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The Story of An Emotion

-words in context-

The English language (perhaps much like the imperial sovereigns who spoke it) has a tendency to colonise, taking certain words from other languages and making them its own. Many of these words, such as “juggernaut” from Sanskrit “jagannatha” and “foyer” from the homographic French word, were introduced to English through the historical processes of colonisation and trading.

But now, we have the internet. And the latest crop of non-English words that is taking the English-speaking internet by storm consists of words that seem to have no direct translation in English. There are innumerable lists online extolling the beauty of these subtle emotions and situations that are almost inexplicable in English. They feature words like “litost” (Czech; a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery) and “mamihlapinatapai” (Yaghan; a special look shared between two people when both wish that they would do something they both want but are reluctant to do it). And of course, words like hiraeth.

Hiraeth” is a Welsh word that can very crudely be translated to “homesickness”. It can also be used to express missing a person. However, one look at Welsh history ( people colonised by the Britishers and seen as foreigners in their own land) will tell you that “hiraeth”, as author Pamela Petro puts it, is “an unattainable longing for a place, a person, a figure, even a national history that may have never actually existed. To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and recognize it as familiar.”

There are certain other words found in these lists that are a product of the culture they come from, and perhaps this is why they are difficult to translate. “Yuanfen” is a Chinese word which refers to the binding force of predestination that brings people, objects or events together. In English, it is roughly translated to fate or serendipity, and is understood in a romantic context. However, in China, it can be brought up in business and work interactions, and even refer to recurring events. It reflects the importance of fate and what is “meant to be” in Chinese culture, especially among the elderly.

However, there is a certain universality of human sentiment in most of these words. In fact, Portuguese “saudade” (a feeling of longing, melancholy or nostalgia, especially in songs or poetry) comes quite close to “hiraeth”. “Hiraeth” can apply even to the Indians who are aware that the very idea of India is a construct, who still try to trace their origins to an India whose nature no one can truly remember. “Hiraeth” can apply to anyone who is struggling to find their identity and their place in this world, away from their actual past, or conversely anyone who misses a long-lost past.

So we find that words and languages are yet another example of how different we all are by nurture, and yet how similar in nature.

SOURCES:

 

Written by Madhuboni Bhattacharya

Image by Chetanya Godara

 

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Hiraeth

Today, a woman died.

It was nothing very newsworthy, it would never be anything more than a paid obituary, a kind mention in a local newspaper published two weeks too late. But she would never have expected otherwise.

At 12:00 pm, her neighbor – who relied on her too often to babysit her children – found that the woman was not opening her door. She knocked once, twice, dismissed a negative thought and knocked again. Then she called for help. When the door was wrenched open, the old woman was found sleeping in her bed, tucked into white quilts she would have despised at a younger age; she would remain sleeping forever.

No husband. No children. No family.

Her walls were old, plastered with older newspaper clippings that grew shorter and more infrequent as the dates progressed. They said good things about her, flattering things – one even called her “The Next Big Thing” (These words were highlighted, circled, slashed through). This was perhaps the best article of all – the longest, the most optimistic, the most incorrect.

She was a “cliched struggling artist who caught her break when, in an even more cliched fashion, the main actress fell ill a night before the opening show. The anxious understudy didn’t just save the show, she stole it. She gave life to a complex, layered character that few can do justice to. There’s no doubt of a brighter future ahead, something awakened in her today.”

Something did indeed awaken in her that day.

Me.

It happens sometimes, an idea of a character becomes its own energy, own spirit. I remember stirring in her mouth, just as she spoke her first dialogues – she had never practiced me quite that way before – too timid perhaps, but that day, she had no choice.

She called on every ounce of energy she had and gave birth to me in the process, gave me a form -I strengthened as her emotion grew, wriggling up her throat to look through her eyes, before slipping into her ribs. I felt her breathe. I breathed with her.

So that’s what it meant be alive.

There was no stopping after that. We moved together, shouted together, saw, heard, smelled, tasted, touched together.

When performances end, characters fade, dissipate. I lingered a little longer that day – on the walls of the auditorium, in the minds of the people.

The reporter of the article was wrong for multiple reasons. The woman who gave life to me never got the chance to again. She rushed home to an ailing father, and after that, theatre never completely welcomed her back. Many tried to carry me after her, but no one got it right – though a good lot pretended. They play me with a wistfulness now – a mourning for something that’s lost, a sadness for something unknown. A longing for a home that’s gone forever.

But, none of them know who it was.

 

Written by Priya Saraff

Image by Joy Malsawmhlui

To Nanu, from Rooh

Dear Nanu/Comrade BD,

It has been a while since you left, and I suppose the silver lining is that it rained the day you left. You were birthed into the world amidst torrential thunders, with your superstitious mother wailing about all the bad omens surrounding you. The designated midwife was out cold from all the bhaang, the emergency midwife wouldn’t stop singing some obscure Bhojpuri songs, the bats entered the room and provided audience while your father accidentally set the curtains on fire. You were born an anarchist, and your conservative mother, God bless her soul, was massively unprepared.  I can hear you chuckle like you did when you narrated this story. You have always taught me that life is circular and that we end where we begin. On that account, I’m glad you left the way you came. A part of me feels you just wanted theatrical end credits with thunder, lightning and rain and you got them. Well, if you must know, I didn’t cry too much because the last time we spoke, you told me you wanted to be celebrated, not mourned.

That a wealthy zamindar with farmers under his thumb would have a son who spent his life fighting for peasants’ property rights from an unknown village in Haryana is a beautiful miracle that I’m proud of. You gave me my name, the borderline-obnoxious and ridiculous spelling of it, and most importantly, my nickname – Rooh. Rooh, for your belief in the resilience of the human soul. I sometimes wonder if you called me Rooh to assure me that I would always recover. I can safely say that you gave me my first sense of identity; a small blip on the cartesian map of this world that I could stake a claim to. I want you to know that I carry it on my skin every day, like one of those personalized badges of honour you would make me. I won’t lie, some days I take a ride to the Supreme Court – only to feel closer to you. You told me that this was your home and I visit to trace your origins. Maybe someday I will manage to sneak past the guards and see your chamber for myself. Maybe I will walk to the canteen and dip my simple Marie biscuits in overpriced English teas, if only to remember the winter of 2012 when we celebrated one of your cases.

I am not sure as to how I would break down these feelings stemming from your ceremonious exit. My anger was like a confused 10-year-old who carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was alive, and it begged for attention. But now the lividity has moved on to a better understanding of grief, loss and reconciliation. Truth be told, no self-help book will teach us to become more than our traumas. No amount of kind words from relatives we come upon only for weddings/funerals/other catastrophes will help us cope better. Grief is personal to the point where we can hardly share it and hope that the fundamental law of division would apply.

As I ponder over it, I realize that I don’t have the concept of a home in strictly physical terms. All of us are ejected violently in this world with a cord sometimes choking us. Then we decide to construct a sense of familiarity and comfort by staying rooted. I have changed enough homes up to this point to know that all of us are like the suspended plastic bag from American Beauty, caught in the winds of time. Now I think of myself as just an airport somebody, or possibly a disoriented hitchhiker – forever in transit. I can imagine you smiling at my romanticised rhetoric, but I hope you understand that although I don’t know a home, I know familiarity. You, with your quirky cufflinks and ancient khadaus, hobbling to draw water from the neighbourhood well were familiarity. You, with your booming laughter frightening my Nani into spilling her tea were familiarity. Above all, watching you climb trees to get me kaccha aam was familiarity. Now my mother smiles instead of wincing when it’s time for the annual custom of making achaar and panna from it. That’s progress.

I have lost and reconciled, in equal measures. I wish I had more time to be your unpaid legal intern, incompetent sous chef and “chanchal-mann” granddaughter, but I’m glad I had the honour of knowing and loving you, if only for a limited time.

Until next time.

Yours,

Rooh

 

Written by Aarooshi Garg

Image by Sheena Kasana

 

 

 

 

Home

On nights when the moon has forsaken me, I dream like a child while you read to me – apologies addressed to stars you’ve held captive in a bottle. One for each sentence I’ve lost. All to you. Do not misunderstand, I do not love you when I write. You are the wall I drew on as a child, painted over once I was old enough to be reprimanded. You are the heartbreak felt when I visited an unfamiliar home, the traces of a childhood gone in all but four years.

Your own home is a sad one, in the middle of this melancholy city, this ashtray of a city, this city which evokes nostalgia in all but you. You who do not see the beauty in pain. You, who do not think on account of strong medication. You who do not collect memories, anymore. Memories of a first kiss, of a father, of something less barren than a pretty house.

Tell me now, do you look around, often? Do you wonder at things, like the stray wind, a stray string and all other manner of stray things? I wonder how you manage distraction without thought? Or are you, to put it simply –  lost?

Then it seems I have found home. I have found home in a lost boy and together we’ve run away.

For it is a moonless night.

 

Written by Ishani Pant

Image by Radhika Aneja

Specialis Revelio

During winters, the thing that I miss the most is Hogwarts.

The nostalgia to return to the magical world begins as early as September, when the school is supposed to start. It goes on and on until Christmas is upon us, and that’s when I crave to be a part of the Wizarding world. It’s something to do with the lighting and the air, I think – it’s wonderfully tentative, quite how I imagine autumn in Scotland. And the leaves flutter – ever so slightly. It’s not hot, so you know it’s a chilled wind blowing. The fog forms another part of the nostalgia: it makes me dream of snow. I can see the castle, decked up in dozens of trees, brought in by Hagrid and decorated by Professor Flitwick. The sky in the dining hall will be huge, and endless – and vast! It would reach into the very heavens – literally.

When I was growing up, I used to read Harry Potter. Harry Potter got me into the business of reading, providing an outlet for my imagination, for my almost violent need to escape, be a part of some sort of magic.

And nothing can ever replicate those early adventures into Harry’s world. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school – dreadfully tragic, isn’t it? The very beginning of a philosophical movie that delves deep into the escapism of a young girl. I didn’t have friends, in any case – I had a few, but they were sort of – bullies. I’m not quite certain how to characterize our relationship, but it certainly wasn’t healthy.

So, when I was growing up – I had Harry.

It’s funny how books can save your lives, or change them. I don’t remember a time before Harry Potter. I remember, vaguely, watching the movies and not caring to read the books. I remember my Dad buying me the first one for one of my birthdays. And I have done the mathematical calculations as to when I should have read it – based on solid memories. I have a very distinct memory of showing my second grade teacher that I was reading Chamber of Secrets. I must have been seven then, so I have deduced that I ought to have read it sometime then.

I don’t remember when I met Harry for the first time. I don’t remember what, exactly transpired between him and me in his small cupboard under the stairs. I don’t remember what happened that got me so hooked. Mamma had to convince me to get through the first ten pages, and that is something I definitely remember. Sometime around the snake escaping the zoo – I think – I became part of Harry’s world.

I remember meeting Ron for the first time, I remember meeting Hermione. I remember thinking that Ron and Hermione would be perfect – they fought entirely too much to be anything else. I remember when it rained in the castle, the Quidditch pitch would become muddy and Oliver wouldn’t be happy at all. I remember Peeves, and I remember crying with laughter at some of Harry’s more sarcastic comments.

I think I remember the castle in a way that I don’t think is quite possible. In a world of small spaces, tiny areas designated for thoughts – Hogwarts expanded before me like a huge and inviting mess. Nothing about it made sense, even lesser was palpable and understandable. It was huge and complex, and in between the spaces that Hogwarts provided, I’m fairly certain I found me.

But it wasn’t mine. Hogwarts was gigantic, and enormous, and part of it was mine – and it was the most satisfying way to deal with my problems. But at some point, I think I wanted to create my own space. Hogwarts gave me the encouragement I needed – the breathing space to imagine a new space. And that, I think is when I started writing.

Fifth grade was when the seventh book was released. It was all over, and Hogwarts wasn’t there – as a growing thing. I hadn’t discovered fanfiction then, and I think I wanted more. So – I wrote.

I wrote because I found – in brief instances, that the sky could be so beautiful, and I wondered whether it was the same at Hogwarts. I wrote because Harry and I stared at the same moon – across dimensions, across realities – and I wrote because everything was so terribly beautiful. I wrote as a scream into the void – in hopes that someone else was listening – or – or someone would answer back.

My initial forays into these worlds I created were difficult. They didn’t transition well, the worlds were stacked together and odd. I began imagining them from fifth and fourth grade itself. And in sixth, I was writing. I was writing – and I was writing with an intensity that neither of my parents had thought possible. My father was surprised that my initial story writing endeavour had entered nearly fifty pages.

I got the grasp of the idea, eventually, obviously. I understood how it functioned, and I started to make sense of it. I wrote more, and more, and more. I didn’t stop for so long that I didn’t quite know how not to. I was writing horribly and chunkily and with no skill, but with the determination that I had to recreate Hogwarts. I had to find it again – I had to go back to the castle, and yes, maybe it wasn’t Harry that I found again – but god help me if I didn’t find me.

This intense foray into the world of my imagination – where murder was recreated alongside magic is fantastically interesting. But the thing that prompted this, as usual, is Hogwarts.

And yes, it’s more fun to create your own. It’s enjoyable to write constantly until your keyboard burns (I’m not kidding, my last laptop has a barely functioning keyboard), and it’s amazing to find yourself in these huge swathes of imagination – but sometimes – it’s nice to go back home again. It’s like returning to your home town: you know that there’s so many things that are problematic, so many issues that you’re not entirely comfortable with, and hell, you have grown too much for you to live there anymore, but damn it all if it’s not a comfort to be back from time to time.

 

Written by Tanvi Chowdhary

Image by Aanchal Juneja

 

Truancy

She said she knew something about leaving
Its familiar shape turned vague
The weight curling in your bones
And refusing to leave.

She said she made that mistake once
When she named two cats she knew
Were not hers,
“were nobody else’s, really,
But definitely not mine”
They hissed at her,
White snakes in their anger,
Claws ready to grow inward.

She left them before
“They bit their white out”,
Like what you love
Can despise itself.

She said she nearly broke down
Again
When they gave her a plastic pink whistle
The kind that had a bell in it
That rattles every time you breathe.
The kind chewed down with use
The kind that lodges itself in gaps
And never returns.

The kind that you give to miscreant children
With which they scream-whistle
“I’m still here, I’m still here!”
As they sink into the night
Purpled with slipshod suns.

When she heard of those birds
Who come October,
Dive into flames
“for no fathomable reason;
Reverse phoenixes”
She said she gasped,
“Heart, my heart, this, my heart.”
Meaning jigar, meaning liver, meaning easily torn apart meaning
so so so precious
meaning gone.

 

Written by Stuti Pachisia

Image by Chetanya Godara

Foreign

So, here you are

too foreign for home,

 too foreign for here.

 Never enough for both.”

Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Diaspora Blues”

I am used
to the never ending roads and the abundance of trees
people smiling at you from inside shops, inside houses
remembering you from a time when you roamed the streets in your muddy dress covered with bread crumbs.
To a human connection, a familiarity
that was comforting and exhausting all at once.
To the city which never belonged to you
but to which you belonged.
To the burger place
where my dad and I used to go while my mother ranted about the ill-effects of these things-
we ordered more each time,
with sparkling eyes, full to the brim with grease and love, the latter killing more hearts than the former.

To the dozen pots full of an uncountable variety of flowers that will bloom for half a year and then
wither for the next half,
scattering petals all across the stairs
which my sister will later pick up and present to
people with an
innocence that is hurtful to watch
because it is not possessed by you.
To the house that is a little too overused
but welcoming
full of blue walls with frames
hanging and clocks on every wall
because time never moves fast enough here.
To the old kitchen table with two cups of
half-drunk tea, one of which
my mother will forget in a hurry or because
she accidentally put four instead of three spoons of sugar
and exactness in everything is something she aspires for.

To the towel, always thrown on the bed after a shower
which I will later pick up and leave to dry in the
sunshine
and to the glasses left behind on every table
because there’s nothing left to see.

To the keyboard on which I can play three songs and Swan Lake perfectly
which my sister will imitate
like she always does.
To the stars that shine too bright and to the car where the same songs are
played because we are creatures of habit and nobody really likes change,
they just like the sound of glass breaking.
To the air hockey table, the old deck of cards, the Game of Life which
I always lost.

To the coffee table books that I bought from
the withdrawal sale in the library
near the cafe where the hired band played every Saturday.

To the this is home, this is home, that you say repeatedly
like the chorus of a song you never wanted to
remember in the first place
but somehow it attaches itself to your mind with such an intensity and stubbornness that is hard to shake off.  You’ve said it enough times
to believe yourself.

 

I am not used
to the irregular street routes and the cracked and unmaintained gravel roads,
teenagers under age, with their hearts pumping faster than the speed of their cars
rich boys with their shiny cars, loud music and unfortunate reflexes,
lonely drunks with slippery palms and wobbly legs and
people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
To the people with too much perfume,
too many dead eyes in the crowd full of
faces without names, without identities.

To the rumpled up guitar case and the guitar resting against the small table,
overused’ your aching shoulders and bleeding fingers would say

To the dusty room
and the mug you never got around to cleaning, the stolen apples, the rotten pears.

To the murmur of the voices in the hallway and the bangs of the door that will shatter the bones of your existence.
To the audible sighs and dirty shoes,
the chipped off wall that leaks,
the scowling Van Goghs and the illustrations made by steady hands a long time ago
taped on the wall which will
fall every week, leaving marks
that will last for eternity.
To the neon lights and billboards that leave no room for the stars to shine,
whispering, “you scare me”

into the darkness of the sky.
To the whiskey breaths and the glassy eyes
and the tears that will follow
after a gentle touch, a considerate word because you can forget what kindness feels like. To the sadness and suffering that doesn’t
come as a shock
because you are used to it.
To the this is home, this is home you say repeatedly
like the chorus of a song you never wanted to

remember in the first place
but somehow it attaches itself to your mind with such an intensity and stubbornness that is hard to shake off.
Say it enough times
and you might just believe yourself.

Written  by Pragati Sharma

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

Homespun

The first time I thought of home,
Was when I turned the shower on.
The hot, cascading water
Was like a warm hug,
A reassurance,
A comforting hand,
In an unfamiliar place.
The second time I thought of home,
Was when I sipped coffee.
That uniquely mundane drink
Enveloped me
In its velvety warmth.
The third time I thought of home,
Was in the leathery cocoon
Of the passenger seat,
When the dulcet hums
Of cars whizzing by
Lulled me to sleep.
The fourth time I thought of home,
Was when the fondling droplets
Caressed me, as I walked
In the falling rain.
The fifth time I thought of home,
Was when the sultry breeze
Kissed me
Under the gaze
Of a dying sunset.
The sixth time I thought of home,
Was within the din of the metro crowd
When, with bag in hand
I stopped midway.
Cloaked within the humdrum,
My heart throbbed
With the beats
Of a dynamic city.
And, amidst the mellow voices
Of bustling lives,
I felt
Like I belonged, at last.

 

Written by Avani Solanki

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

 

S-87

Last I remember
The house was peach
It was peach
With a black and red mask hanging from the second floor balcony
Whose purpose I never really understood
But it had probably been there before me
Much like the guard hut
With the guard bhaiya sitting inside it
Calling me gudiya
Till the day I showed him a gudiya
And told him to stop calling me one

Only he knew what treasures the store room held
The store room that smelt musty
But now I think it was the smell of past
Because we no longer have a store room
And in the process of de-cluttering, neither enough things to store
Nor the guard bhaiya who was a part of our family.

I think he still is
I hope he still is.

This house of peach walls
And of marble green staircases

Each time I look at the cut in my right eyebrow
I think of that staircase
I haven’t seen THAT green ANYWHERE else

These scars are bittersweet memories
Of a time when I would go to my dadi’s old room
To soak in what felt like her smell units that lingered there
It felt like she still lived inside me
Through these secret trips to the empty ground floor.

I’ve lost access to that empty ground floor
And the plastic blue swing that hung beside the kitchen
Our house, like our kitchen, was open to everyone
No bells to be rung
And no lock that couldn’t be opened from the outside
We now live in a house all locked up
With no driveway to play ball in
And no strategically located corner to make rangolis in

Memories of Diwali mornings when my sister and I used to make rangolis fill every corner of my heart

When I was young
I was always scared that somebody was standing behind the curtain of our living room
But now, in our locked up house
I don’t have that fear anymore

I have a new fear.

 

Written by Sidika Sehgal

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

Suitcase Floating Over the Railing

There’s that feeling that returns every time I’m on my way to or away from the airport in Delhi and the wheels of the cab swallow miles of the same tar road. I see the same houses with the same latticed windows and tall bamboo fences neatly painted green, boasting of frangipani trees; a “good” neighbourhood. I wish I had a word that could encompass this feeling, of leaving and arriving constantly, a feeling of something really familiar yet with the foresight that I would be a drastically different person the next time I travelled this road. It’s why I wave good bye to air planes in the sky because I know someone is either leaving from or reaching their sense of home or they’re suspended mid-air, searching for their sense of it.

Lying on my back on cold concrete, with my tote bag as a makeshift pillow, I watch dragonflies flit across each other’s paths like a pattern on the wallpaper of sky. None of us sitting here in the Aung Sang Su Kyi peace centre (what a weird name for a place) in the middle of the day really know what we mean when we say home or if it can ever exist outside fiction and American sitcoms. Did Aung Sang Su Kyi feel at home here, in the sixties? Does her sense of permanent displacement dictate her genocidal tendencies?

“There’s only One Tree Hill, Nathan and it’s your home.” A show that had a cult-like viewership among the niche audience of teenage girls when I was in school used this dialogue to conclude on a note of suburban bliss but can it ever exist, in reality? Can we even attempt to create it for ourselves?

I tried to befriend a cat by feeding her biscuits; sometimes she would eat half and walk away to stare out into the enormity and darkness of the world, at night. Sorry for anthropomorphizing you to embody my feelings, cat, you’re probably just looking for pigeons to eat. I waved hello to her one night in the corridor when I saw her sleeping alone in front of the water cooler, she purred back at me, followed me into my room and walked around in circles, cozying up to my ankles (approval from cat, I must be special! I’m a little scared of cats but I’m trying to overcome that). I told her she could stay but she preferred to venture back into the cold yellowness of the familiar corridor. With time, I discovered it was not food or comradeship she’s been looking for, but for a space to give birth in, she looks in the same spots under the bed and inside the cup-board each time. It reminds me of the cultural belief my mother harbours about the auspiciousness of cats and how one isn’t supposed to turn away a cat and her litter from the house. There are a couple of first year students who smiled at me when I was dragging my suitcase into the hostel for the first time this year, they always smile at me now when we pass each other in college corridors or run into each other. Sometimes I can see the inexhaustible supply of bad days that have settled into the circles under their eyes, I wonder if they can see the same under mine. One night at dinner, I shift one of the rotis from my plate on to one of theirs because we’ve all been waiting in line for just as long and it makes more sense that we both have food to eat. I remember being in the first year, looking down at my plate with hardly any food on it and tearing up. My friend split half her roti with me one such time and I’ve wanted to share that feeling with someone else since then. I remember the third years not letting us sit on some of “their” tables, “people grow that territorial with time” was the justification someone I knew came up with. Were these really the smartest students of history, political science, sociology and so-on and so-forth in this is so-called ultra-liberal space? Even naive, first year me couldn’t believe or buy that education had really made a difference to their lives. What use is it to know theories of communal ownership and the idea of property as theft inside-out when they can’t make you humanize individuals in your immediate surroundings and treat them with some sense of dignity? Are structures and hierarchies really this deeply ingrained in each of us?

The youngest are always fed first at home, I think, but women always eat last and the left-overs in my father’s family, retorts a sub-conscious voice inside my head. My thoughts soon shift to my mother’s Sunday breakfast French toast and my insatiable demand for idlis as a child. I think of the desecrated sweetened coconut stuffed inside monda pitha; a sweet my maternal grandmother often made for me in her house, in Odisha. I also think of my parents’ sense of constant disappointment at my early rejection of rice and fish as the idea of the ultimate delicacy. Only Susheela, who looked after me, could get me to eat any fish, at all, with her stories of how they married dolls in the village where she grew up and about Christmas narrated in Telugu, supplemented by the rose cookies she got me from home after Christmas every year. At night, my mother and I would sit on our first-floor flat’s balcony and count airplanes while she fed me dinner. Even today, my parents have two ground rules set for us; nobody goes to bed having skipped dinner and not having changed out of their jeans. When I fall asleep with the light left on some nights, I think of them the most.

There are some fragments of home diffused in my sensory memory like dreamy afternoon light through a window. The smell of dog fur and wet paws, chlorine, nimbu paani and Dettol. Salt water too, I’ve never been scared of swimming in seas and rivers and swimming pools. I came up to the surface when my coach pushed me into the deeper end of the pool when I was four but that’s also because I’ve always taken to water naturally and not that pushing someone in is always the best or only way to learn or teach. Warm bath water and warmer, freshly pressed clothes. The reassurance of hearing Azan in the distance every evening replaced by the reassurance of swift whir of the metro late at night. The sound of my mother’s red and gold bangles announcing her presence in the next room, intermingled with the glass bangles jingling as Shantamma, who works at our house, washes utensils ; always more pleasant than the mechanical heaviness of my father’s car rolling into the driveway like an exasperated sigh. Power cuts and petromax laltins, rainy months and magura fish the children in the household decided to save from being cooked and put into the bottom of a court-yard well. The unpleasantly chewy texture of curried wild-mushrooms, succulent potatoes cooked with meat and the refreshing stringiness of pickled bamboo shoot. Handkerchiefs and saris with the quintessential Sambalpuri Saptapar checks printed on them. Spare string cots stashed under beds. My widowed, paternal grandmother who smells of tobacco (gudaku), stories and oppression. My parents’ attempt to make me address my sister as akka, a respectable suffix that didn’t stick just like all the others. The omnipresent shadow of the big maroon bindi on my mother’s forehead, even when she takes it off at night. Her starched cotton dupattas that became a shelter for me to shy away from people when I was little, they smelled like sunlight, sweat and talcum powder mixed together. Home also smells of cigarettes smoked on that first floor balcony at night and my father’s aftershave from the time my mother wasn’t home and we couldn’t find the dettol for a wound. Sitting cross legged on a green couch and choking on my own voice while a young, sensitive therapist sits crossed legged in her blue chair in a lamp-lit room, drinking tea. “You’re very self-aware”, she says, “but where do we go from there?” I’m glad to come back here week after week in the search for hope even if it doesn’t really exist, I want to say to her. Instead, she tells me she’s feeling the same existential lack of connection and meaning that I’m trying to describe to her. Freud would have called this counter-transference of the client’s emotions on to the psychotherapist, but come on, some aspects of psychoanalysis have been a long-outdated mode of trying to completely understand the human psyche even if they still make sense in most cases.

(Does being unaware of one’s own post-modern thoughts and words make them any less post-modern? Conversations with my parents at the dinner table often echo the same existential tone and concerns professors often take on in class, just guised in simpler language and vocabulary. A sociology professor said in class that we must work with the belief that anybody is capable of making a profound philosophical statement, it’s mostly their power in society that enables them to be canonized; turned into theories to ascribe to, which is why it’s important to contextualize where these statements come from.)

I’ve always been a little out of place in every place I’ve lived in and revisited frequently, no matter how cosmopolitan or exactly because of the cosmopolitan quality of having lived in these in-between places. My accent always slightly misplaced for the particular language I’m speaking; Telugu, Odia, Hindi, even when I know I’m not exactly inarticulate; the expressions, vocabulary and syntax are decent and in place. I spend hours looking outside my criss-cross window in a room of my own, wondering if I really have somewhere left to go back to or if I would ever want to, again. This room of my own is a halfway home that can contain my dreams and words and fears better than the homes I’ve tried to inhabit before. Trying to belong isn’t lost amongst staircases where I used to hide away from raised voices and doors banged shut.

I spent most of my childhood in a room with grainy, pista green walls and a window framed by a neem tree outside, that sometimes cast monstrous shadows at night, a different world than this hostel room, cool, ‘promise pink’ walls and a window framed by a mosabmi tree that’s almost never scary. I still feel very flustered when I fall asleep having left the door slightly ajar or unlocked. Does the coming of age necessarily make allowance for overcoming all your fears?

On one particular cab ride to the airport from college, it’s almost reassuring to hear lyrics about the strangeness of coming of age; we kind of want the journey to never end. The closed, air-conditioned car just makes us car-sick after a while and our shared silence becomes a sign of being consumed by a collective nausea and a sea of traffic. The man driving it asks us if we have five minutes to spare for him to refill fuel and we agree. He asks us to vacate the car to get fuel filled, and we are greeted by the pleasant sight of a man ogling at us and our nausea just gets worse. We hurry back into the car and let the exhaustion of it all wash over us.

I really wish there was a word that could encompass that feeling of driving to the airport every time or falling asleep with your bags all packed or in an empty room packed into cartons, a sinking feeling that characterizes the sense of an ending. To describe how the laburnums return every summer in Delhi just like the gulmohars return in full bloom before every monsoon in Hyderabad. All I can do is cling on to shadows of the fact that I had lived there, lighter portions where posters were sello-taped on to walls and ribbons with fraying edges tied on a cane book-shelf. I don’t have enough words to make this sense of belonging last, as I always outgrow it eventually, it never outlasts my attempts and yet, I keep trying to hold on to it.

Written by Priya Tripathy

Image by Megha Chakrabarti