Friday, June 3, 2011

What is home? Is it a personal concept or a political one?

I was up half the night reading Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna and was captivated by her vivid descriptions and fast paced plot. It being historical fiction set in my hometown of Coorg, I was further intrigued by the fascinating glimpses this book provided on the development of Coorg under European but chiefly British influence, their club culture, pioneering coffee plantation, influence on language, food and costumes but most of all their gift of education. Despite all this bonhomie between the colonizers and locals, albeit with lingering superiority on the part of the colonizers and distrust and equally lingering superiority amongst the locals, generations of Europeans continued to make Coorg their home, until the Nationalist movement and impending freedom from British rule, wrenched the connection apart and the Europeans left en-mass.

It made me wonder the question of "home", again. What is home? The Coorg-European relationship was free from formal struggle and surrender, the Coorgs having actually invited the British in as an ally against Tipu Sultan who was hellbent on not only annexing Coorg for Mysore State but even went in for forced conversions of Coorgs into Islam. So, despite starting off as allies, the relationship ended pretty much the same as it did everywhere else when India gained independence. The Europeans were the outsiders and they had to get. out. now. Seemingly, nothing that they had done over a few generations, qualified towards them considering Coorg their home as well. 

I am not romanticizing the colonizers here. Political supremacy and racial superiority as a collective evil did exist. However, beneath all this, there was also the matter of simple human connection, relationships built on shared land, society and economics. How easily that seems to have disappeared in the face of political freedom!

Why am I obsessing about this question of home?Well for one, I have been pondering this question ever since I first became an expat in the US and continued to ponder the question when I moved back as a repatriate. For another, home truly seems to have become an amorphous concept today.

Today, in the modern world, moving around from place to place in search of security and stability with even international borders feeling porous, what is home? Can any place where we settle down and be productive be called home? If this is so, then is there a place in our life for our heritage?

The Europeans had to get out of Coorg, because no matter what goodies they brought into the land, their heritage branded them as outsiders. Does this attitude hold good even today?

Although, individually we do not take up significant political space when we "move" to another country, will collective appropriation of economic space be considered consuming political space by default and thus come across as undesirable at some point? Does this mean, the meaning of home will always be in a state of flux changing with shifting fortunes and attitudes?

What is home? Any ideas, anybody?


  1. Oh my goodness, what is home? What a loaded question for me: I've spent so much time thinking about it! I grew up primarily in the US but spent 4 years in other countries -- hence becoming a so-called "Third Culture Kid," roughly meaning, for me, I don't feel at home anywhere! I happen to live in a state (Maine) where many people never leave and consider it odd if you're "from away," so I feel like a bit of an oddball for being a relatively newcomer (14 years!) and because, as you say, home always seems in a state of flux. And if there is a sense of heritage related to home -- then where is mine? Interestingly, I blogged about a similar topic today from a slightly different angle! Great questions!

  2. Hi Julia...when you think about it, it is a difficult question isn't it? Like you, I've always felt a bit of an oddball everywhere I go including my hometown, even though I kind of completely grew up there before moving out...can't think of one particular reason to attribute it to...on the other hand this basic rootless feeling makes me feel less grounded. Tough choices - on the one hand I love living a nomadic life, moving from place to place, exploring different cultures, on the other hand this is probably the hardest way to work on feeling anchored in dilemmas galore! Anyways, leave it to the men or maybe simplify it....I asked my MEH the question, what or where is home for you and he says... "our marriage is my home, so wherever we are together that is home for me"...!!how easily the question is solved for him and here I am thinking, pondering, writing, fussing...!!

  3. Oh, boy, coming right after you both in the comments section, at least I feel I have kindred spirits on this topic.

    I have not lived anywhere I could call home for a long time. If I had to pick a place, I'd say Leura in the Blue Mountains of Australia felt like home to me - because I would pick it first if given a choice of where I could move next. But I only lived there for one year so I never put down community roots. Weird how drawn I feel to it in spirit anyway.

    Like you, I could ponder this topic endlessly so I had to laugh when your MEH reduced it to a simple formula. I know he must be more content than me. :D

    Strangely, even though my MEH typically reduces large issues into simple feelings as well, on this topic he's more in my camp. We have done various things to try to find the magic answer. We even did an online test (it was a very good one, if you ever want the link) to find out our most likely place and then took a trip to North Carolina to find out if it was true. (The results were . . . undecided. Argh.) Perhaps the craziest thing we've ever done was to engage the services of an astrocartographer, who gave us three locations based on our combined charts. We ended up asking for a refund because his suggestions were all places we hated (climate) or feared (tornado alley), even though he interviewed us first to find out what criteria we wanted him to use. It felt like he ignored all our criteria and just gave us something that his charts software spat out.

    What is home? I'd have to do a lot more writing to even begin to try to answer that one. ;~)

  4. Hey Roona, I know we have discussed this topic before but coming to think of it I think home is where you are content and feel you belong. And what would deliver this contentment is for that person to delve deep into himself and discover.

  5. @Milli - The astrocartographer does sound intense! And do please send me that actually curious to see what it would turn up for me. I think I understand the feeling of being drawn in spirit to Leura, Blue Mountains. Sometimes the heart just knows...
    @Suchi - Yes! Feeling contentment and a sense of belonging would be THE thing and it seems to me like as we grow older and gather more experiences, that feeling eludes us more often...which is truly maddening.

  6. Roona.. You have raised an important question that many scholars and writers have been bedevilled with.The answer never appears to be simple.. especially in a situation where multiple movements that invite not just emotional but juridical connections to the spatiality of one's existence.Perhaps, each one attempts to resolve the question in his or her own inimical way.

  7. Roona - Here's the link, though it may be a dud for two reasons: (a) I can't get the site to load (but maybe that's just temporary) and (b) I think this might only be for the 50 U.S. states. So you might end up even more conflicted. . . .

    Good luck. 8~)

  8. @CPR Sir...yes, it is funny how "home", one of the simplest concepts in childhood becomes so complicated as an adult!
    @Mill...Thanks for the link Milli...will play around and see what it comes up with for me!