Growing up as an army officers’ daughter, I have known many homes. Close to 14 different cities, towns, villages, and 9 different schools to be precise. From the cold mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the harsh desert expanses of Rajasthan, the lush green tea plantation hills of Assam, to the pristine white salt pans of Gujarat etc. Apart from the geographic contrasts, I have also immersed in a plethora of cultural contradictions. As you can imagine, for someone like me who takes hardly any time to make a new place & diverse people my own, the word ‘home’ still remains quite a mystery.
However, exactly a month back when I boarded a flight to India, there were butterflies in my stomach. I hadn’t been back in a whole year since I started B-school at Darden. Of course I was always updated about the goings on. I was constantly in touch with family and friends all over the world thanks to technology and rarely ever felt like I was too far away… As the flight left Abu Dhabi and approached the Rajiv Gandhi International airport at Hyderabad, I couldn’t wait any longer to claim my baggage. As I wheeled out my overweight “US looted” luggage trolleys through the arrivals, I could smell the familiar Indian summer air- humid and thick. As the crowd parted, I could spot our black car. My sister suddenly jumped at me and as I had predicted our golden Labrador, Oscar sprang right at me, my mom seated at the wheel! And suddenly it felt like homecoming…
Each morning I woke up to the chants of the classical mantras on the radio, the whiff of honey ginger green tea brewing, the aroma of lentils cooking away with magical spices, mom watering the plants outside animatedly instructing our maids of the daily tasks, the sight of dad peacefully reading the morning paper, the joy of Oscar playing with his chew toy next to him, and my younger sister still fast asleep probably only half way through her dream…
Somehow nothing had changed since I had left a year back, and in some ways, everything had. Things that felt so familiar, felt completely alien at the same time. These of course included all “foreign return” clichéd observations like the traffic sense on the roads, the sheer number of people, and the heat (unless you got back from Texas). I was totally prepared for these and quiet enjoyed them as well. But the ones that caught me completely off guard were the constant supply of delicious food at your whim and fancy, the “unpredictable appointment-less” plans and all night adventurous partying with friends, and the general feeling of being surrounded by people who truly care and love you unconditionally…these cliché’s felt vaguely familiar yet alien at the same time.
On my flight back, I sat next to a person who moved to the US many years back and every year thought about going back to his village in India for good. But after all these years he still struggled with this dilemma of picking a home. And then realization struck that I had also in fact left home, to be at a home away from home. But luckily for me when I closed my eyes, all the homes I have had for the past 27 years flashed by like a film reel. I felt lucky. I never had to pick a home. And I knew why.
I had never made a home in a ‘place’. I had made a home in my head and my heart. I had everything I needed to furnish it – fantastic memories, friends I could trust, and the love of learning. And that way it went with me wherever my journey took me…
Hi Archana! I saw your blog listed on the Darden website and I was hoping to ask you a few questions since we come from somewhat similar backgrounds! I’m from Hyderabad as well and an electronics engineer. I almost did Teach for India, but didn’t go through with it for certain reasons. Anyway, I would absolutely love it if you were able to answer a few questions that I had. Thanks!