Never had I sensed the feeling of being home until the age of 22, not that I have found one yet.
The necessary conditions to such a state had to be my education away from home from the age of 4, wrapped into the hill station of Kalimpong where time at boarding school passed like water flowing within the confines of a peaceful dam, full of swirling flanges ready to downpour despite the appearance of calm on the surface.
A hill station is where the British used to go, after temporarily quitting on ruling India, during the summer heat waves that particularly overwhelmed the vast plains of Bengal. So the hills with its endless stepped paddy fields and canals on steep slopes, was a place that welcomed and kept visitors. I too was a resident for a period of 9 months a year for 11 years.
But as soon as the monsoons came to crash on the hillsides deepening its green and reddening its flesh of iron flowing into the Teesta river, a brown river swelled and raced to the Ganga. Historically, the British used to wheel back to Bengal just in time to clutch their paper empire, whilst in my time I was returning home for holiday naps and frequent pampering. Some welcomed the monsoons and worshiped the mighty rivers in their backyard. Others would curse the constant dampening of air, mind and landscape. I was pretty divided on this because as much as wearing a raincoat to protect my uniform in the wild weather seemed futile, there was no question about raindrops hitting tin roofs, reverberating a meditative and constant chant that could put entire villages into deep sleep.
Meanwhile my parents lived and toiled as teachers in neighbouring Nepal, living initially in a town close to the Bhutanese refugee camp and later in the capital. So Kathmandu became another pit stop to the west of Kalimpong. To the east of Kalimpong was Thimphu, Bhutan, where I was born but never went, and to the west was Nepal where I never grew up but always went for holidays. So I grew up somewhere between country and home, between exile and travel.
In this corridor of confluence of many things such as western rock ‘n’ roll at every concert, a bit of proselytization within incredibly pointy churches, Nepali folk singers busking through the village sides, Hindi movies full of commercial breaks about detergent powders, Indian nationalism and independence day marches in August when it was wet, and Ghurkha Nepali reclamation marches during good weather conditions, and Tibetan lamas wherever I went, amongst native Lepchas, who I now see with redefined memories created of the past by further reading in later life. It is strange how education steals away our innocence and fools us into seeing all these questionable yet vital distinctions between people. I continue to grapple with an obsession for uniformity and distinction, because I doubt whether I have arrived at that point in language where my individual perceptions about history is fair, or whether it matters in the first place.
Who was not fooled in these hills? Those mighty eagles and hawks hiding perched on deciduous fir branches were never fooled, neither by their coming of age nor their lack of place, and knew exactly when to spread their wings, surge up to the sky, hover in the wind, and swoop down on scrambling chooks. At the time these birds meant nothing. This leads me to what impressed my young mind the most. What really grabbed my attention at that age were bigger faster birds or low flying Russian MiG fighters at 400km/hr that crisscrossed the valleys, banking on the hills so close you could even see red round pilot helmets bobbing out from inside cockpits. We used to notice this from deep within bushes, momentarily looking up in awe only to return back to that luscious taste of yellow raspberries. Berries that tasted like a mix of oranges and raspberries.
As an adolescent I went on to live in Nepal, but never had I questioned my lack of place. Predictably I was confusing movement as home. I never went where I was born, and only visited where I never grew up. Fast forward to 2010 on my return trip back to Adelaide, it finally occurred to me what it meant to return to a place without immediately feeling lost again. It was strange not to relive another fleeting horizon. Nearing 30, I am yet to find home but since that experience I feel like I am getting closer.