Do deewane shahar mein
Do deewane shahar mein
Raat mein ya dopahar mein
Aab-o-daana-dhoondhte hain
Ek aashiyana dhoondhte hain
Do deewane…

As Bhupinder and Runa Laila sang this song on the radio for the nth time this morning my heartbeats multiplied to the tune of n. It’s been playing in my heart and mind ever since I was a child and witnessed my parents hunting for the many houses that we called home for the little time we stayed in them. The lyrics paint that picture perfect house in my mind.

On our way to the school every morning and back in the evening, our school bus had to cross river Yamuna. She used to be a different person in those days. She was full of energy and brimming with water. The water with black silt underneath used to flow along graciously like Rapunzel’s long locks.

Death is inevitable and my young mind knew it very well. Funeral pyres that littered the banks of Yamuna, the twin sister of Yama (the Lord of Death), and the acrid curls of smoke that rose from melting flesh and charring bones was a regular sight. Another sight was that of people who would throng the place to throw the ashes back into the water. The half burnt corpses lay on the banks and sometimes floated on the river. A feast for crows and the then abundant species of vultures that inhabited the banks. So much for a favourable rebirth.

I do remember the army of worshippers that stood up to their waist in the river on chilly winter mornings, chanting their sacred verses and then immersing themselves in the holy yet utterly filthy water. It used to be crowded during the Shiv Kanvarias season and Chhat Puja. Women in bright coloured sarees with even brighter coloured sindoor. It ranged from maroon, red, orange and even fluorescent green. I guess these bright colours were not just worn to celebrate the festival but to hide the dull, sleepy and hungry faces. All of them with the cane baskets full of fruits and other goodies. I would have loved to see their counter parts joining them and standing hand in hand, making this the most beautiful depiction of love, care and equality.

It was also the dwelling of elephant mahouts whose elephants were hired for the annual festival at the Uttara Guruvayoorappan Temple. The barely dressed children from the JJ Basti, the cluster of slum dwellers, would jump into the water as we cheered for them from the moving bus. A reciprocal waving of hands and a few words that never reached us were enough to keep us motivated to cheer more.

This was the story around one bank of the river.

My story, the one I kept painting and improving in my mind, was more about the other bank.

Acres of lush green farms on the government land on the river bed with a few thatched roof huts and some mango and banyan trees. This was a feast for my hungry eyes. There was this one hut closer to the river. It had a huge mango tree outside. There was a swing hung on it. A tyre swing on which kids could be seen swinging. One or two cows, a few goats and a brood of hens. A little away was this lady. The mother of the house. Sometimes she could be seen making ‘uplas’ or dung cakes. At other times she could be seen spreading the washed laundry. Some other times she would be making chappatis on her ‘chulha’, the traditional mud stove. Her man could be seen toiling in their nearby land.

To me, they were a perfect family. And that leaking hut was a perfect home. Imperfectly perfect! I wasn’t bothered about the security issues or the minimal space or the restricted living. The man. He made that picture complete. He was easily approachable. At times he could be seen running after the kids with a stick in his hand. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was there. Right there. He completed the picture. The missing link in my own family picture. And at that time I used to imagine all those letters from Riyadh being thrown high up into the sky. As they fell back slowly on to the ground they transformed into a figure. That missing figure. The one that would complete my family portrait. My Dad.

I had imagined all of us running hand in hand around the hut singing this beautiful melody from one of my most favourite movies, Saath Saath.

Ye Tera Ghar Ye Mera Ghar
Kisi Ko Dekhna Ho Gar
To Pehle Aake Maang Le
Meri Nazar Teri Nazar
Ye Tera Ghar Ye Mera Ghar
Ye Ghar Bahut Haseen Hai …

Home. Nest. Veedu. Ghar. Aashiyaana. Aabodaana. Ghonsla. Abode.

Words that I love. Words that I live by. Words that make me feel alive. Words that rejuvenate me. Words that resonate within me. Home is where the heart is. Home is the people in it. Home is the memories it creates. Home is nostalgia. Home is the pictures that one’s mind captures with bare eyes.  Home is the bonding that it represents. Home is the stories are written together. Home is where you are yourself. No boundaries. No restrictions. No inhibitions. We may grow in age, we may move places and we may forget about it totally. But deep inside, the memories, those pictures are deeply engraved within each of us. The ones of the picture perfect home that you long for even after ages.

What are your fondest memories of the place you still call ‘home’?