Coming back home

I returned home from college for the mid-semester break yesterday. After Bangalore, the Chennai heat seemed luxuriant and not the annoying phenomena it used to be before. (And everyone felt it was cold while I was sweating). Entering the hall, I was struck by the fact that it had been 2 1/2 months since I had last been there. So much had changed in these months.

A few surprises awaited me at home. There was a new fridge and I was agitated that no one had told me (though apparently they had- seems like I was too caught up with other stuff to remember). The Wifi password had been changed and no one knew what it was. My brother seemed to have become much more considerate and responsible; heck, he was waking up to his own alarms!

But other things remained the same: his bookshelf was as messy as ever; he was still leaving his stuff all over the place, and I still had to pick out clothes for him to wear. I was nostalgic at the latter fact because I distinctly remembered feeling sad over small things like these when leaving home.

Leaving home. I can’t believe these words have come true. I never thought I was ready to take what was, in a lot of ways, a big step for a nervous and introverted child like myself. I still remember begging my dad to turn the car back, to take me back home. And I still don’t feel ready, to turn 18, to become an adult. Will I ever be ready?

Dreams about coming back made the last week of classes seem agonizingly slow. I was getting up later by the day, and pushing all my assignments toward the inevitable last-minute frantic efforts. I couldn’t wait to get back, to have actual podi dosai, and to be able to eat good, succulent chicken everyday rather than fantasize about ‘chicken day’ and wait in long queues for okay chicken to be served. I have no shame in admitting the gluttonous side of myself. I longed to sleep in a softer bed and have a long shower. And not worry about running out of clothes to wear because I was too lazy to do laundry, then find out that someone hadn’t taken their clothes out of the machine.

But I also surprised myself by feeling that I might actually miss my college residences. I never imagined I would feel like that, not after constantly cribbing about ‘needing more meat’ and the too-early breakfast timings on days when I had no morning class (FYI, breakfast was served from 7.30-8.30 am). Even though I did feel very homesick at times, in some way, college had become a familiar living space. It had its own unique references that I could plausibly long for: waking up at 8 15 and dashing to get breakfast in time, and the university Wifi which wouldn’t work exactly when you were trying to upload an assignment 5 minutes before the deadline and having a heart-attack (though it was pretty shitty most of the time).

Feeling both ways at the same time utterly confused me. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that though most things were the same at home, it felt like everything had changed. The change wasn’t something I could put my hands on or express clearly, but there was a definite sense of something having shifted.

Thinking about it, I seem to be feeling this way because the world I knew has gone on. Like me, the place I remembered and longed for has changed too. I will go back to college in a week, and when I come back, routines at home would have changed a bit more. Home is, and will always be, a cherished place. But it will never be again what it was before I left. As my dad says, it may be because I’m no longer a child, or more accurately, almost an adult.

While I was trying to express this yesterday, my dad quoted Heraclitus: ‘You can never step in the same river twice’. I had encountered this statement in an article I read long ago, but it made much more sense now. Though I think what I feel is better expressed by this Asar Nafizi quote: ‘You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but also the person you are now at this time and this place because you’ll never be this way ever again’- the only difference being that I feel this after going and coming back again.

Because part of my uneasiness stems from the fact that I have also changed a lot as a person in these 2.5 months, though I’m still very much self conscious and not at all fully ‘independent’- I’m still scared to travel alone for example. I console myself saying that each person’s definition of ‘independence’ is different: finally figuring out the washing machine after multiple mishaps is according to me, a major life achievement that deserves to be celebrated.

My lifestyle has changed drastically. Staying up till 1 am gossiping with my roommate about who’s dating whom has become natural, and it has messed up my sleep cycles so much. I have been trying to sleep at a more reasonable time but it is difficult as no one ever seems to sleep in college! I sometimes forget that other people have sane routines and call home at 10.30 pm.

College has been academically very exciting. I tell myself in literature class how awesome it is that we are analyzing together such great texts by a wide variety of authors, from Gerard Hopkins to John Donne (we broke our heads over Canonization) to brilliant Kannada writing in translation (Siddalingaiah and Jayanth Kaikini particularly stand out). My newest obsessions are the concepts of space and place in human geography, and Ramayana performance traditions, particularly the Ramlila of Ramnagar.

I would also like to think that I have grown as a person after coming to college. I attended my first queer- space meeting as an ally here. I have become part of the Ambedkar and Marx reading groups on campus, and we discuss these thinkers every week. One of my bravest decisions was to volunteer to present on the Communist Manifesto without having any prior knowledge of Marxian ideology. I tried my hand at dance and had the bitter realization that I could not dance for my life. I started drawing and music too, activities I have never been strong in.

A couple days back, I attended this two-day public policy course which championed a libertarian approach and left me very overwhelmed at the end, resulting in a major existential crisis as I felt like I wasn’t sure of anything anymore, and longed for my childhood when I could just eat ice-cream and read books and not worry about loaded terms like ideology. My only solace was the fact that I vehemently disagreed with many things they were saying; this assured me that I was capable of having my own opinion on issues. There was a lot to talk about during the car drive back home!

I was never very fond of change. Even now, I feel like everything has changed too fast without allowing me time to process it all. But, after reflecting on the past 2 months, I have to admit that though it has been very challenging, ultimately, it has been for the better. Leaving was hard, and never not painful. But leaving has allowed me to thrive.









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