My grandparents didn't have to make that choice- history did it for them. All they had to do was leave their land of ancestors, their houses, their businesses, their farms and friends and even some members of their families behind in 1947. They were forced to move to a new country. They travelled with their memories and a determination to start afresh. Their Punjabi spirit and gumption translated the burden of this obligatory choice into an opportunity. They made India their home and embraced it unquestionably-- visiting their old homes (now in Pakistan) in stories laid open in front of their grandchildren huddled around a kangri; its embers igniting and fading like their memories, on cold winter evenings in Dehradun.
My parents' generation had it really easy. They were either born in free India or brought to it as babies or toddlers. They grew up there, found jobs, got married, raised children, built houses and turned them into homes. The question, 'where shall we live when we retire?' never surfaced. There was no need for it. You live with your family around you and you die the same way, right?
Then came my generation of yuppies working for MNCs. With our fancy trips abroad, paid by the companies we worked for, we started looking at the World as our home. With the right qualifications and pay packets, we were able to buy houses in any developed nation of our choice. We travelled back to India once a year to have chaat and gol gappe and reminisce about college days. Our children's delicate tummies faced defeat at the hands of Delhi belly, so we cut down our annual trips to once in two years-- choosing instead to explore the rest of the (developed) world. Global Economic Migrants (GEMs) that we are --we live where we find the best pay cheque to secure a future (we may or may not see).
We then spend a fair amount of this money to escape to a tropical paradise or go back home for gol gappe. We come back refreshed and pleased with ourselves. We share stories of how filthy Indian roads are and how delicious the chaat was at that roadside thela. Sounds confused, does it? That we are. Don't blame us. It's all these ruddy choices we've been inundated with:
Where to send our children to school, university, summer camp?
Where to eat lunch/dinner/brunch?
Where to shop for clothes/bags/more clothes/ more bags/ even more clothes....?
Where to go for a short break/a medium break/ a long break?
Where to buy to let?
Where to buy to live?
Where to buy to retire- seaside or mountain top?
What to wear?
What not to eat?
Choices. Ruddy Choices.
We meet other yuppies and share our travel stories. Somehow we end up discussing how awful our choices are-- forced to live this life of comfort in a place we can't call home.
Yes, our parents had it easy...they knew their homes were in the houses they had built in the country their parents had fought to set free.
We've lived so long in foreign lands that we've forgotten our way home. Only kasore ki chai and spicy gol gappe ka paani remind us of our homeland.
Homeland...hometown...childhood home? Is it real? We go back and realise that it exists for the first couple of hours after we arrive and forever after we come back --in the romantic recesses of our brains- where the idea of what it was like when we were little lives and breeds. This part of our brain connects to our heart strings and makes us pine for a time which only exists in nostalgia. Yuppies who stayed on in India are as helpless as we are when it comes to locating this hometown of our memories. India has changed. It is changing and poor sods like us sit with our glasses of wine or single malt in a beautifully done up sitting room and reminisce.
Out of the blue, an email from a dear friend in London opens with, " Merry Christmas darling. When are you coming home? I miss you. You've been gone long enough."
We've harvested a rich crop of dear, darling friends over these twenty vagabond years in many cities and countries. I miss them, too.
Home is where the heart is, they say-- but the problem is this restless heart-- it always notices the grass is just a tad greener on the other side.
Sometimes, I wish I were a snail or a tortoise- at home, no matter where I go. But, most times, I get excited about pieces of art or pottery or a set of fluffy towels and I want to get them to take them home. Yes, that tortoise notion isn't going to work in this lifetime, but I do feel it sometimes-- especially when the cleaning chores pile up!
As a kid, home was the aroma of my mother's cooking. When I went to University, home was my grandfather's kiss on my head and his sideways hug when I visited him. These days, home is the nook of my husband's shoulder where I rest my head at the end of a day. Yes, that's how small and big a home is for me. That's all.
Houses, on the other hand, are hard work. They have to be cleaned and kept in order.
The tug-o-war between my Martha Stewart brain and Homer Simpson brain goes on forever--most days, Homer wins. Unless, of course, friends are coming over; then it's Martha Stewart on steroids!
Choices can be corrupting. They suck you into a vortex of consumerism and keeping-up -with -the Jonses. Luckily, we don't know any Jonses. So we keep up with ourselves. And every time I feel trapped in this gilded cage, I remind myself of the day when I was not yet twenty and I got caught travelling without a ticket in a DTC bus because the choice I had that day was between buying a bus ticket or a hot cup of tea. I chose chai on that cold, foggy, January Delhi morning. The tut-tutting of the ticket checker's head wrapped in a thick woollen scarf, when he said, "shakal se to achhe ghar ki lagtee ho' (you look like you come from a decent family) snaps me back into reality.
The reality of plenty. GRATITUDE for the food on my table, a house to make my home in, a family to turn to and friends to talk to surges forth. We can't always choose freely; some choices may be unpleasant but essential. So, while I embark upon this free period of my life after quitting my job, I look to my husband with admiration and respect for choosing to support us- his wife and his children. Who doesn't want a life of gardening and reading? Luckily for me, I made my home with someone who lives in the real world-- he works hard without ever complaining and lets me live my days dreaming with my eyes open.
In September 2015, we stayed at Auli base camp for a night. Next to this camp was the most stunning house I've seen in a while. I don't know what this style of architecture is called, so if you do, please tell me.
I wish I had enough time to knock on their door and seek permission to admire the interiors as well. I didn't, so I had to make do with exploring the grounds around the house.
Feast your eyes on the treasures I discovered...
The view from the verandah.
The verandah--beside the beautiful house.
The beautiful house
and its doorway....chaukhat/ dehleej
When nature inspires man--
notice the colour combination in the following shots...
The choice is ours-
to be grateful,
p.s. This is a kangri- this photo is from google images.
My grandfather used to hold this close to him, wrap us all in his big scratchy blanket, while we sat on his lap or next to him--looking up at his pink cheeks, floating like little soft islands in a sea of deep wrinkles. Wrinkles- he had earned working in his farm and his beloved garden for hours, tending his roses and radishes.
I miss those warm chilly nights.
Choose wisely and laugh foolishly:)