The idea of home has been with me for quite a while. What do we mean by home? Where do we belong? Now that I happen to be away from the country, not for long though, such thoughts seep into the mind, making me mull over this rather serious matter of where I can be happy or what place there is on earth where I can be at ease with the circumstances around me.
When the jetliner bringing me to London all the way from Dhaka begins to make its descent at Heathrow, with all those lights reminding me of the proverbial Shining City on the Hill, I know I have come home. London is home.
And when the aircraft wheels touch the runway, I am reminded of Samuel Johnson. Didn't he say that anyone who is tired of London is tired of life? For me, London is energizing, for its captivating intellectual appeal. There is the sensuous about it, something that calls forth the beauty that often underlies seduction.
My visits to London over these past eighteen years have always been a reason for a rejuvenation of the soul. Its old bookshops, its coffee houses, its theatres, the bustle of its underground tube stations, the blue twilight of its winter evenings are the ambiance I lose myself in.
Yes, London is home. But so is Dhaka, the city whose traffic chaos irritates me to no end, whose noise is a handicap to thoughts of the serene kind. I wait for those times when with my family I can get out of Dhaka, go off to our village and take in the full freedom that life has on offer. And yet Dhaka remains an essential component of my being.
The walks through the university area, the long hours spent browsing at Pathak Shamabesh and The Bookworm, the conversations with rickshaw pullers and CNG auto-rickshaw drivers on the state of the country, the comfort of reuniting with the family at the end of the day, the beauty of humor traded with colleagues in the office --- these are the joys that define Dhaka for me.
Yes, Dhaka may be a huge urban slum, but there is little question that it pulsates with life. Things are always happening there. With all those book launches and drama festivals and musical shows, with all those heated discussions on national politics on the ubiquitous television channels, you know you are in a region of creativity. That creative sphere is home for me.
The internet goes off and you spend long minutes demanding that the cable operators do their job; the telephone goes dead and you call the lineman to fix it; your driver tells you a tyre on the car needs fixing. You lose your composure, you feel like screaming at the whole world. But, again, that is Dhaka, your home, the city which gives you your daily bread. You are because Dhaka is.
But home is also a journey through the past. My past takes me, all the time, to Quetta, for that is where I grew up, went to school, learned to read books and, in teenage, began to understand the nature of feminine beauty.
The girl with long eyelashes and longer hair, the bicycle rides in the afternoon, the trips to the Gosha-e-Adab bookstall on Jinnah Road, the charming evenings at the divisional library poring over biographies of American presidents, the endless games in the falling snow, the happiness of warming stiff, cold hands before a coal stove at home have kept Quetta in the mind. For me, Quetta has been home, will always be. But Calcutta too is home, for it is part of the legacy I have been heir to.
The old streets of Calcutta are replete with history. My father worked there for a good number of years, went through the riots of 1946. The woman I married decades ago belongs to Calcutta.
It is her home and mine. On Park Street and Mirza Ghalib Street, as I search for books to buy, I know I am home. Netaji Bhawan is where a huge part of the history of my people remains safe and secure. Subhash Chandra Bose was our own. Something of him is in each of us.
Home is Noagaon, that little village in Araihazar, for me. It is where my little nieces and my nephew rush to in sheer joy, where my siblings enjoy the freedom to be themselves. When the afternoon breeze whispers through the palm fronds by the pond, where more than five decades ago I kept watch against intruders as my grandmother took a dip in its cool waters, I know I am home.
The cemetery holding the remains of my parents, indeed of my ancestors, is a constant call to mortality. In those graves, which keep going up in number with the death of ageing, sometimes badly ailing, members of the clan, I spot the essence of home. I speak to the dead in the depths of the night, when the fireflies are engaged in a riotous dance around those graves.
I know I have come home when the twitter of the early morning birds rouses the village from its slumber. It is home which beats in the heart when the smell of burning dry leaves tells me my neighbors are preparing their dinner in the warmth of their huts.
My home is always my universe. It is peopled with memories, stashed with books, touched with melodies. It gleams in starlight, it shines in the passionate light of the moon. It sings in monsoon rain. Home is in the warm embrace of the beloved, in the sounds of her waterfall laughter.
Home is in knowing that in my weather-beaten twilight, it is yet dawn which bursts forth from within the recesses of my imagination.Home is in wanting to experience the fragrance of my mother once again. It is in the rekindling of a desire for a conversation with my father just one more time.
The writer is Editor-in-Charge,
The Asian Age