“The acorns lay on the moss covered ground
Scattered all over like pennies that fall from an unkempt pocket
Everywhere, all the time
Years later, I dream about them sometimes in the stillness of the night
The things that home does to you”
“Where are you from?”
For the fortunate, the answer is quite easy, for home is often where you are born. But when you have spent your life flitting across spaces like a nomad, the definition tends to be unresolved. Home is not a concept I am familiar with. So, when faced with this dreaded question, I was often left stumped. Where was I from?
When I was 8 years old, I was packed off to a boarding school in Mussoorie, bags overstuffed and explanations not quite clear. If you have ever been to the mountains, you will know why they are so glorified. If you haven’t, you may never know. But there I was, a shy and timid child, quite unable to understand the rules of this new realm, this hundred-and-some- years old stone building that was be home for the next ten years.
To say that I was devastated then is an understatement. My folks had sent me to this place in the middle of nowhere, with reasons as random as ‘good experience’ and ‘importance of education’ to keep me company— reasons my eight year old self couldn’t comprehend. Surely, I was adopted, I thought. Stooping lower into my misery, I started living in a small town I thought would be the ruin of me.
The lessons were tedious, and the extra-curricular activities were anything but fun. But it was the food that was under my extreme scrutiny. I came to appreciate custard and jelly but there were still strange sandwiches left to be eaten. Then, I discovered that the fellow across from me at the table liked the strange sandwiches and so we began trading, as did several others. Exchanges and innocent rule-breaking soon became the order of the day, and just like that, as if by miracle, the days of sulking were left behind.
I never knew what to say when other children, out beyond the borders of the boarding school, would speak of their favourite television shows. I still don’t. But I know a little bit about other stuff. I know the joy of lying on a blanket of snow and what falling snowflakes make you feel. I still haven’t learnt how to cook, but I know all about noodles cooked in water from the bathroom geyser. I may have discovered the miracles of SMS a little late in life, but I know more than you can imagine about handwritten letters, sent with hope.
The memories of this quiet little hill station are so many that I could ramble on about a beautiful childhood filled with laughter, ghost stories, flu seasons, love letters discreetly passed to the boys section, overfilled slam books, tuck boxes, snowfalls, warm socks, late night conversations, wildflowers, oak trees and acorns. But I will stop here.
I will stop here because now I know that home is not where you are born. Home is where your heart opens, where it sings. For me, home is the century-old building with stones that hold stories, serving food which remains the best in the world, whether traded with someone across from you on the table or not.
Home is where the owner of a small omelette eatery on Mall Road smiles every time you visit. Home is bun-samosa in Barlowganj and books in Cambridge bookstore. Home is the quaint little town they named Mussoorie, with its beautiful surroundings, unexplored valleys and winding roads.
And if that’s not home, I don’t know what is.