by Katy Sundararajan
My family and I arrived at Bengaluru International Airport at around 11:30pm. We navigated the immigration lines, baggage claim, and customs for the next two hours, and were finally released into the cool night air of Bangalore, India to hug and kiss our family and make our way home by cab and by car. We walked into the ministry center apartment in the dusky, wee-morning hours, and peering through the haze of jet-lag and exhaustion, sighed the great sigh of gratitude universal for reaching home. Then we collapsed on the beds for a few restless hours only to wake and confirm that we were indeed home.
I hear the age-old, crusty cry of “Uppu!” first thing in the morning. “Salt!” (for sale) cries the vendor in the soft morning light, knowing as well as his patrons that beginning the day with salt first is very auspicious. The cacophonous bleating of auto rickshaw horns and the near-musical lorry horn blasts join in with the clanging of stainless steel vessels and pressure cookers releasing steam. I can hear someone hand washing laundry, a steady slap, slap, slap on the washing stone. Pungent spices of breakfasts cooking lace the air, already heavy with a layer of wood smoke and a permeating dusty smog. We rise and wash, and sit sleepily on my mother-in-law’s couch with cups of milky, sweet South Indian filter coffee. We gorge ourselves on piping hot masala vadas. She made those because we love them, and she knows they will taste like home.
Later in the day we will walk the streets around home, populated with the very same fruit vendors who have walked these streets for dozens of years. I look for the one I befriended when my daughter was a baby and I would push her in the novel contraption that we called a stroller. He once convinced me to buy nearly seven pounds of red bananas because I didn’t know that was way too much. He isn’t here. Maybe he’s off to visit his family in a Tamil Nadu village. We hope that later we might see the blue ‘Snack Cart’ that we love packed high to the rafters of its rickshaw roof with all varieties of crunchy India tea time snacks. Everyone will choose their favorite package. We so commonly expect to see a cow standing on the raised median between two directions of traffic that we don’t remember to find it outlandish or shocking. Constantly, we remind our son not to pet the cute ‘country dogs’ (strays) that fill the streets and seem as though they’d like to adopt our family. Even as the city grows and changes, so many things are the same here that we know it to be home.
I have the somewhat unique luxury of travelling all the way around the world and arriving in a place that is still home. It is a home that I have worked quite hard at owning over the course of 15 years. I have thought much about the intricacies of India and have desperately longed to fit in. I have done plenty to squash myself into the culture by way of dress and food and other cultural etiquettes. You may trust that I have forcefully grappled with the overarching cultural differences, even while I have been taken by complete surprise, hit sidelong, by nuances that pop up to mock my efforts to belong. I know this to be a lifelong quest to make India mine, and to find myself accepted by India. Yet India has come to rest comfortably in me as ‘home” and I know I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I would argue that even those of us who are implanted with a seed of wanderlust and deep curiosity about the world are still in love with a place, or places, we call home. Even those of us who have left home due to necessity, or vocation, or God’s fine call on our life’s entirety, yes even we remember the home that we love and are loved in best. We yearn for places that we know deeply. We long for them at the end of a trip, or when we are isolated within the newness of a different place because the home that we know deeply also knows us. Home is a cherished place because of the blessed compilation of memory and belonging that exists there. Home is a place that offers protection and comfort in the face of the evils of the world. Home places are places that we leave, but always return to, even if only in our hearts and minds. We may cultivate these places. We may happen upon them, and we may find ourselves surprised by the places that claim us. In all of these homes, may we find blessing and hope.
Katy Sundararajan is the Th.M. Program Administrator and International Student Advisor at Western Theological Seminary.