A Tale of Two Countries.

‘Home is where the heart is’                                                                                                                                           – Pliny The Elder

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As soon as the plane begins to lower itself yard by yard towards the green canvas below me, in pursuit of the concrete runway, I’m giddy with excitement. The view gets sharper and sharper. Sprays of palm trees bend menacingly over grey coloured lakes and seas. The dirty white high rise buildings herniate through patches of greenery. Roads, cars, people… all begin to form below me with evolving clarity. It lands with a bump and a jolt before its tyres emerge and sweat to a clean halt. The stale flight air is thronged with the cold, rancid perspiration of every passenger and after 17 hours of travel I can’t wait to wash myself of their remnants that cling to my face, jeans and hoodie. Expertly weaving through the unforgiving push and shove of crowds in the hallway (Indians don’t waste time with etiquette, so when in India, do as the Indians do) I practically sprint over the tiled white floor of the air conditioned concourse aiming to be first in line to flash my passport and collect my cases. I’m ready to go home.

As the sound of the seatbelt sign resonates through the aircraft, I feel the first dip in my stomach as the flight begins to descend. As I look out of the window my pupils are swimming through varying shades of greens and yellows in a patchwork quilt where the material takes the form of well demarcated fields of grass and corn, and the clean stitches looping each patch together take the form of neat, dark green hedgerows. Little housing estates poke out of the patchwork in concentrated zones. Everything is square or somehow angular. I chuckle to myself as I can’t help but marvel about how anal England is with its military, disciplined approach to neatness. I love it. From the minute my foot lands on the blue, carpeted passport control section of Manchester Airport, I know the queues will be organised, the staff will be efficient, and before I can even click on the whatsapp icon to alert the world of my safe landing, I’ll be out of security, cases rolling smoothly behind me. My cheeks are gently kissed by the cool English air. I’m ready to go home.

Roads in Kerala are an experience within themselves. Although I’m privileged enough to always make my way from airport to my grandmother’s house in a taxi (yes of course it’s a Maruti) with a driver who we have known for several years… sitting at the back of an auto rickshaw renders another quality of appreciation altogether. The first thing you will notice about Kerala is not the heat… but the humidity. A clammy condensation clutches at the air leaving a thin film of it coating your face and arms. But in an auto that humidity gets left behind as I poke my head out and the rush of dusty heat whips at my squinted eyes and liberates the uncontainable wisps of my hair. It takes an expert driver to maneovre the vehicle around the dry potholes where Tarmac has been greedily consumed by the monsoon. The smell of petrol fuel singes the air but a few metres in, it mingles with the unmistakeable spice of street food and the sweetness of frying, golden banana fritters. We drive past tea shops, billboards advertising gold, and expensive saris, slums fashioned from unsightly blue tarpaulin and corrugated iron, dark ladies in brightly coloured saris carrying giant baskets on their heads walking barefoot on the scorching road (imagine the occupational health risks here… actually, no, don’t), school children with well oiled plaited hair tightly tied with ribbons matching their uniform colours, temples where the distinct whiff of incense teases the zephyr, filling my lungs with its muskiness, bakeries, boutiques, and hardware stores with the name ‘peekay’ or ‘jaykay’. Imagine a chaos that cannot be navigated by foreigners. That, friends, is India.

I have moved around the UK a fair amount as a child while my parents were hopping from job to job in hospitals all over the place. Packing up all my toys into cardboard boxes became quite the norm… and contrary to what you may be thinking (lack of stability in Gowri’s childhood is the reason she’s so messed up now… Please, I beg to differ) it was actually quite fun. My world would sometimes be held together by a childish excitement of what my room in the next house would be like. Would I be able to decorate it with my S-Club posters or would dad shout at me for the blue-tack stains? Would we have a garden? What would the kids in the next neighbourhood be like? (usually bitchy and bratty, as I found only too often) And what kind of cinema will we be going to for the next Harry Potter movie? Will there be popcorn or will I be too edgy to eat? There better be a decent sized table surface in my bedroom for my CD player because I’m not listening to my Now 44 CD in the living room again. When I turned 10 my parents did something radical. They bought a house. That meant we owned it. A little piece of somewhere that was mine. The three of us. And of course, I was going to have to get ready to be a big sister now because little munchkin will be coming along to my new house. No home has ever compared to Lancaster. Not only is it the most beautiful place in the world with its old stone houses, its small town feel, and its balmy summer evenings spent drinking outside the pub by the canal… It’s given me a base. A place where I know I belong. Where I completed seven years of high school (that’s the longest I’ve ever been at one school!) I met my best friend in the world here, (even though she’s buggered off to London now and thinks she’s all that). If someone asked me where I grew up… Technically I’ve grown up in six different cities in two different countries. But without a shadow of a doubt my response would be “Oh, I grew up in Lancaster. That’s home”.

It’s raining. Not some cold, harsh rain that pierces my skin and makes my hairs stand on end. A mild, tepid, soothing rain that settles in my pores and permeates the depths of my dermis. The stone steps are warm against the soles of my bare feet, water slowly seeping through the trouser bottoms of my cotton, orange churidhar. I quickly pace up the forty steps before me and the sound of bells clang against my eardrums. It’s twilight. The sky above me is a deep, dark blue patched with clouds and the heavens are bound to break open soon. As I set a foot down on the temple floor, I pray internally that the doors of the shrine will be open. I slow down. In front of me, there are a hundred oil lamps burning around the outside of the temple. Their fire glows brightly against the dense sky. I am the only person there. At the centre of the temple, I see him. Lord Krishna…. Body sculpted in butter, drawn with a face of gentleness. My eyes begin to sting with tears. I close them and a wave of peace washes over me, drenching me from my surface to my soul. I can’t stop the tears. Despite all rationality, I feel like he waited for me, like he cleared the temple of everyone else and he wanted me to see him looking this beautiful tonight, as if to tell me that he is all mine. I do not speak much of my religion because it opens up questions I’m not qualified enough to answer, but my faith in him has been cultivated from such a young age that no logic can defy it and it cannot be shaken. Once a year, at the very very least, I need to be here. I need to come here. I need to feel how I feel right now because I cannot get this feeling anywhere else. All thought has been swept away from my mind and replaced by a single word. ‘Thankyou’.

“Muuuuuuuum, my train is in twenty minutes, can you hurry up and drop me off?!” I can’t be bothered to leave but I really need to go to hospital tomorrow because I’ve faked sick one too many times. I think spending my entire birthday in bed with pizza and back to back episodes of crappy TV really put the cherry on top of the cake, but since my exams are coming up in a month, I should probably show my face on the ward and pester some patients. I always feel a little sad leaving Lancaster. My family are all here and God, it’s good to get things done for me… Like my washing and cooking. But I recall how it was for my last few teenage years. The way my mum and I would fight. I became desperate to fly away from this confined little nest in this confined little town. I like to think I’ve spread my wings now but there are still nights where I’ll go to bed and long for my nest again. If I said that Birmingham felt like home, I would be lying. But after a long day of hospital, I love to go back to our shoddy little rented house, make a cup of tea and dump all my bags in my room, reveling in the comfort of my own little space after being surrounded by people all day. And I sort of like living without my parents. I like cooking my own food the way I want to, when I want to. I like not having to lower my gaze from any potentially grouchy faces when I come back at obscene times of night. Although it took a few months of adjustment, living away from home has been good for me in so many ways and now… I couldn’t really go back. Funny how I’m still moving around now and hoping my room in the next house will be really nice… Except this time I can put my S-Club posters up without having to answer to anyone. Plus I’ve discovered white tack… And no, it doesn’t stain.

So what is home at the end of the day? In the Oxford English Dictionary, it is described to be a place of permanent residence. True, the sense of permanence lays the foundation of calling a place ‘Home’ but I think it’s more than that. I reckon ‘Home’ is a feeling inside us rather than a place outside us. A feeling I tend to associate with warmth, peace and love. I have found home in many different places, all in different ways. India is as much a part of me as England. At the same time, home generates a sense of attachment which is not necessarily good for humankind. Attachment and desire are, after all, the root of all sorrow. For instance, my local Krishna temple in Trivandrum that I attended since I was a child is a slice of home that I cannot find anywhere else in the world. But I know my opportunities to come back here are becoming increasingly limited. And what will I do without my spiritual fulfilment? I will be forced to find that very slice of home inside me, not outside me.

I can only hope that as the future rolls along, I am able to find this feeling of home wherever I may go. Every one of us does, after all, deserve the warmth, peace and love that home brings.

Sending much happiness and fulfilment your way,

Gowri xxxxxx

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