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  • Mareena Francis

One Person; Infinite Homes

‘Home’ has always been an elusive entity to me. The definition of it, the feeling it is supposed to evoke, the maddening singularity of the word. It appeared to me that ‘House’ has become synonymous with home but we are humans- notorious for finding the definition of home in the unlikeliest and also most obvious of places. If home is safety and belonging, freedom and rest, then home is littered all across the days of our lives.

I think first of a small space.

It is a nook up the curved brown staircase in my grandmother’s home. The spot at the top of the stairs has been adopted by many a grandchild. There is a book in hand, a back leaned against the old wall, and eyes that rake over the words. It is a traveling home that never shifts its spot; a portal within a home, granting entry into other worlds. When my eyes remain glued to the printed words across the pages, I am being transported and transformed. Not every book is a permanent home, but there are some that I continue to dwell in long after the last page has turned.

My grandmother’s house is a sprawling tharavadu that she manages herself. Widowed at 49, she never considered leaving the large house she had helped make into a home. The echoes of married-off daughters lived between the walls, as did the barks and cries of her dogs. There have always been dogs in her home, nuzzling underneath her saree and rolling about the vast green garden that is pure cinema in the rain.

There are flowers I don’t know the names of, and little sculptures of wood and clay decorating the long verandah and wood ceiling rooms. Her house is a ‘widow’s home’. What that means to me is a space of freedom and beauty; a sanctuary that is simultaneously artifact and also belonging.

I find this definition of a widow’s home in my mother’s eyes. It is a light that softens and reincarnates her when she drives through the gate of her mother’s home. It is a light that I see harden and restrict when she is in our home- her marital home. It is not that she doesn’t belong, but it is belonging thrust upon her. She did not grow here, she was put here. There are areas of this home where she is not granted control or safety. It becomes a place of work and a structure to hold to a standard. But even in this space that would never be granted fully to her, she finds spots to dwell in.

It is a long nook that she has created by the side of this house. Like her mother’s, there are plants and flowers all around and within my home. Among her plants, with her puppies nipping at the bottom of her pants, she finds her domestic bliss. In this nook, as a sly family heirloom, a green garden hose seems to link through my grandmother’s garden all the way here to my mother’s.

My sister’s plants are in sacred corners inside her flat. She has to stop her puppy from chewing at them, just like her mother and grandmother. Her home is on the 14th floor amongst a gathering of other flats that taste the sky. Her bedroom is in level with the clouds and she can see the other half of her city when she wakes up. She takes from her grandmother, the blueprint for a free space she can own. From her mother, she takes on the decision to steer clear of a marital home but find sacred dwellings in a city.

The big city housing society my sister lives in gives her a home that is a 2 bedroom sectioned space, which also has pools, playgrounds, and walking paths that cover more space than even her tharavadu does. It is a home shared with strangers, a whole ecosystem in itself. The tharavadu is big but it is a dwelling of family, a home to be passed on for all family that is yet to come. Even as I detest the control my mother lives with, in her renovated house in a small city, I try and remember that my tharavadu was also my grandmother’s marital home.

That small city my mother lives in is a home that developed its dwelling in me. It is a green city with narrow lanes and clear air I can breathe in. It took getting used to because the home I had grown up in was a brown desert city where the streets were wide roads and the air was always hot and musty.

Money was different, and so was the way I dressed. The languages were different and so were the faces of people. I learned that homeland and home were different. Caught in that divide, I found myself not belonging to either one. Until I chose to belong in both.

Now, the language of the green city is a permanent home. It has bubbled its way into my bones and I find myself constantly catching up with it. The language is as layered as the people and I find Malayali an identity I live with. The language has given me kinship, new words for things I didn’t know had words, and a rhythm to everything I say. I watch the language reveal to me the others who share one of my homes.

When I was shut in with the rest of the world, I was grateful to burrow into my house in the green city. If not for anything else, for the fact that I could always find a spot of green with my eyes; a sign to show me the whole world wasn’t on fire.

I, like everyone else, had to create an infinity within my singular house. It felt like too small a space for me to exist within. It was then that I considered the body I belonged to and the space it really needed. I found a spot on a red stool and dwelled in my mind, considering the inside while the outside was shut away.

I found myself remembering that my nose finds a home in the crook of a lover’s neck. Fingers find a home on clacking keys of a keyboard and in a pen that runs across paper. I have feet that are at home both on the ground tethered to gravity and water where they resist the pull of gravity.

It is an avalanche of belonging that we venture into every day. Even stuck between four walls, I find that my personal spaces create homes of their own. It is an infinity that I belong to, even as I serve as home to the infinite spaces that come together to form me. I am always belonging, and being belonged to.

To my eyes, the red stool where I discovered this thought was a place to sit on. It exists as a space below me. To my puppy, the stool’s legs are pieces of red to chew on and sleep under. It is a space above her, that exists for an entirely different reason than mine. The work area of my kitchen is a place I go to wash the dishes. It is a home my puppy now claims. My home has 2 floors and 5 bedrooms. My puppy’s home has a kitchen, a garden, a back area, and a cage. My transient spaces in our home are where she exists in her life.

I watch my puppy chew the red stool and I am overcome by another home- nostalgia. I find that in remembrance there is reliving. The reliving never holds up to the first time and that perfect pain is nostalgia to me. It is a place I find myself retreating to over and over, even as it breaks me open each time. I know looking at my puppy now, that she too will someday become nostalgia that breaks me open. She has created her home within me, in the place all my homes live- memory.

Memory is a funny home because it chooses what to pick and give me. It also chooses what to hold back from me. I am always at the mercy of my memory. It is the bane of my existence as myself. I have thought of memory as an imp; who steals and delivers a feast and morsel with the same deliberation. I hold on to memory, urging it to keep close every dwelling I have discovered. But sometimes, even a home I have abandoned comes rushing back. I am given back that memory and this is what happens when I rediscover a song I once lived in.

To explain much of what I discovered about home, came a song that allowed me to sink and float with it. It spoke for me, giving me the definition of what home is to me when I couldn’t find the words for it. The song told me it would adopt me as soon as I heard the title.

Pulling down backstreets deep in your head

Slipping through dreamland like a tourist

Pulling down backstreets deep in your head

Slipping through dreamland like a tourist’

- Dreamland, Glass Animals

A dreamland it is then- home that travels through my collected spaces, giving away infinite parts of me that can belong. Home is rest and freedom, safety and belonging. It is also a labyrinth always existing, waiting for me to slip into its arms again. I like to think it is deep in the gravity well of my head, waiting for new discoveries.

Just like the notes of the song, there are sentences I have lived in that can speak for me. There is a sentence I often retreat to, whose existence is always comforting. To have a line that perfectly says what I mean to say about the nature of home.

‘Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.’ by John Green.

No matter the size, or how long I have it for, every home is still an infinity.

To me then, home is an infinite dreamland. That is how I have chosen to look at it.

Following along the spaces I have dwelt in and attached a label of home, I have found familiar spots and faces smiling up at me. I wonder about the individuality of a home trail; the collection of spaces that everyone distributes pieces of themselves into. I wonder what mosaic it creates for each person, and if any single label could be put to it. I wonder if any one home could fully contain all those individual infinities.

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