First published in Plato’s Caves online
Home is a kidnapper who has finally made you submit to its territory, mapped and unmapped.
Home is your first partner in crime who, by introducing you to its hidden corners, gives a toddler you a taste of what manipulating adults with pranks feels like.
Home is the no-nonsense courtroom, where, you, still a toddler, take the gods to task by bashing up their idols at the altar for denying your grandma her own house.
Home is the compassionate table fan that breezes through the room on a hot summer day as Rafi and Geeta Dutt croon aankhon-hi-aankho-mein on the radio and two children – your brother and you – sprawl on the cool cement floor of a government quarter to hurry through your summer holiday homework.
Home is the indulgent playground overlooking that same government quarter where children make friends over hopscotch and their mothers, knitting buddies, on charpaais.
Home is the confused late-entry hero that is finally grandma’s own house. Its dust and half walls hold you in a perplexed daze. Your brother, yet to reach his teens, brings you back to reality as he returns with a pot of rice he’s managed to cook in the half-baked kitchen of this unfinished structure.
Home is the jealous new paara, neighbourhood, who estranges you from old friends and the loving playground with its consolatory offer of a cricket-colonized back street and stock loneliness.
Home is the keen, encouraging listener of your early-morning and late-evening riyaaz that mother helps add melody to with the harmonium she buys you off months of savings.
Home is the generous open terrace that grows in personality as you do in age – as your study-time ally in your yet-to-be-teen, mellow winter afternoons; as the host of a star-draped night sky beckoning you to let go in your ambivalent early 20s; as your gym and fitness partner later, when you do learn to let go.
Home is the comforting pal your grandfather brings you back to from the bus stop every evening after school. It’s where grandma waits with hot food and a listening ear for all your school stories, helping you bridge the interval until mother returns from work.
Home is the trusted ally you make your way back to, having survived an attack by gunmen in a public space, to hug your grandma, sick with worry. In the days to follow, home makes you an accelerated learner of what political revenge means even as your eyes adjust to the sight of blood on the streets you call paara.
Home is the saboteur who smashes that trust and hurtles you into the dark, suffocating dungeon of an empty house after making you witness the deaths of your grandparents for two years in a row.
Home is the traitor who makes you grow up while you’re still an adolescent without allowing you the time or the technique for the messy transition.
Home is the embarrassing hole in the bedsheet you cover with a folded quilt that you desperately hope wouldn’t shift when your university friends come over to your house to plan a trip.
Home is the sterile mate you’ve lost all love for but continue to live with, your days drained of élan vital, your nights a concert hall for sleep-snuffing nightmares.
Home, after years, no, a whole decade, is finally the conciliatory collaborator who invites you to work from home – with your mother, now retired from work, filling up all the hollows your grandparents’ departure had cleaved into its spaces.
Home is the humble plot of land your grandma bought, even if it’s no longer the house she built. Her breath moves through the guava tree she planted, still rooted to the faithful backyard soil and alights on your skin as a butterfly every time you fly back.
Home is a detective plot that can only unravel in back stories. Each flicker of memory is evidence of the scraps that went into constructing this labyrinth. Every solution is wisdom distilled only in hindsight.