Olmstead Point, Yosemite Valley
What is home, after all of these years? I hear the faint lullaby of white noise receding into the background: the laughter on the television, an echo of Mama and Daddy's conversation over a cup of chia. Those days were so long ago, though they feel like yesterday: the aroma of Ama’s dal that I long for in hindsight, in between the fresh doughnuts we shared on our walks from the temple. When in those days I would discreetly slip my cup of milk down the bathroom drain — did I sense the foreshadowing of a lifetime of secrecy? I rest in the illusions I have crafted, the definitions that are inevitable versus those that could have been.
Sometimes, I have no choice but to split my identity in two. An identity forms for others to consume alongside the one I bashfully embrace. In the spirit of my dishonesty, I fall for the poetry of those midsummer rides to Chambers Street to see him — and I find home in the conversations that form our secret love affair. Home becomes the turquoise mountains we forge our story under.
I am a captive to nostalgia’s treachery, a victim to the moments inevitably distorted by time. I used to dream of uncharted territories ahead. Where those days have faded in the adrenaline of transient joy, I long for the boredom of stability. So I recede.
Home is a realm of exile, where I am constantly torn between the comfort of the known and the lure of the unknown, where I am both a prisoner and in an odyssey, longing for an escape and yet pacified by my roots.
This tension is the curse of my wandering soul. I don’t know what has happened to the places I left behind. I don’t know if he still remembers my name. Though I saw, just last Wednesday, that the Indian restaurant on Main Street did not survive late stage capitalism — and the forgotten fragments of my history resurface every time I pass by Osaka.
Home is the sound of my brother’s voice from the dining room, announcing that Dinner’s ready! It is a song I hold amid the clamor of the moments that pass me by. I can only rest when I accept the jurisdiction of time, that one day, he too will grow old. I resist inevitability as if I stand a chance.
Home is an interplay of the idiosyncrasies I embody, where the weight of my history bears down on my present of contradictions. In this eternal dichotomy, I leave home in my quest for it — and I am once again walking past its corridors in its pursuit.
What is home, after all of these years? When the journey draws an end and the familiar walls emerge in the distance, I tremble with the fear that this is all transitory; because it is. Home is fickle. It is where I arrive to renegotiate my identity.
Bunny Hill, Mt. Shasta
Time passes and forces me to consider: Is this all I am condemned to be? The casualty of impermanence.
I tremble through this American sunset, wondering why the universe made me this way: so eternally defiant. And as the little ones question tradition, I begin to understand why my father craves dal bhat tarkari every night. It isn’t the dish as much as it is the sentimentality of his nostalgia. The senses aroused in that one experience is now his only entryway into a lost time. And the memory comes flooding in: the memory of those days, when I had believed it was a battle worth waging that Angrezi food is not subpar against the subzis he longed for. I had gotten the story all wrong.
What was the story?
Do you ever wonder how two people can cohabitate the same space, but exist in different planes? How can we hold the conviction of a shared language, but float in different interpretations? In our most defining moments, our dialectic did not exist in a vacuum. It was a summoning of the imagination carved by our unique memories.
That is why the dal marked for my father the kajal of Ama's eyes. The brown of her skin. The vermillion on her forehead. The memory, reawakened in her absence, came alive in the sensory awakening of a simple taste. What appeared an aromatic dish to an outside observer was the only milestone that had yet to abandon him in the passing of time.
And he would tell me, when I fried basil for a chicken alfredo, to run the pressure cooker alongside it, with dal. Why can't you just appreciate what I am making for you, Daddy? I would cry.
This is the curse of our dialectic. I carry an umbrella but it isn't raining. And my father is on the train into his past. He is trying to find the moment he was forsaken by the sunlight. And so he retreats, his memory now his only sanctuary. And I become a phantom as he approaches the time before I was born.
Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal
You wonder why you spent all those years, chasing phantoms. Why you found home in the mountains. Why the layers of mist seeping through the valleys filled you with a sensation of home. Until you return to the place you had swore you would never leave behind. And in your reconvergence with reality, you see your fantasy reflected before you in the image of your childhood home.
Homecoming is a poignant act. You realize that your dreams are memories in disguise — and that your relentless pursuit of the unknown was a desire to return to a time that was only promised once. You think about your happiest memories and how they, too, carry an undertone of melancholy, because a moment, once it is lost, cannot be felt again for the first time.
You think about your grandmother's laughter and how it lit up the spaces that feel smaller now that you no longer have your childish body to occupy them. You think about how you have become a stranger in the places you consider sacred — and how all that unites you with your childhood home is its architectural integrity and the residue of peeling paint.
There is so much that is invisible to the naked eye. There is the pride in my grandfather's eyes when he sees the person I have become. There is his love that I have dreamed of for seventeen years, but somehow forgotten. There is his bashful laughter at my carefree ways.
And underneath it all, there is an identity imprisoned by the heavy heart of leaving. It finds hope in the act of returning, though it wonders if it was too late. It wonders if there could have been a better time.
When it comes to matters of homecoming, there is so much to which there is no definitive answer.
There are undefined moments when the heaviest of questions become answers. Why was I reborn in those moments when Ama and I would sit here, counting airplanes? I still remember those breezy summer nights, before I had an identity to call my own — and in the moment of our goodbye, when I swore that I would never let her go, one year stretched into seventeen. I wasn’t there to see her get old; and in my blindness, I preserved her youth, until the day of my return, I walked up those all too familiar marble steps to find her no longer there. There are time capsules she left behind as remnants of her love: the asymmetrical photographs on the wall that settle even my perfectionistic heart. There are the golden earrings she gave my grandfather for the day that her granddaughter returns from America, knowing that she may not be there to give them to me herself.
My grandfather keeps photos of me on his bed stand. Has he had them for all of these years? When he could have chosen any symbol to wake up to, when he devotes his every day to becoming closer to god, he chose my childish smile to wake up to for over a decade. I shudder when I think about the magnitude of his care.
I spent so many years feeling this hallowed out sensation of displacement that filled my body with loneliness. I finally understand the meaning of coming back home. I understand why I long for the valleys. Why I find freedom on the back of a motorcycle. As I observe the distant rolling hills of the Himalayas from my terrace, I realize that my seemingly innocent desires are rooted in a nostalgia that my body remembers, even as my mind had fallen victim to forgetting.
I will miss the dust and the incense that fill Kathmandu’s streets. I will miss the chaos and the unpredictability: the way my little sister’s laughter filled the air during my last sunset in Boudha. I will miss my impromptu drives across Patan on the back of a scooter, my arms wrapped around a body that may have been the touch of fantasy. And in my war against forgetting, I will carry all of these reasons that I didn’t quite have the first time, but now serve as a reminder that there is always a reason to go back home.
Sometimes, you return to reconcile your past. Sometimes you return to find all of the life you have yet to live.
Poon Hill, Nepal
As I wake up at 4AM to catch the sun rise over the valley, I finally understand why nostalgia is deeply cherished across societies, why we put so much weight on remembering. It is how we are carried. In stories. In prayers. In a thought, in a fleeting moment when the entire universe is cast like honey. I'd wake up at 4AM every day for these sweet autumn mornings. I'd wake up at 4AM every day for this sensation of home.
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