What is it about illness that makes us long for all that were once familiar and are now buried somewhere in the sands of time?
I remember a dialogue from a Bollywood movie (yes, of all the places!) about Pacific salmons. Apparently, however far they travel during their lifetime, they always come back to their birthplace to die.
Maybe it is there in every living being, the longing to be home, whether we actually manage to swim back or not. Being sick – in pain, helpless and dependent, even for a short while – has a way of reminding us of our own mortality. You just woke up sick one morning; you might just as easily have woken up dead.
Knock, knock, you mere mortal, you’re a sentence with a period.
First comes the pain, then the half-cozy twilit zone of high fever, then the pain, then the sweaty, clammy post-fever phase, then the pain and finally the prolonged misery of convalescence. It’s at this final stage that nostalgia sets in. I’m grateful for the food I’m served, but it makes me long for the kanji and pickled lime that was the staple diet of my childhood fevers. I detest the air-conditioned room I’m in and crave to go back to the darkened corner of the old tharavad, where I used to lie alone and dream while recouping. In my mind, I take my mother’s tharavad to my father’s village and place it near the lotus pond there. Then I lie there by the window and look out at the paddy fields undulating in the breeze. I step out and place my bare feet on the uneven earth that is still wet from rains… And I wake up sweating under my comforter in the twelve-by-twelve room of my two-bedroomed flat, with an unbearable feeling of loss.
It’s not as if my childhood was idyllic – anything but, in fact. But my sick mind plays tricks on me. It pushes the many dark moments into the shadows and spotlights the few good ones tantalizingly in front of me. A play of light and shade, but very effective. I can feel tears prickling my tired eyes, and there’s an unstoppable urge to weep. Why am I in this stupid flat in which I can’t even stretch my arms properly without hitting something on either side? (Well, I’m unwell enough to be forgiven for a bit of exaggeration…) What am I doing here, in this hot, crowded, soul-less city with no friends to drop in? How can I just stay here like this, watching the yellow noon boiling on top of the dusty, characterless buildings? Tears of frustration roll down my eyes. Why can’t I just go back home?
I’m now well enough to know the answer to that why. Because, there is no home to go back to.
And that’s not because the old tharavad, like a dead tree on the forest floor, is now manure to the new house standing in its place. Nor because the fate of the lotus pond and paddy fields in my father’s village is unknown – if they still exist, they belong to somebody else, a stranger.
It’s because, though I tend to forget it every so often, home really is where the heart is. Home is where my over-worked better half manages to whip up something edible before rushing out to work. Home is where my teenager forbids me to get up from bed and cooks a bowl of oats to satisfy my sudden and untimely hunger. And home is where my little one plants a careful, non-contagious kiss on my forehead and tells me that he misses my sound and presence in the living room sooo… much, so get well soon.
Home is here, with them.