This nomadic life was of my own choosing.
I was restless in a small town; the pull of the unknown was strong. And so, over ten years ago, I tore myself from everything I knew and packed two bags and left my home for good.
In a new land, I kept few possessions. I told myself that should I need to move again, I’d pack everything required for my journey neatly and efficiently. I’d leave everything else behind – like a man walking out of a burning building who has nothing to lose, no reason to look behind.
I would always continue to accumulate mental baggage – gnarled recollections of places, people, and events, which, I’m sure, bear little resemblance to an absolute truth. But I promised myself that I would strive to stay unencumbered by physical detritus.
Recently, I visited the home I had once called my own.
The names on the marble slab next to the gate I had to enter to get inside were the same. But the letters had faded over the years.
I walked inside. The saplings in the yard had long given way to majestic broadleaves. When I knew them, I was green too. Now, like the aging trees, if you cut through me, you would have noticed the annual rings that marked the shifting seasons of my life.
I looked at the house. It needed a fresh coat of paint. The wooden panels of the windows needed to be sanded down. There were clothes hanging on the line, but not one of them was mine.
Stepping inside, I instinctively removed my shoes exactly where I would have put them ten years ago. The mosaic floor, which was missing a few pieces from the intricate puzzle, needed polishing. The walls looked rougher than I remembered them through the filtered distemper of memories.
The house had become older without my knowing it. I had sought variation in my life, clinging to the comfortable thought that there would be a small house –my home –that would remain unchanged in a distant part of the world.
After all, isn’t a home supposed to be a permanent unchangeable physical embodiment of our deepest desires? It is the reason we happily succumb paying off loans that last longer than our lifetimes. The reason we bequeath our cherished spaces to those we love the most.
My home will last longer than me. It will be around forever.
It is a dream we routinely pursue as we draw lines across sand and soil. As we pile brick upon brick and reinforce stone upon stone.
The countless digital photos we take of every nook and cranny perish as inevitably as the physical remnants, to be slowly engulfed by the bushes they rudely displaced.
And so with much trepidation I entered my room.
I took a good look around. It was just as I had left it. Was I hallucinating?
The pictures which I had hung up on the wall were still there. The ceiling fan still screeched and shook as if it was about to rip itself out of the ceiling. The books on the shelf, although now yellow and dusty, were still arranged in a familiar order.
But the more time I spent in the room, the more I felt like I was an outsider. Even though through some wondrous phenomenon, the possessions of my youth remained trapped inside the time-capsule, this room was alien to me.
At that moment, a younger version of me would have been lying on the bed staring at the ceiling fan with affected eyes, his ridiculously impractical floppy hair a badge of seditiousness.
What hackneyed aspirations and naïve musings would be going through his head? It would hard for me to guess. He would never have shared his intimate thoughts with someone like me. Of course, he didn’t know that he would turn into me.
And so, here were the facts – plain and simple. I could be transported through time, but this would never be my room again. It belonged to someone else. I was inside a house which would never be my home again. It was gone forever.
It was time for me to find another temporary confine, to aspire to make it my own for a brief nomadic season.
I shut my eyes and left. If I had kept them open, the house would have crumbled in front of my eyes.
24 thoughts on “Time machine”
can totally relate since I went through the same process when I returned to my former home and former room. I finally gave it up to my parents…I believe it has been turned into a computer room now…. great post!
A cousin had to make a very difficult decision recently. He had to decide if he wanted to sell the house his father built, which was not being used anymore or keep it as a vestige of his childhood.
I’m sure it took a lot of introspection, before he was finally able to sell it.
Oh brilliant! Simply brilliant! And moving. This one has to be among the very best I have read here. Well done, sir. Very well done indeed.
Thank you very much 🙂
I don’t like to be photographed, I don’t keep letters, I delete most of my non-blog-promo tweets, and I never want to revisit the important places from my past. Our lives are moments, not chunks of physical space, and the best way to hold on to your moments is by remembering them – your way. Physical changes, once seen, cannot be unseen. Hold on to the things you love by leaving them behind.
What? You mean your name is not Yan Zhitui?
Jokes aside, you make valid points. As we move more of our lives online, we’re moving away from physical spaces anyway. People don’t print photos anymore and our playgrounds are online chatrooms, forums, and Facebook. I guess the difference is most people don’t think of these as being long-lasting like physical spaces.
Beautiful, as always.
I love how you’ve captured the sad, yet sweet feeling of rediscovering roots. Those roots may very well seem alien but I think that familiarity returns once we’re older, more removed from the daily distractions of life and work.
I remember this Twain classic
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Employed life is like teenage. It’s like sitting in a frenzied, temporal warp for 30 years before returning to the things that matter most. Roots will never really be alien to us, it’s just we who are alien to them.
Thanks for your insightful comment and for the Twain quote.
Story of my life. 😀
You have brilliantly captured what a great number of us feel on so many levels when we go back ‘home’. That feeling of being unfamiliar amongst the familiar.
Thanks for reading. I always find it harder to articulate these type of posts because they have no beginning or end. I’m glad you liked it.
One of the best blog posts i have read in long, long time !!
That was beautiful!
Thank you 🙂
Virulently nomadic. That’s two words describing my association with homes. This is where I was born. This where I started going to school. That is class four to class nine. This apartment is where we stayed when we moved to Calcutta. My father passed away in that balcony of this house. So goes the mindmap of my association with homes – a kaleidoscope of memories bound together by emotions that are contemporaries. Slightly tap the device and a new pattern emerges.
Where does that leave the roots? Or let’s peel that back one more layer – what is root? Is it a concept of chronology or sociological associations or emotional attachments or something quite different to all these? I do not know the answer but each time I go back to a physical structure that I had at some point called home, I discover fragments of memories. Some of those memories have people associations while some are lonely yet deep. But each gives me back a small torn up piece of root. A root that was never intended to be a continuum by He who writes the scripts of our lives. A root I only know as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – a puzzle that I have kept solving all my life. Each time I come close to fitting up all the jagged edges, some new pieces get thrown in. And life meanders along. Like Tagore, I have learnt of homes in every land and like Tagore I am trying to find them out.
Cannot thank you enough for such a wonderful post, Anirban.
I read your comment and was blown away. This is beautiful. I hope you expand on the thoughts in it somewhere. Too profound to be left as just a comment on a blog.
Best wishes to you, as always
There was a time, when I used to visit my ancestral home. For festivals and family gatherings.
Now years after, everyone has moved to the more urban places.
ah, them memories. You have hit the nail. Beautifully written. =)
I haven’t visited my ancestral home in quite a while. I don’t know how I would feel now that my grandparents are gone.
Thank you very much for reading. 🙂
Lovely writing. It was easy to be in the shoes of the narrator as he made this journey. I can’t help thinking he is a bit harsh on himself. Maybe the younger version’s aspirations were not so hackneyed. Maybe he needed an older version of himself to confide in. When I see them together in the room, they look like they can reconcile. Be friends.
I wish they can be friends too. Somewhere beneath the rapidly changing exterior, I hope there is a heart that can connect with the thoughts of the younger version, someone who has not completely sold out.
Thank you for reading and for your comment. 🙂
Brilliant writing. I can relate to what you’ve written for I’ve moved to a different country altogether. I hope to move back there in few years.
Thanks for the post.
Thanks for reading 🙂
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