In another week, I would have crossed 12,000 kilometers, and reached Hisar. The place where I grew up and my parents live . It’s a small town, where nothing much happens. It’s bigger than the fictional small town where everyone knows everyone, but smaller than the big city where no one knows any one. I have, on occasion, felt a little jealous of people who can describe their hometowns with a little more interest. Given that I now live in New York, I feel awkward telling my friends that I come not from Delhi or Bombay (places they want to see), but from a totally nondescript place that they will probably never want to visit. I have a tourist-complex.
But it’s home.
It’s the place full of my memories. It has my father’s library, which is not a fancy wood-paneled room with a leather armchair. What we have is a regular room full of sage-colored metal cupboards full of hardbacks and paperbacks in Hindi. It’s not cool.
It’s the house we built 15 years back, after living in rented homes for several years. It’s the place where we bought our first refrigerator, colored TV, washing machine, sofa, double-bed. It’s where my father parks his scooter.
It’s where my mother prays for her atheist family.
The word ‘home’ has always fascinated me. What do you call home? Is there only one home? Is it the place you feel ‘at home’? When I say I am going ‘home’, do I mean New York? India? Hisar? Or the house that my parents own? Ever since I left for college, I have grappled with this question. It’s been more than 12 years since I left Hisar. During that period, I have called Delhi, Bangalore, Gurgaon, Washington DC and New York ‘home’. After all the introspection, I have reconciled with the age-old cheeky saying that “home is where the heart is”. And right now, my heart is with my parents.
They live in a small house. They don’t have too many material conveniences, like a car or household help. They are simple people, who live simply. They believe in honesty and that, for some reason, implies a non-luxurious life in India. But, it is such a relief to go back to that lifestyle after days full of water, electricity, cooking gas and other public goods that one can take for-granted in the US. It feels like detox or taking off heels or normal.
Okay, let’s get back to my original motivation. What sort of food do you associate with home? Some people call it ‘comfort food’. It is food that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal. Comfort food means so many things to different people. In the US, it might mean mac-n-cheese, chicken soup or a meatloaf. To Tamilians, it might mean a tumbler of rasam.
For me, it means ghee-soaked stuffed paranthas (breads) for breakfast with a large glass of milk. It means rotis and daal and other north-Indian vegetarian food everyday because my parents are set in their culinary habits. In winters, it means eating oranges, rewri (sugar and sesame candy), moong-phali (peanuts) and gajjak (a snack made of jaggery and peanuts) while sitting out in the sun. For my family, it also means buying a basketful of green peas for a lunch curry and then, shelling them with my dad while sitting out in the sun and eating at least half of them while my mom screams at us for doing that!
North Indian winters are also synonymous with (carrot) gajar ka halwa and moong ka halvah. Whenever I am home, my mom buys kilos of carrots which are peeled and grated by the rest of us and then, painstakingly combined with milk, sugar and ghee to create the most delicious winter delicacy. We also make gond ke laddoo from edible gum, but they are not my favorite thing in the world. Plenty of pickling and canning takes place, along with drying out of whole red chillies, papad and chips.
I can’t wait to be home!