It’s true a home never loses its soul. Long after people have left and gone away, or even passed on, they live on in the spaces they had once inhabited, within the four walls their giggles bounced off and in the silent corners that concealed their darkest secrets, those that lay buried deep in their hearts. Perhaps that’s why when we’re forced to leave a home where we have spent many years of our life, and despite packing up our material belongings and transporting them to our new abode, we leave behind our soul. So if we ever happen to return, we often find a missing part of us there.
I’ve always been drawn to old, dilapidated bungalows. Courtesy the exodus of the Anglo-Indian community of my hometown to foreign shores post independence, growing up at McCluskiegunj, I saw many around me. I would often wander through the open front door and stand in the hollow rooms and gaze at the stains on the whitewashed walls where photo-frames of family portraits once hung. It made me wonder about the lives of those lost folk. Looking through many a broken windowpane, into an overgrown garden below, or far beyond the compound wall, as far as my view would go, it intrigued me and I tried to imagine what could have run through their minds to behold the same view.
It’s clear home isn’t just a private space, and as Charles Dickens once said, “Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” Centuries after they live, homes of many famous personalities are thrown open to the public for them to experience not only a slice in their legacy, but a piece of their personality that remains forged forever and can be found within the empty spaces they once filled. Writers across the world and loyal readers alike have often equated it to a surreal experience to stand by the writing table in Jane Austen’s Hampshire Cottage. It is there that she spent many years of her life, imagining and conjuring up her characters as she penned some of her most popular work, Persuasion, Emma and Mansfield Park. It must be a similar experience to behold the wooden bookshelf in the library room of Mark Twain’s house and museum, at Connecticut, where contemporary editions of the titles the renowned American writer and one of the greatest humorist of his country, Samuel Langhorne Clemens had owned, and can still be found. From the exhibits on display, their personal belongings, the furnishings they used and the art that they savoured, they give us that rare opportunity to be able to compare their creations in the sanctuaries they inhabited and surrounds they drew inspiration from.
It can also be quite overwhelming if you consider the fact that these renowned personalities occupied these spaces in a different era, and under some interesting and precarious circumstances whether it was the world wars, revolutions or their personal struggles. It is perhaps in these very places, where their presence can still be felt, albeit in a good way, we will get the closest to knowing them. Visiting their homes is like looking into a person’s life. It’s a glimpse at the legacies they left us with. And not only do we get a chance to befriend their memories, these visits become a fond memory of our very own.
This takes me back to the time I visited Santiniketan. I was blown away by how deeply the surrounds still embody the Nobel laureate and his vision, despite him having lived here more than a century ago. It’s reflected in Visva Bharati University and can be felt standing beneath the saptaparni trees where he once tread. Beholding his erstwhile homes, where poetry and plays once resonated, especially where it’s believed he composed many poems of his award-winning work, Gitanjali – gave me goosebumps!
Our journey of life takes us to various places and over that course of time we live in multiple homes, yet most of those spaces don’t feel like home. When we speak of home, it’s often a memory of an ancestral house or a place where we spend our childhood years that comes to mind. The strong attachment with these kind of homes comes not from the old, idyllic beauties or the pains that our ancestors put into planning or decorating them, but from the people we shared time with here. Those memories that we forged over the years, tug at the heartstrings.
Every Christmas and new year, no matter where I’m, my mind often wanders back to my hometown. And it’s not just the special yuletide flavour that comes from celebrating the festive season among family and the Anglo-Indian community that endears it to me. Much of my nostalgia is attached to my maternal grandparents’ old bungalow where as a child I felt the warmth of family bonding, no other four walls have yet managed to surpass. The typical colonial bungalow, with its sloping red-tiled roof and sprawling verandah had a chabutra (cemented platform) at one end of the garden surrounded by bougainvillea and roses bushes where house sparrows roosted at night and tailorbirds built their nests. On freezing winter afternoons, after lunch the family often sat out here, and basked in the sun.
Years later, if I happen to sit here, even in the absence of my family members, I almost hear their conversation trickle back to me. And after all these years and multiple homes I’ve lived in, standing there, within those four walls feels like a warm hug and is a real home for me.