The question is innocent; it doesn’t have malice. It’s a form of triangulation for mapping humans, their possible tastes, cultural leanings, and behavioral instincts; possibly also a control structure to protect against faux pas. Like a starter for a conversation that will fill uncomfortable moments of silence in a strange setting with a stranger.
And embedded within those two incorrupt words is the more profound question – where are your roots? Often asked by strangers that you have just met – who hold the potential to be an acquaintance; possibly even friends. Hitherto I have been using the geographical location, where my parents were born and brought up. Different from where I was born. Different from the places I studied. Different from where I really ‘grew up’. And now, very different from what I call home.
However, I avoid confusing people at the first encounter. I stick to my conventional answer. It’s always ‘the place where my parents hail from’. People are happy with the uncomplicated answer and begin tales of their encounters and experiences with my “native place”. Comparison happens between two places, some history is recounted, and more people are mapped in and around that place. It makes for good, formal, and useless conversation.
An array of maps, locations, neighbourhoods, and memories orbit my mind, often in psychedelic frenzy. Invisible through my plastered smiles and acknowledgements, I am hounded by the reality of the thought. This answer worked for the conversation, what is the real answer? My ancestors were really from a different place. I mean a different region altogether!
I have searched for places often, to buy, to rent, for me, for others. This one search seems very elusive. Finding home. For I have called many places home and every time I have felt comfortable, I have had to find a new place that becomes home.
Demian’s mother said it well:
“One never reaches home,” she said amiably. “But wherever friendly paths intersect the whole world looks like home for a time.”
In my potential acquaintances and possible friends, I find home.
That’s another homecoming for me