Homing pigeons must provide a cue to us immigrants. These birds have an innate ability to find their way back home over long distances. Or, perhaps just like salmon – that, having migrated to the ocean, travel back to the riverbed where they were spawned – we immigrants retain a latent urge (in Hindi we might refer to it as “huuk” or, “taang” in Punjabi) for “back home”.
Several weeks ago we had dinner in Toronto with dear friends, a couple who were visiting from overseas. Following a lovely meal at our favourite downtown restaurant we got into a cab for post-dinner libations at their condominium. Force of habit got me chatting with the cabbie and after exchanging the opening pleasantries, I inquired, “So, how long ago did you come to Canada from Sudan, my friend?” The cab driver was nonplussed but recovering quickly, laughed and said, “How did you know I am from Sudan? Do I smell like one?” I responded, “I only know what my clothes smell like after an Indian meal! I just like to guess where people might be from and in this case my hunch turned out right.” We chatted generally about our respective families and life in Canada. “Do you go back to Sudan often?” I asked. He said very emphatically, “Sudan is home! I try and go at least every two years, but it is too costly.” I ventured, “Your wife and children live here with you in Toronto, so is this not where your home is?” “Never, this can never be home. That is only in Sudan.”
More recently, I went to the local lab to get some blood work done. I told the technician, a very pleasant young lady from Gujarat, India that I am petrified of being poked by needles! Smiling, she put me at ease by asking what I did and then kept me distracted with her pleasant banter as she painlessly extracted the samples needed. I was told that she had arrived with her husband 7 years ago and they live in Mississauga with a young child. But, “this is not “home” she said, “it is near Vadodara, Gujarat”. I politely asked what “home” meant to her; would it not be the place where she lived with her family? “No” said she, “Vadodara is home, because my parents live there. I am here only to earn money and support them, but will go back at some stage.” At the conclusion of the procedure I thanked her, smiled and suggested, “And what about your child? Is Mississauga home for him because his parents live here?”
Conversations of this nature take place around us all the time. In spite of having lived here for decades with their children and grandchildren born in Canada, for some people “back home” will always be their country of origin. I do not know whether these discussions are more prevalent in any one community or take place equally forcefully everywhere and remain ethnicity-agnostic. One can only admire how strong and deep these roots must go!
Just like the lab technician, I have also met several young sons and daughters in Canada who worry about their parents “back home” and rightly so; some even feel guilty about not doing more to care for them. In this context, a story attributed to the mystic, Osho comes to mind; its gist runs along these lines:
“What is the (life’s) most intimate secret? That life never dies. Only forms change – old leaves fall, new leaves arrive; old trees disappear, but before disappearing they spread millions of seeds all around.
In India, there is a tree … called “semal” (the cotton tree). It is a very intelligent tree and because it is big, under its shade thousands of people can sit. Naturally, it is afraid: if its seeds fall underneath, without sun, they will die. It has to find a way so that the seeds can go as far as possible.
So, the “semal” tree creates a seed with cotton wool wrapped around it. Because of the cotton wool the seed cannot fall directly to the earth, and the wind takes it far away. The tree thus secures for its children a place where they will be able to grow. One day this “semal” will die, but before dying it will make certain that thousands of “semal” trees, its children, will be there to live the same beautiful life of dance in the rain, in the sun, in the wind.”
The transformation of leaves this Fall has been particularly colourful and spectacular. Is it the harbinger of a brighter spring? Who knows? Not looking back at the past or worrying about the future, I am content merely to sit and gaze at my front-yard Maple with its splendorous golden-yellow leaves offset by the bright, fiery red leaves of the neighbour’s Japanese Maple. The plumage has taken on a life of its own, dancing and shimmering in the gentle rain. Spellbound, I watch nature at play. As my thoughts are gradually stilled, I am able to “home” in and connect with my core, which reminds me that home is where the heart is.
The following comment by a very dear friend in response to one of my earlier blogs, says it best:
“Back home.” For many years, the words have had two meanings for me, evoked two distinct sets of emotions. The first references experiences gathered “back in the day”, back where I come from. The second is about journeys and about returning, about coming home. This, my life with my family and friends, is where I am home. So really, I don’t “go” home, I “come” home, with gratitude for everything this life has given us.”
As I write the blog, uncannily and almost on cue my iPod shuffled up this song penned by Shailendra and sung by Lata. It beautifully depicts how empty and meaningless the “ghar” (home) remains, if the one(s) that you love and long for, are not by your side.