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Searching for Home

April 2003
Searching for Home

?Find homes and apartments. Homes, apartments, builders - you can find them all here,? proclaimed one of the many proliferating websites for the booming housing market. The words had been flashing at me for some time now, irritating and distracting me as I tried to finish my assignment for the evening class. I kept ignoring them until I just couldn?t any longer. On a sudden impulse I double clicked on the window. Pictures of beautiful houses came up. There were all kinds of them. Large ones and small ones, expensive ones and reasonably-priced ones, Tudor styled and chateaus, town homes and condos, houses with large backyards and grand front patios, houses with intricate architectural designing and coffered ceilings, those with wonderful living rooms and formal dining rooms, ones with gourmet kitchens and granite counter tops, ones with fireplaces in limestone and hardwood floors. The list seemed endless.

I was amazed by the choices available and knowingly, but unexpectedly wondered if I would ever have a home. The home I had dreamt of all my childhood. I tried to laugh off this silly, romantic, childhood fantasy. I mean there is no such thing as a ?dream home,? right? Well, but I had one! One that I grew up fantasizing about.

The home of my dreams was a cozy one, nothing too grand or spacious. Growing up in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) I had come to realize that space was a luxury and not even in my dreams could I envision a huge house. Not that it bothered me, since I disliked the distances that spaces brought. For me home was about being together and close. It was about being able to peep into each other?s rooms and lives, sharing beds and worries, eating together and telling stories, bumping into each other and their thoughts and mostly about intimacy and warmth. I imagined a house in which I would live happily ever after. Home was a place to plan parties and picnics; a place where my children would grow and which my grandchildren would visit; a place in which I would eventually grow old and die.

There is one thing that is ubiquitous in Bombay and that is the crowd. It is ever-present, all over and everywhere. Eight years ago, I was one of the ten million people who lived in this city. With so many people, life is a blur. Every time you blink you see different faces. But I was at home in that sea of faces. My life was brimming with family and friends. My memories of Bombay are about festivals and music and dance, colors and bright lights, marriage receptions and mithaiyaan, heavy rains and electricity failures, walks and horse-back rides by the beach, eating popsicles and bhel-puri by the road side and pushing my way into the crowded suburban trains.

However, amongst all this noise and commotion of Bombay, one cannot but help notice the calm and timeless Arabian Sea, which outskirts the city. The sea is breathtaking. It is vast and majestic and has an age-old wisdom that can ?t be ignored. The boundless dancing waters give you a perspective of life that few others can. As a child, I just needed to poise my tiny self before the mighty ocean and all my childhood squabbles would simply evaporate into thin air. I would let the invigorating, salty smell of the sea fill my being, and dream of a house by the sea.

London! During my stay there, I was struck by the similarities between it and Bombay. The crowd, the double-decker buses, the corner shops, the busy streets, the over-crowded tubes (underground trains); everything seemed to remind me of Bombay. Maybe it had something to do with the British rule in India. The only thing that was missing was the sea. In spite of the similarities, I remember feeling uprooted in those early days. I knew I had to start my life again but didn?t know how. A life without my friends and family from Bombay seemed unimaginable then. But this was before I moved into William Goodenough House; much before the community at there came to replace my family in India.

The ?Goodenough House is a students? hall of residence which houses nearly 500 single and married, international students along with their families. The three and a half years that I lived in Willy G (as we lovingly called it) are the most memorable years of my life. I met students from all over the world and strangely, it seemed as if the entire world had somehow shrunk into Willy G. There were students from Australia, India, Nigeria, New Zealand, Pakistan, France, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Belgium, Bangladesh, South Africa, America, Iceland, Thailand, China, Singapore, Korea. Oh! It would be impossible to name them all.

Life in Willy G was an enormous party. We had cultural nights of the different regions of the world; there was a Mediterranean night, an Asia night, an America night, an Africa night, so on and so forth when everybody would practice for months and put up plays, folk dances, and musical performances, in fact, anything that would depict the culture of that region. We celebrated Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Chinese New Year. I still remember the children?s Chinese New Year party I had organized which had all Indian performers! That was the spirit of Willy G.

Willy G was my simulacrum of a perfect world. A world where an English and a French, a South African and a Nigerian, and an Indian and a Pakistani could live in peace. It was a world where the concern of one became the worry of all. It was a world where friendship and sociability bred international tolerance. It was a world in which I would have loved to build my home in.

Atlanta! It was my daughter?s third birthday when our flight landed at Hartsfield International airport. I was lost again. I didn?t know where I belonged, rather, doubted if I would ever belong anywhere. Lugging our home from London in our bags I tried to fight the tears welling up in my eyes. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. It is never easy to leave the past behind you, especially when it had been so magnificent.

It took me some time to get used to the space; the space on roads, the space in the houses, the space in the malls and generally, the personal space around people. The dependence on cars and the long distances in many ways added to my sense of isolation. I missed the neon lights and the buzz of London. I pined for the richness of the culture and the cosmopolitanism. For some time, I withdrew into a world of my own and refused to connect with people, pretending to be happy in my own well.

However, no man is an island and with time, slowly but surely, once again I began reaching out. I opened the locked doors of my mind and saw the magic of Atlanta unfold before my eyes.

I began to appreciate the kudzu-lined landscape of Atlanta and its Southern heritage. I learned to treasure the cheerful, sunny days, which were a welcome change from the gloomy and cloudy ones in London. The red, yellow, pink, orange, white and purple flowers of the Azalea in spring and early summer and its brilliantly hued leaves in fall more than made up for the colors of India. I grew to love the tenacity of this city, which had literally risen from the ashes when it was burned down in 1864 and the strength of its peoples. Inadvertently, I had grown to love Atlanta. It was my home now, at least for the time being, until I found a new one.

Having lived in different countries, I have learned the wisdom of the words, ?Home is where the heart is.? Life is not about having ?a? home to live in but about building a home wherever we go. Maybe that is what the postmodern idea of a home is. I have a home in Bombay, London and Atlanta. I think I am very lucky.

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