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« Blogging From The Top Of The World! | Main | Budding Scientists, Brilliant Artists »

May 23, 2007


T.S. Eliot said, "Home is where one starts from". The poet has captured for me what or where "home" is. Where do you feel you started from ?

If I accept the definition that you and Eliot put forward, the obvious answer to your question would be Delhi. However, the whole point of my essay is that things are not as simple as that, at least for me.

Similar to you, "home" for me is no longer a nostalgic term, I no longer wish to "find it", or feel its absence. Home for me is wherever I am, as long as I feel alert and engaged there, and have a few human relationships to add spice to life.

That's the skill of the poet. He is not being nostalgic, merely giving us a pithy definition of 'home.' Every place we go to thereafter can be put down to 'exploration.'

Wow! Beautifully said. Having left delhi couple of years back. I can relate to this.. If not completely , in bits.
I dont remember where i picked it from.. I always believed..

"Home is where heart is.." Liek others, my home has been many places, Hostel Dorm, Paying guest corner, Parents ' home, In-law's home.. My rented home.. May be some future owned home.. Where I put my heart and its dwelling.. its been home for me..
But your post does ignite couple of interesting points to reflect on..
It was treat to read..

On one side of this sentimental divide are those who are fixated on the starting point, like my father in law, Manoj and T.S. Eliot. On the other, there are those like Zeya who are ready to move on within a couple of years of leaving where they started from. I am with Shunya and Maurice Leiter, the other poet. We are of course all speaking for ourselves.

I look for (and luckily, find it) social connections and intellectual stimulus wherever I live, within the community at large, rather than seek familiar solace in an insular circle based on the memories of the "home" I left behind. The latter would have been easy enough to do, based on comfort level in most US cities where there are large enough ex-pat Indian communities, many of whom live the dual reality of the "economic home" and the "cultural, spiritual home" here. But doing that would have blunted my "exploratory" instincts and preserved "home" in a wishful and static world of amber - pretty enough as an image but a dead relic nonetheless, something that is unappealing to me.

The reality of where we are "going" is just as valid as where we "came" from. And home can be anywhere on that trajectory if one doesn't depend exclusively on familiar externalities to define "home."

The operative word here is 'home' with all its related connotations. You can subsequently live in houses and apartments in various countries, but 'home' has a very specific meaning, a special connectedness and in some ways a reference point from where you compare all other experiences. It is not necessarily nostalgic, it simply is. The future on the other hand is unknowable and god knows where we are going. it may not quite be 'home.' What if we land up in jail doing a life term ?

"What if we land up in jail doing a life term?"

An immigrant who lands up in jail might as likely see the last place in which she lived as "home" as the place where she was born. Cases in which longtime American residents are threatened with deportation after being charged with crimes provide cruel demonstrations of this shifted identification.

If the future's unknowable, the past is often incomprehensible, and expecting identification with it can be every bit as horrific as contemplating identification with a jail. Aside from a minimal strain of Fiddler on the Roof nostalgia for a vanished world-- arguably defined as much by the sense of community and self-containment as by the location-- I know of few Ashkenazim who pine for Russia and Poland (Viennese and Hungarian Jews are a different story). But, perhaps I just no longer know enough first generation folks, and my father would have a different perspective on this. The first generation Ashkenazim from backgrounds similar to mine whom I have known were a handful of Hebrew school teachers and friends' grandparents who immigrated after WWII, and they presented in a way that I knew instinctively, even as a kid, not to query them about their past.

In a recent exchange about visiting the Jewish quarter in Prague that I had with another American Jewish friend, she captured an ambivalence that I, too, feel about the Old Country: "I guess I always have a love-hate relationship ... when I visit; it's beautiful, I'm enjoying myself, I like the cheese and the beer, and then every once in a while I think, ____ you all. You never deserved us anyway."

My mother's family, with whom I mostly have little contact, are typical white Midwesterners: layers of immigrants from many places at many times, constantly moving from one small town to another. Typical of them and of me, I can never remember if my grandmother was born in El Dorado, Kansas and my great-grandmother in Pueblo, Colorado, or vice versa.

My nuclear family moved eight times by the time I was eleven years old, except for a brief stint in London mostly within the United States, so I have no sense of a starting point within this country, either. It doesn't bother me, though it does give me a fascination with the phenomenon of having a strong sense of place.

It strikes me as humorous that the sentiment, "home is where one starts from" should be attached to T. S. Eliot, a man who seems to have identified far more with Europe than with his actual birthplace, St. Louis, Missouri. It's like reading, "Henry James said, 'There's no place like home.'" I'd be interested to know the context of the Eliot line.

I enjoyed your post, Ruchira, which is (as usual), both interesting and quite beautifully written. I think my father, who is closer to the immigrant experience than I am, would enjoy it-- I'll have to send him the link.

Thanks Anna. If your father reads this, I hope he will leave us a comment. I'd love to hear his point of view.

I think that the old saying had it right - Home is best defined as a state of mind ('Home is where the heart is') rather than a physical location.
Having just taken a vacation in one of those 'all comforts of home, away from home' rental places at Deep Creek, MD, I had a nagging feeling that I was missing all kinds of essential chores that needed to be done to keep life chugging along.It didn't help that the rental came with instructions on how to leave the place in near pristine condition when leaving, as a 'courtesy to the next guests/home owners'. So bad was this 'homesickness', that rather than reading the plentiful supply of trashy romance novels thoughtfully provided by the owners for light reading,I spent my time in the house loading the dishwasher a zillion times a day, watering and re-watering the pitiful pansies till they drowned, making beds that remain largely unmade at home- Why do we strive to create a 'home' away from our real current home? Beats me!
Of course, paralysis on the home front set in once we got back. So we sit at work in front of the computer, leaving piles of clothes to moulder in the dryer, floors unswept, lawns unmowed, which leads me to a slightly different definition of home. Home is where we are free to be all we want to be - slobs or fitness freaks or cleanomaniacs or computerlimpets or...

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