Twisted Roots

The early 2000s meant the bylanes of Old Lucknow, the chargrilled smell of authentic Tunday kebab, the whitewashed bricks of an ‘almost at the verge of dilapidation’ ancestral house. Despite multiple lessons in learning the difference between home and house, I somehow always found it synonymous.

I was born and brought up in that archaic setting, one that seems ironically alien as I look back. An asymmetrical rectangular house nestled in a compact narrow lane, the shade of a dense peepal tree, shrieks of children playing around the corner with the temple bells adding on to this montage of noise, the warmth of my grandmother’s embrace, the occasional conflicts that would arise in my joint family setup, the bickering of my parents, and many more factors contributed to my understanding of home.

A child’s perception indeed, my worldview was jolted, not once, but multiple times in the years that came.

The very first time that I experienced this sense of replacement was when my parents decided to leave the house they spent some 40 odd years in and shift to a ‘posh’ locality. “It will be good for your education, sweetums,” my Mom said. “Your school would be so near and all your friends would be able to come and visit us,” my Dad added to the reasoning. And to be truly honest, I was excited about this new change. Unlike my peers, I was always eager to seek change in every aspect of my life. The sheer idea of trying something new enlightened my juvenile self. Comfort was boring, and only later did I realise how the entire process of relocation was an attempt to find newer sorts of comfort.

It was a decade and a half into my life that I found myself in a conflicting position. I began yearning for Old Lucknow and would perk up at every chance to visit my erstwhile home. But with every visit, I felt more alien in the place I grew up than ever before. Clearly, I was not at ease with the new home too. The pressure to perform well in academics and ace my entrance exams made me associate the new supposed home with a rampant feeling of anxiety. The new ‘home’ was filled with old ghosts and stranger feelings which reminded me of what Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”, except there was no place to go to and no one to take me in. The only way through was to envision a future where I would be able to find my comfort through yet another change, that is, moving out for higher studies – putting too many expectations on possible future ‘homes’.

Also read: What Do You Do Hours Before Leaving Home?

Two years later, after moving to Delhi, I found myself associating with two worlds. Home became ‘home-town’ and that identity was no longer restricted to older or newer parts of the city, but rather to the city as a whole. The erstwhile expectations from the new city to be my home were already mounting high and I found myself desperately clinging to every possibility of making the city familiar while trying to fit in and find my spaces of comfort, reminiscing the words of Maya Angelou, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

It was in this metropolis that I felt closest to this idea of home. In the dense crowd, I would not feel lost, but rather discovered, for my worries and worth stood relevant and were not questioned. I found my tribe, forged connections, and realised that maybe I needed to be alone to carve out my very definition of home. Maybe I was supposed to be stripped from a supposed meaning of home, placed in an unfamiliar setting, and start the process of solely discovering home in such unknown places.

But as I was getting comfortable with the city and its antics, my career trajectories led me to the farthest corner of the country to pursue my higher education. At this point, although this particular change was accepted as a necessary norm, it was accompanied by the angst of putting in all those efforts of familiarising myself with an unknown setting yet again. This was totally unlike my erstwhile ‘homes’. A single woman with a misplaced sense of home, thereby a misplaced sense of identity was indeed a position rooted in multiple dilemmas. It was probably the pressure to chart this very sense of home and the lack of it that led me to spiral down the dark web.

This web was unfamiliar, nothing like I ever had experienced before. I wanted to place a word to this feeling – this hollow, empty, purposeless existence that I was treading on. I looked into the dictionary, read literature about the lack of identity, and consulted a (rather bad) therapist, yet nothing brought me closer to the task. The lack of belongingness was leading me to the verge of a fatal breakdown, the signs of which began manifesting in my body. It is in these desperate times that we find ourselves clinging to any support offered to us. In this process, I found people. I relied on them more than I should have. I ascribed my meaning of home to these people. Living around them made me happy. But it was only a matter of time before the said people went away and left me as I was – confused. Contemplating, I decided to move back to the closest definition of home – Delhi.

Also read: What Is Home?

Years later, with a multitude of efforts spent on building myself, identifying my roots, and setting the misplaced notions right, I had an epiphany. James Baldwin had claimed that, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” But on the contrary, it was Baldwin himself who juxtaposed that, “You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.” While agreeing with his latter proposition, I realised how every time I concurred upon the value of each home upon abandoning it.

The act of leaving brought with it a sense of belonging and that defined my home, up until now. But why associate something as beautiful as home with a despairing act of deserting. Every such act brought me closer to my core self. Every such act made me contemplate my existence on this planet and its meaning thereon. Every such act was a testimony of the fact that I fought and survived. And each of these times I had one place to come back to, one person to confide in – myself. Be it happiness, anger, sadness, or despair, I found a space to tackle all these emotions. What if a home is neither a structure, an irrevocable condition, a person or people, nor a city, or a community? What if a home is our inner self, the one that reinstates the concept of peace.

Yes, I am my own home!

Shriyanshi Shukla has completed her postgraduation in English Literature and is now working as a Content Executive. Post Modernism, Power structures, and coming-of-the-age literature are some topics that she finds interest in.

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