What is home? Four walls? A picket fence? Marriage? Family?
I never really lived with my grandparents. But each year when we visited during the summer holidays, Amma, my grandmother would tell me about her home in Pakistan, a big, beautiful tree and the lake where she would swim in the afternoons as a young girl. A home she would never see again. Her new home was Bombay. Initially in a refugee camp and then a one bedroom apartment that was shared between at least eight people. They shared a single bathroom and a kitchen so small it could barely fit one slight person. Eventually, when my father and his siblings grew and started earning living, they were able to move into a bigger place — four bedrooms and two shared baths, a black and white checkered tiled floor that is permanently etched in my brain. I was born in that house. Well, a hospital. But that was the first “home” I knew.
We moved every two years. State to state, packing and unpacking. Barely settling in before being uprooted over and over again. It all feels like a haze now. There were some happy times though and I think my parents tried their hardest to give us a home. A beautiful memory of home I have is looking out my bedroom window one morning and seeing a rock planter with pink, yellow, red and white dahlias and gladioli smiling back at me.
Years later, my father retired and joined the Indian Airlines in Hyderabad, a domestic air carrier that eventually got taken over by Air India. Having to no longer move, my parents finally built their first home there from the ground up. A house they continue to live on till date. By this time, the restlessness in me had set in. As much as I craved stability as a child, movement had now become a part of my ethos.
Even now, I am bored easily. I’ve been in the US for twelve years and we’ve already moved four times. From the one bedroom we moved into as newlyweds to our current place that we bought a couple of years ago. Being legal aliens (a term that is begging for its own essay because maybe I am expected to sprout three extra eyes and five more arms) in this country, I was overcome the first time we came to see the place. Was it the large windows or the nine foot tall doors? Was it the balcony with the view of the mountains or the beautiful ensuite? Or was it a combination of everything? Perhaps it was the excitement of moving (yet again) and the tiniest chance that I might want to finally set down roots that sealed the deal. I’m not going to lie, I continued to wander around on Zillow.
But a few months after we’d moved in, I was alone in my living room one evening. The sun had set and there was a nip in the air. I stared at the roaring fireplace and suddenly a soothing sensation of calm, contentment, achievement and extreme gratitude washed over me. For that fleeting moment, I was home.