Monday, January 19, 2009

Crab apples, Cornflakes and Questions of Homesickness

My mother picked crab apples
off the Glasgow apple tree
and pounded them with chillies
to change
her homesickness
into green chutney.

This poem by Imtiaz Dharker and Ashima (in The Namesake by Jumpa Lehari) adding chillies to cornflakes to have something that tastes like home are perhaps the two most touching moments of homesickness that I have come across.

It would be too simplistic to say that homesickness is about geographical boundaries. Having grown up almost entirely in a country that is not ‘mine’, I know that it is possible to transform ‘home’ and its subsets of culture, traditions, languages, emotions, values etc into cassette tapes, satellite television, cans, flight tickets, celebrations, concerts and tea parties. Believe it or not, I grew up playing gulli cricket in a country that has no idea that a game like this exists.
So let’s shed away this concept of countries and nationality when we speak of homesickness. But then what’does it really mean? I agree that the physical area that you are most comfortable in is a huge portion that makes up home. But I am pretty sure that this space can be moved around, perhaps not in entirety, but more or less. (Am not sure, I’d have to wait and watch if that statement really means anything)
Part of me wonders if homesickness is a human tendency to live in the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. I know many people who crave for a place they have left behind but I am sure when they do return they might not be as happy as they expect to be. (Again, let’s wait and watch)

Another thing I feel about homesickness (and this might be more of an individual case) is the element of guilt that comes along with admitting that you find another space more comfortable that the one you are in right now. But what I remind myself of is that (and this is a reason, not a justification) it takes time to get used to a place. And the concept of ‘home’ is not built overnight.

There has been a lot of discussions (mainstream media, academicians, individuals) about diasporas and their feeling of (un)belonging. Would it be too arrogant to say that those who have not experienced homelessness cannot understand the extent of this emotion? And again, if it was as simple as geographical boundaries, then it becomes as simple (though time consuming and expensive) as visas, permanent residencies and citizenships.

I worry if this is just a block in our heads. If we were more open about things, people and changes around us, would we feel ourselves to be less out of place? (I don’t know why I find myself speaking for ‘the collective’; I presume people other than me also feel this way). But another reality that stares blankly into my face is that acceptance of this new place is one thing but others acceptance of you is quite another. The unfortunate fact is that all of us, to some extent or another, have set parameters of how others should be and when an outsider comes in and doesn’t fit into that (I don’t want to say mould) notion, it is difficult to be non-judgmental about that.

So the idea of homesickness comes also from the fact that ‘home’ is a place where you were accepted for how you are, for the most part. Of maybe our definition of home is the place where we feel that we can be ourselves without sticking out like a sour thumb or without having to make to make efforts that are not natural.

Ah… this thought goes on. There is no end. And sometimes I feel all this really doesn’t mean anything at all. And sometimes I feel it’s the most essential thing. For now, I feel there is nowhere else to go with this though right now.

Good night.

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