Thursday, May 05, 2016

Vacating a home

Spark magazine's topic this month was 'Home' and it couldn't have been more timely. My latest publication is a straight from the heart essay about the difficulty of leaving a home - a space we inherit not only with our bodies, but also with our hearts. Read on.

Vacating a Home

Serendipity was tucked away in a corner of a box full of papers. It was a neatly folded letter from the early days of the new millennium, confirming my acceptance into a university in the United States. Long years have passed since. I went to that university, got a job, got married, became father to two lovely children and yes, became a home owner too. The clich├ęd pursuit of the “well-settled life” was done with great gusto and our house in the U.S. became a projection, a storehouse and a generator of our dreams.
Over the years that I have stayed in the country, I have walked through the Indian immigrant dilemma of whether to stay or to go back. After much deliberation, my family and I are relocating back to India. It is a momentous decision that was debated over and over, caused much heartburn and required overcoming that feeling of nervousness in the pit of my stomach.
Change, when foisted upon you, is easier to overcome. You are aware that the circumstances give you no measure of control. You have no choice but to react. However, change, when voluntarily done, requires quite often a leap of faith and overcoming of fears. Such a change is now upon me and I am embracing it with cautious optimism. I am not only leaving a house I have lived in for eleven years; I am also vacating a country I have been in for fifteen. It is now time to settle into a new house in an old-new country. However, before I get there, my house needs to be vacated. Emptied, like the corner of the heart it occupies.
If only I had the ruthless pragmatism to think of it as a place built of wood and plaster, shuttered by windows and doors. If only I could look at it and say, “what else is there to this place other than the roof that shelters and comforts?” It is not merely that. It never could be. It could never be just that because it would always be the place I brought my sons home to. And while I have lived in many houses all through my life, this is the only place my sons have known to be theirs. It is in this house that their laughter cackled in the bright sunshine that blessed it through the large French windows. It is in this house that their cries pierced through the walls of their room as they wrestled through the fear of monsters in their nightmares. It is in this house that we watched them lie on their backs and kick their arms and legs as parents and grandparent doted on them. It is in this house where their hesitant steps turned into a canter as their limbs found the strength that their hearts always had. No, it would never merely be a house for it is here that we have lived by ourselves and also as hosts, enjoying the company of countless people close to us, letting their memories leave a mark. Many a song was sung here, many a joke shared, many a toast raised and many a moment anointed to be special.
It is not a trivial task to vacate this house we made our home and leave, even if the newer surroundings are an adventure in the making. You have to steel yourself mentally, because every nook and cranny, every pillow you upturn, every cupboard you open treasures a memory that hits you like seeing a crush from the past after several years. A T-shirt from an event you had long forgotten, a gift given to you with love but one you never used, a toy in the garage that your kids have long since outgrown, a computer running an operating system that became irrelevant a long time ago and much more.
Every object is a problem that needs to be solved – are we going to carry this forward or do we let it go? What starts as an emotional question soon becomes a practical challenge. Moving from a well-established house in the U.S. to India means that downsizing becomes a pressing need. Not all the furniture can be taken along. Not all the toys need to be carried with you. Documents surely need a lot of triaging and the sheer difference in voltages renders many appliances difficult to use without additional work. It took us over a week to go through this sorting exercise.
I came to this country with two suitcases, flirting nervously with the maximum weight I was allowed to carry. As I saw the movers pack our stuff, I realised that those two bags wouldn’t hold a hundredth of the things I am taking back, enough to fill up a container that will travel on the high seas. Somewhere along the way, we all cross the sweet spot for our needs, waving our large houses and larger appetite for consumption in their face. The movers were at work for three days, taking the first two to pack and using the third to load up the container. The container would then go an arduous journey of its own, snaking its way through some shipping route in the Pacific Ocean and making its way to a port in India where the fine people of the Indian customs department would let it through once they have established the proper duties and taxes.
I am writing these words from an empty room in an empty house. We are bereft of furniture, the utensils have been kept to a bare minimum and the ominous presence of large TV screens has been dismissed. This is like a Benjamin Button story, going from 100 to 0. The style of living is minimalist, with sleeping bags and pillows and the bare essentials (roti and kapda to keep us company in the makaan). The epiphany about having too much is compounded with the epiphany that having little does nothing to deter us from enjoying our lives. Those same kids, who play with a hundred-dollar Lego set are perfectly at home bouncing a ball against the wall and playing catch or chasing each other in a house that now permits them the space to do so.
The day will come soon when we will vacate this house and another family will fill it with their furniture, memories and dreams. Until then, I’ll savour the place, sitting in my favourite corners of the house, sipping my coffee, mulling over the past and looking forward to the serendipitous discoveries that await me where I go next.