He had come to the end of his journey. Sitting there, on the stairs that led to his old room upstairs, he thought about Vasudevan uncle. The German-born Malayali, who had rented out a space on top of his house for 22 years. 22 years. The ‘tenant’, who spent his entire life unsuccessfully convincing visiting foreigners that all vegetables could grow in water, had stayed longer with his parents than he ever did in life time.
The aluminium railings, quite fashionable thing to do in the 90s, still had not lost its sheen.
He could sense a pain developing, ever so slightly, in his chest, and took a long breath before resuming his way upwards.
‘What was home?’ he wondered again.
He had hoped to find the answer, locked somewhere safely, at the place where it all began — Kochi. A place he constantly referred to as ‘home’. At least in conversations and CVs, he thought on his drive from the airport.
But walking through the dimly lit rooms of his ancestral house, he still remained as clueless as ever. Only more questions. And disturbingly, more revelations — things he could not undo.
He could feel the guilt piling up in his heart with each step…
Every sight, every smell, bombarded his grey brains with colourful memories of the past. The house was the forgotten palette after the masterpiece was drawn.
He wanted to smile. But his lips refused to twitch. His old guitar was still in the corner, one string missing. A shabbily done glass painting, perhaps inspired by the early Biennales, carefully placed between the window panes — a reflection of his confused self in a family that was always liked to be organised.
He was 21 when ‘dreams’ had lured to him to Bombay, the city, according to many, that never sleeps. He laughed at the irony of it. “Dreaming without sleeping,” he mumbled.
Twenty years back, the politicians in the country, used to sing about dreams. Not about water or climate change like things they should have. Not religious fantaticism. Best sellers were forged on people who left everything they had to chase their ‘destiny’. Heroes were made out of people who ‘achieved’ their dreams by sacrificing everything in the lives.
‘Thieves’, he cursed, as he dusted an old rolling stones magazine neatly stacked on the cupboard next to the blue-coloured washroom. He had come to hate the world for its false advertisements.
“Dreams are dreams. Reality check!” — words on his office door back at San Francisco.
It was this idea of a dream, the pressure to reach a position in the society, to pop up in a Google search, be known by his surname, that had pushed him away from everything he ever loved.
He missed being called by his first name. He missed guilt-free, selfless, honest love. He missed the sincere smiles. He was scared of intimacy back then. Now he was scarred by the lack of it.
He had somehow expected the water to be leaking from the shower when he opened the ‘blue bathroom’ door. It wasn’t. His father, the last inhabitant of the house, had called at least 20 different plumbers to get the shower checked. But mysteriously, no one could ever find the solution. Some of those unexplained things people don’t mind, while they went on bigger quests to find water on Mars or whatever caused that Big Bang.
Some time in high school, heightened years of sexual frustration, Nandu had a theory for the big bang. A vagina, unable to hold on to the profound universal stimulation, yielding to a never ending orgasm…
It surprised how the visuals of Big Bang were so vivid in his mind. He hated how the world had given up on the idea of ‘simple pleasures’. A phrase first told to him by Aditi. She had photographed a man sticking his head out of a moving Mumbai local.
Following his departure from the house, his younger brother shifted to another country. Mother stood up for her rights shortly afterwards and moved to a different house in her hometown.
It was about the time CERN had announced their big project called the ‘large hadron collider’ – to collide protons at an incredible pace and unravel the truths of the universe. Only thing that did break at that time, though, was his nuclear family.
‘But was this home?’ he thought again, as he looked at the sofa set that must have been only 5 years younger than he was. Yes, this was the place he grew up. This was the city he had always loved.
Everything about the place had a story to remind him.
Yet, he was reminded of something his mother had said, when he was leaving to college for the first time. “Home is not a place. It is a state of your mind. Carry it in your head at all times and you will never feel alone.”
He had disregarded it by tagging it a standard ‘mother statement’ to make. It probably was one too, he thought, as he took out a cigarette. The view from the balcony had changed so much. Big buildings had devoured the surroundings now.
When he wanted, he could not see…
He dialed the number of the real estate agency and set up a meeting at five. At his age, he didn’t want to believe in the idea of a phsyical home anymore. The memories were already planted in his head. Home was just an idea, a figment of imagination. that he carried in his head. The building, the little garden… all mere artifacts of a larger story. Home was the smell of fresh milk pedas his father used to bring from the Milma outlet. Home was his mother’s warm embrace.
He thought about Nishtha. How hugging her, in that tiny little room at Andheri, overlooking the airport, he had felt at home. A sense of peace that he madly wanted to reclaim.
He informed his brother the decision to sell the house. He could sense the disappointment in his brother’s voice. “But it made no sense to keep it,” he had argued.
The sun was just setting but the evening birds were missing. Something about the place wasn’t home. This was just a reminder of what home was… Of life choices and decisions…
He took one big puff and threw another cigarette away. The pain in his chest had strangely subsided.