Thursday, August 25, 2005

Where is Home?

Sourin had this lovely post on what our homes mean to us. Without a doubt, coming home after a long day or after a long trip is one of those experiences that each of us cherishes.

And, as I've been discovering to my surprise, this feeling (for want of a better word) is not limited to grown-ups. It catches children too, and it catches them young.

Three years ago, after a week-long cruise and a couple of days in balmy Miami, we came home. As we walked in the door, N, then two-and-a-half, walked around the house and greeted each room like he was greeting an old friend ("hi! dining room, hi! living room") with a mixture of recognition and delight.

Finally, he, who had been happily chowing down pasta, chicken nuggets and pbj sandwiches for ten days, made his way into the kitchen, looked up at me and asked, "Mama, can we eat bisi bele baath?"

Although we had been on many trips before, this was the first time he was not confused about where he was when we came home.

Over the past ten months, however, the equation has gotten a little bit more complicated. The first time we went on an extended trip out of Bangalore after we moved here, when it was time to go home, N thought we were going back to Virginia. Now he understands that we'll be coming back to Bangalore whenever we go out of town, but the fact that he is not at "home" is something that is constantly at the back of his mind.

He loves living in Bangalore for many reasons, the most important of which is that he has his grandparents, uncles and aunts here.

But he still misses his room and all his toys (even though we brought them all here - the problem is he wants to play with his toys in his room). He pores over old photographs looking for familiar things. He misses his friends and neighbors and the neighbors' pets.

The other day, out of the blue, he wanted to know where his bathroom was "at home". We were standing in his room here. I pointed in the direction of the bathroom and said, "right there". No, he wanted to know where his bathroom was in Virginia. It is amazing what issues and questions those little brains are mulling over.

Even though he has been remarkable in understanding and dealing with our new living arrangements (as we keep hearing, "children are resilient, they'll adjust to anything"), a couple of times (usually when he's exhausted) something has triggered a flood of memories accompanied by a flood of tears.

Three days after the last episode, he asked me if I wanted to know why he was missing home so much. He took me to his wall map of the US and pointed to the legend in the bottom right hand corner. It said "United States". I was floored.

When do children start getting attached to something other than a person or a thing? When we were watching The Quiet American (with a lot of fast forwarding, I had to watch it again later), he was repeatedly asking if the Americans were winning and was quite worried. How do they even develop this sense of attachment to a place or to a country, enough to miss it for almost a year after they've seen it last?

Obviously, to him, home is not just a place you live in, or come back to everyday, or where you can put your feet up and relax. He has all of that here, in Bangalore. To him, home is something more.

Now the question is, when we go back "home", will he miss Bangalore the same way that he misses Virginia now?


Sourin Rao said...

Thank you so much for linking to my post.
When you mentioned the cruise, I was reminded about our trip to NZ for 2 weeks, which I higly recommend for everyone, at the end of which we just wanted to come back home. And kids are so perceptive about these thigs as you correctly pointed out. You son must definately be thinking about his way of life which he has known since he was born, though he must have adjusted to his new surrounding pretty well. Very touching writeup indeed.
When I take Sidharth to the park in the evenings, somedays after having his share of swings, slided and the ducks he will come rest his head on my shoulders and quietly coo into my ears 'Maane Hoguva'. Its time to go Home. :))

Sunil said...

Amazing post.

Children will never cease to amaze me. I sometimes try to remember how my own mind used to work when I was that young....with fading memories of my early childhood.

When ever my nephew visits Bangalore, he's always torn between whether he wants to be in his ajja, ajji's house, and his tatha patti's (my parents') house. He always tries innovative ways to solve that problem ("Thatha, can you come with me to ajja's house and stay there?")

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Sujatha. Home is indeed a combination of a million little details and emotions - I for one have never manage dto figure out all of them..

One question - from your post, I take it you're going back to the US sometime ? So what are you guys doing back in India ? From what I 'd read earlier, I figured y'all moved back.

Don't mean to pry into your personal life, just a little puzzled :)

Sujatha Bagal said...

Sourin: you're welcome and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. NZ sounds very tempting. Was S with you when you went there?

Sunil: Thanks. And yes, children develop their world view when they're so young and they try to fit their life around them into that view. It's really cool to watch this unfolding, if sometimes heartbreaking.

Ash: Thanks. We are here for two years through V's job. So we're looking at moving back next year around this time. Of course, expat assignments take a life of their own, so we may stay here longer, go somewhere else when this one is done or go back to VA. Just have to wait and see.:))

Minal said...

Hi Sujatha,
What a lovely post. Your posts about N are special. Probably cause all kids are special.
Where do they disappear when they grow up?

Home, sigh home sweet home. I went back to my past.My obsession(call it if you want!) with my room, my board, my bed, my home:-)

Home is where the heart is, your little boy's heart is still in Virginia isn't it?

Sourin Rao said...

Hi Suj
Just me and Seema, since Sidharth was not yet born. It was a blot. I would recommend 2 weeks to do just the North island and then later go back and do the South island.

Anonymous said...

His job involved an assignment back in his home country ? Wow, that's COOL !! Enjoy :)

Sujatha Bagal said...

Minal: :))

Sourin: Hope I can talk to you when we get ready to head toward NZ.

Ash: Yup! It is cool. We're having a good time of it.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Ravi, isn't it amazing how children take on personalities of their own when they are so young? I totally agree with you about Bangalore. It is such a welcoming city, nammooru.

Anonymous said...

Great Post.
I have been following your blog for some time and love your writing style. I have called Bangalore home for 6 years before moving to California. This post especially made me think about my 11 month old daughter who can recognize when we are back home, after a day at the mall or at a friends place , she is delighted to be back home and crwals around all over the place, as if trying to make sure that the things are still where she had left them :))

Sujatha Bagal said...

Aneesh, thank you! That's a very nice thing to say.

And thank you for sharing that snippet about your daughter! It must be a delight to watch her doing that.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Asheesh, sorry, it's almost a year later, but just noticed I misspelled your name. Apologies. :)