the course of it.

I see in the eyes of my fellow latte lover, the desire to hear more of that story. To my respite the Barista is back at the counter. But as I walk back to the car, there is a picture in my mind from one of those many homes that I have lived in. This one is etched so clearly in my mind.

The house sat at the end of the street, in a row of identical red-roofed houses, overlooking a school playground and flanked by an empty stretch of a green park on one side. A single wall split the house into two mirror images of its own. A lawn, a yard, a living room, a kitchen, an eating area, a set of bedrooms on each side of the wall. Everything identical. You could cut the house symmetrically into two halves.

The wall in between was low enough in the front lawn such that we would jump over it to go from one side to another, ignoring the gate that could be used instead. The wall rose to the ceiling from the front porch through the back of the kitchen. It again went down a couple feet in the yard, still tall enough such that we could not jump over it. But we had a tiny opening so that it made passing things over from one home to another easier.

That is the house I remember the most.

The house where a monkey would come visiting by and sit at my window while I did my school work in the afternoons. The house where my friend who lived next door(on the other side of the wall) and I would spend hours sprawled on the front porch, giggling and sucking on mangoes. The house where our mother’s would not know which side of the wall we were on for most part of the time. The house where we always shared things across the wall – food, good news, bad news  and just about everything. The house where there was nothing fancy but freedom was as abundant as sunshine,that is the one I remember the most.

For the first year we lived in that house, we had to take an hour-long bus ride to reach our school. The bus would take us outside of the little township that housed the red-roofed homes into the main road that led to a small rural town, an unknown place in the world map. We would see an old railway station, a high school and the hustle-bustle of small marketplace everyday on our way to school. Once outside the town, the bus would move on an almost single lane road that would go past large mango groves, vast farmlands and mud homes neatly lined up in tiny villages. The school was in another town past the villages, situated on a large area of land with long corridors and large windows in the classroom.

“You lived in a village?” asks my daughter to whom I have continued telling this story.

“Yes. Kind of. It was a little township that sat amidst several villages and a small little town.”

“Did you have electricity?” she asks from her perspective of a rural location.

“We had plenty electricity. In fact, our Dads were the ones who created and generated it. (That’s real. That’s what our dad’s did for a living.).”

Ironically we did not need to use electricity as much. There was no TV (for the longest time), no phones, not many appliances or devices back then.We spent a lot of time running through the maze of identical homes, playing tag and hide-n-seek, biking through the little township, and stopping by a friend’s home uninvited. We were always welcome regardless of what time or whose house we arrived at.

Every house had a different sound from the language they spoke at home, a different aroma of the food that was cooked and a different music playing in the background. We learnt bits and pieces of the languages and picked up a few lines of the different songs to hum. We would go from one home to another at times to treat ourselves. There were the potato pancakes and chutneys, the coconut sweet balls, the flour crepes with sweet fillings and the spicy chickpea, that each house had a unique name for but they were all the same and tasted delicious.

During the festive season, we would hop all day from one home to another eating the endless scrumptious things available – dahi-wadas, puran-poli, malpuas, gujiyas, mysore pak, idli-vadas, sherbets and kaanjis. We used to strategize the order in which we would visit the homes and then decide which home needed a re-visit. All goods collected, we would sit out in the front lawn of one of the homes, eating and laughing to our heart’s content.

Each house also had a small kitchen garden and thus a rich access to what we now term as the organic fresh produce. The mangoes from the near by mango groves would arrive in large baskets, the fish fresh from the pond and the milk available could get the Swiss cows worried. There wasn’t a restaurant that we could go to as such. The closest would be sweet shops in the nearest town. Stores had grains and fresh produce, so jams to jellies to ketchup everything was made from scratch. We grew up thinking that was the norm.

Yet, our mother’s strangely never discussed organic food or healthy eating habits. They did not worry about what we learnt from a neighbor’s home or what we ate there. There was a freedom to explore and experience and learn. We learnt the local language, spoke English at school, Hindi on the play ground and our mother tongue at our homes. It was a natural process. It was actually unheard of that somebody spoke just one language.

At the local school, we would dance to or sing a song that was many a times in a language we did not speak fluently or comprehend completely. But we mastered that too and I can hum a few lines of those songs from some fragment of memory even today.

There were no boundaries, no lines not to cross. Embracing diverse ways of life was never taught to us. The experience of it all just became ingrained in our ways of life permanently.

And then, one fine day, we all grew up and moved out of that unknown little place in the world map and did what we had to do. Looking back, we all did quite well for ourselves. At first, the outside world looked very different than what we had known or ever imagined. I say the outside world because we did live in a little world of our own oblivious to anything outside of it. But adjusting to anything new was not hard for us. Those years in that little township, has left us with a skill to embrace new and different forever in our lives.

And that is the home that I remember the most.I have all but one blurry image of it with me today but the memories are still intact.

On a trip back home two years back, I had found one single image of the childhood home that I remember the most. One single image is all that was there amidst several layers of memories. Memories that were so close to my heart that I wrote them down hurriedly soon after and then somehow forgot about it. That is until today when I discovered the treasure.  

The little unknown place in the map then, now has a Wiki link. Times have changed.