At Home, Always

At Home, Always

I first moved out of my parents' home in Chennai when I decided to pursue my degree in Economics from the University of Delhi. My father threw a fit. My mother bribed me with incentives to stay back. Nothing worked. We had a cold war for three months at home. They tried to reason, 'but we have no friends or relatives there', 'where will you stay?', 'how will you manage?', 'what can we do if there's an emergency, sitting nearly 4000 kilometres away?' I didn't relent… and they gave in. I did find my own set of friends and ‘chosen family’ in Delhi. But I would be lying if I told you that I never felt homesick.

The first day after a vacation back home would be the worst. I felt so removed and disconnected from the world around me. The language was different, the people and their culture seemed abhorrent, and the food was never as good as what I got at home. Nonetheless, I continued to take up work assignments after college in every place but Chennai.

My work experience took me across the fields of Haryana, the hills of Odisha, the jungles of Chhattisgarh, the mountains of Ladakh and back to the grey mess that is Delhi. In fact, during my brief stint working in the villages of Haryana and Odisha, my accommodation was so modest that I literally lived out of my suitcase. My dressing materials were stacked on window sills and I had a sparse room furnished with one cot, table and chair. A ten-by-ten square foot room became my home. The tribal communities I worked with became my family.

My penchant for travelling constantly placed me in new environments and amidst strangers. Strangers who would soon become friends. I was curious to try out different food items. I actively bought and wore clothes that suited the local climes. When I returned to Chennai after seven years of being out and about, my mother tongue Tamil seemed accented. My mother's food seemed too spicy or sour or never up to what I had imagined it to be.

Then came a work stint of six years in Chennai. And thanks to the pandemic, the better half of that duration was spent only between home and office. I ate my mother's food three times a day, the security guard at the metro station became a familiar face and the chaiwala became my close friend. And after that long period, I chose to leave the job, travel again and get started with a new place of work. 

So I travelled again, lugging a single bag for three months—clothes, books, knick-knacks and all. And now, my new job has brought me to Bengaluru. In just a month, I sensed myself growing homesick, more for the company of my pet dog. It made me pause a while and think of the girl in her 20s who lived out of a suitcase and picked up two new languages speaking to strangers.

I also paused to reflect upon one of the 108 names of Swami Chinmayananda, aniketa. The One without a home; meaning, “He who is at home everywhere”. For such a person who is detached from their place of origin, and who is able to fully identify and connect with the Universe, no place is alien. Every place is home. I dusted the cobwebs of my clouded heart and reminded myself that my home is where God is. And you tell me one place where He isn't.

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Chinmaya Udghosh