Home used to be a cramped little apartment where I slept with a nightlight in a room opposite the master bedroom that always smelled like motia ke phool that our parents would pluck every evening before tucking us in bed for school.
Home used to be playing hopscotch with the neighborhood kids as we would scrape our knees against the dusty concrete and the rumbling azan at six would interrupt the party as an old woman would stick out a fisted rosary, and shame us into retreating to our homes nonchalantly.
Home used to be the yellow and white striped wall that I would stare at while cursing the existence of math but still measuring the space between the numbers on the ticking clock that would eventually dismiss me from my angst.
Home used to be the slapping of playing cards against our coffee table as the taunts grew louder over the sound of hysterical laughter and we spent hours indulging in tournaments of board games and cards until one brother either stood up with victorious fingers in the air or another broke down into tears, and the end of the evening was declared.
Home used to be the pink and yellow cobbled street that led me from my evening classes through a maze of performers lining alleys and waiters handing out prosecco for free, as the city hummed together in harmony and I was accompanied back and forth by an orchestral symphony.
Home used to be the mild warm smell of freshly cooked daal chawal in a small faded bowl, garnished so heavily with cumin it dances on a tongue that is wine-soaked, as I wash away a grueling day with comfort food for the soul.
Home used to be a definition in a dusty old dictionary, forgotten amongst thousands of paperbacks unintentionally, describing a house that holds you within and decorates itself in your memories. Home used to be the physical space, simply the place I was living in. But when physical spaces begin to feel like quicksand and when you sprinkle enough homes across international lands, booking a return ticket becomes a lot harder to understand. For I have lived and I have grown in all the places that I have known and yet returning to those places often makes me feel like a ghost trespassing into a life that exists no more.
For standing in my empty childhood bedroom makes me want to mourn. Mourn the girl who lived here once but doesn’t exist anymore. Mourn the boy who exuded confidence and fearlessly brushed aside doubt, but now rests underground. Mourn the parents who lived with their children, all three, and mourn the little baby who was too young when he lost his canopy. Like refugees that hid into the night and left in a hurry, this room holds all our belongings and echoes with memories but no longer feels like a space for me. In the mirror on the dresser, I am no more than an ordinary stranger who has meandered her way over but the reel of memories in my head spin and screech.
Home used to be a space with four walls and a respectable duration spent within. Like an old friend or relative, home is the arms you crawl into and finally relax all your limbs. Home is where your long exhale translates into a prayer or a hymn. Home is where you are held, be it with arms or memories or enveloped in the warmth of a scent that can permeate through your skin. Home is finally washing ashore after fighting in tumultuous waters, trying to swim.
Home is that intense craving in your heart, when your arteries start clawing at your heartstrings, playing a melody so elegiac you begin to wonder what you are missing. Home is that longing to return, to no longer feel like you are constantly an other, to feel like you have a designated spot in this large convoluted puzzle. Home is what used to be, what is today, and what will be one day. Most of the time, home is a romantic little poem we scribble onto our hearts like a map and become determined to end up there, but once in a while you will look up and lock into a gaze that feels like a family game night and smell like motia ke phool and taste like comfort food, and you will realize home is anywhere you are held for being you.