I haven't lived long enough anywhere for my roots to sink deep and intertwine around the little things that make a place what is called home. Home, for me has been a concept that constitutes people rather than houses or places. A house is not a home. With my mom, dad, and brothers, I've called places from the east to the west, my homes.
My husband, on the other hand, has spent two decades of his life in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh raised him. When we go out for drives or shopping, he likes taking me to grounds where he and his brother played football. One day, we passed by a wall and he told me of the time when he, with a bunch of friends, carved (I think scratched describes it better) their names on the wall. The names of these Indian kids, who are all grown up now, still stand as testimony to an era gone by, etched into the landscape of a city, where much else has changed. He shows me his previous residences, as we go through the streets through which he used to smuggle out his dad's car, to learn driving.

I am fascinated when he points to random people, in stores, and tells me he has grown up seeing them there for more than a decade. Like the old Bangladeshi man at the nearby Gas station, or a Malayali attendant in a Bakala (convenience store). I am jealous when he tells me some of the people in our weekly Qur'an class have seen him since a toddler, and he, in turn, has seen others grow from babies to teenagers. My mother-in-law has taught little girls who then became her co-workers as teachers, after 15 years. Isn’t this what home is all  about?

Is this what home feels like? When you live so long in a place that you have parts of you scattered across the city, sometimes, literally etched into old walls. Is home when you have seen the changing anatomy of a place as it builds on its skeletal foundations, to make a swanky capital, with malls and metros on every street?

I don't know what that feels like, because I've never lived in one place for more than three years. Moreover, I haven't visited most of these places ever again. Three years is long enough to feel settled down comfortably, anywhere, but not long enough to claim it for yourself. I remember outlines of these places. I remember the spot where I fell from my cycle and broke my tooth. I remember weekend bus trips with my mother and brother to a badminton coaching camp at the other end of the city. But much as I try, I can't remember street names, or people in stores, or kids I played with, in parks.

Apart from family and cousins, I haven't spent time with anyone long enough to see them grow out of their baby faces into angst-ridden teens, and then mature into adults. In my memory that predates Facebook, my friends remain frozen, instead, in different degrees of growth, for I haven't seen most of them outside these three-year brackets.

Nostalgia is kind, though-- when I remember these places, what stand out are the little things about them that gave me joy while I was there. They are the little bubbles that carried me, as I waded and floated precariously, through unfamiliar new territories.

I have come to terms with not having emotional ties with any geographical place. Clichéd as it may sound, I''m happy to be in any corner of the world, as long as I am with people I love, and who love me back. In fact, when I think of the predicament of the expatriate community who spend a major chunk of their lives in the Gulf, I think I am better off than most of them.

As a gulf expat, you spend years doing back-breaking work, while yearning for home. You wistfully dream of the smell of your soil, after rain, and greenery that cools the eyes, as you labour on in this barren land. You make homes in these places, start families, watch your children grow up in a landscape different from your own childhood, make little corners for yourself where friends fill the void of the family you left behind. And before you know, half your life has passed, and all you have to show for it are a large bundle of notes.

There is no citizenship, no retirement residence here. You are just as good as your ability to work. So, it doesn't matter that the prime of your life passed here. You pack your bags when you are asked to, and go back. You leave everything you were forced to make familiar, to return to a now unfamiliar motherland. But 'back home' is now no longer the home you yearned for. Yes, it's still green, and it still rains, and the people are apparently the same. However, they have moved on with time, and you are left wondering why this place no longer feels like the home memories had framed for you.

And if you are one of the many 'economic migrants', who left their country in search of better lives for families left behind, your return is likely to be even more devastating. You come back to the dream bungalow built with your blood, tears and sweat, but inside are tenants you don't recognise. Your family, who you saw only once in a couple of years, treat you like a distant relative. You realise that, along with the first steps of your little one, you had missed an entire childhood unfold its myriad charms. You missed decades of togetherness with your wife, who guarded your children and property while you were away. You missed all the inside jokes, the birthdays, the fights, the laughter, and the tears.

It hits you that your family was closer to your voice on the weekend phone calls from across the seas, than they are to your physical self, now that you are here. You are left, instead, with a name-sake family, living in a big house that is the talk of the town. It is then, as a last stream of consciousness, that you realise that your entire life you have been, and will continue to be, homeless.
What is home then?
Where is home then?

Nazreen Fazal is a writer, poet, and chronic traveller -  interested in exploring the intersection of language, religion and gender. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including The Hindu, Economic and Political Weekly, and Youth Ki Awaaz. She blogs at Penguin Peeks. Find her on Facebook.

Views expressed and claims made in the articles on this site are the contributors' own, and nrizone does not necessarily agree with them, or endorse them, in any way.
Contributions are published in good faith, with due diligence, and liabilities for authenticity or copyright lie with the authors.

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