September 13, 2012

Where is My Home? ~ Aparna Khanolkar

To be a gypsy, both in your heart and in reality, is a formidable task.

I’ve moved over 20 times in 20 years. I lived the first half of my life in Mysore, a small town in India. It’s a sleepy town, with old world values that I deeply cherish. I didn’t have an inkling of desire to leave.

But I arrived here in America, nevertheless, during the summer solstice of 1991.

I’ve learned to move with only my most cherished possessions and my two lovely children. Like a good gypsy, I have learned to travel lightly.

I didn’t feel any loss when I sold my beautiful couch. I didn’t even miss my things when  I visited India for three months.

I fared very well with the gypsy theme until last year. It hit me when my brother began to tell me a story about one of the homes we had lived in. I was shocked by it at first and then deeply saddened. It turns out the house that cradled our toddler and teenage dreams had been demolished so a large apartment building could be built.

Like so many immigrants, I’ve live in a bubble that protected India as it was 20 years ago. This recollection of India kept it untouched by growth or greed.

The news of my childhood home shocked me right out the bubble. Next, I began to grieve. I felt  haunting memories, tears and a sense that something precious had been stolen from me. You see, the interesting fact is that I have not lived in that house  for over 22 years. Still, the grief that I experienced is profound.

That house was not only my childhood home. The land there held many trees. It held my mother’s garden. It held all of my young dreams of poetry, prose and pleasure.

My mother’s garden represented her creativity and connection to nature. To me, it was a mystical haven. I played in the monsoon-soaked puddles and watched birds bathe in it. I climbed trees, read books in their limbs, and enjoyed the silence of of the trees.

On this land was life itself.

The same mango trees feed me for 19 years. Sapote trees held our tree houses. We spent hours watching red ants build colonies. Guava trees with smooth limbs extended into the air—I climbed them over the course of years. Ant hills, lizards, chameleons, mushrooms, coconut trees, an old curry leaf tree, an amla tree, jackfruit tree, cashew tree, jasmine bushes, rose bushes, Gerbera daisies, crocuses, hibiscus, cactus, succulents, vegetables, herbs and all of my childhood dreams stood on that land. Now, they are all gone.

I realize that the seeds of many of those trees lay under the ground. Perhaps they are waiting  dormant for a chance sometime to bloom into a sapling, and later into a tree.

I often fantasize if the family in the apartment can smell Alfonso mangoes, jackfruits, curry leaves and see the ghosts of three happy children who romped around in that vast garden. I wonder if they know that their home is atop the ghostly residue of mine.

Then again, for a gypsy, how could this even matter?

As a gypsy I’ve moved on without a second thought to the next journey—onward,I told myself. Now, I spend sleepless nights pondering my childhood memories in that big garden.

All that I enjoyed in nature and loved about nature was there. It was my introduction to a greater reality and the magic of  this universe.

We ate dinners in the light of the full moon. We ran in many unexpected rainstorms to grab as many fallen mangoes as we could. Then, I would watch my mother and grandmother transform those green mangoes into spicy pickles, which had to sit for one year before they could be eaten. There was a lesson in the art of waiting for things to be ready.

My mother taught me my first mantra in the puja room. Each evening we washed our dusty feet, hands and face. We lit a ghee lamp and chanted a Sanskrit mantra. This too set the stage for my experiences with mantra later in life.

When the warbler made a nest in the variegated hibiscus bush next to my bedroom window, my now deceased father spent time watching that mother bird with me.

What does all this mean to me in America?

I still watch the butterflies in my garden. I can hear the whisper of the universe saying, “Slow down,” when I sit and watch the dew running down bamboo leaves. The scores of hummingbirds in this garden is a healing sight.

Growing vegetables, touching the earth here in America is a soothing balm. If I happen to glance at a photo of a South-Indian landscape, I stop and watch the flood of memories that travel from my mind to my heart. Sometimes, I cry. But mostly, I long for that scenery. For that red earth, the banana trees, the mango and coconut trees. The warm monsoon rains. The songs of the Koel.

One day I will visit India again, with my children. Maybe I will even have the courage to visit that apartment building. Till then, I will savor my memories, make sure they stay fresh in my mind.

In the new, the old exists. In the old, lies the seeds of newness.

This is how I make peace.


Aparna Khanolkar inspires women to feel spirited and soft. Aparna dedicates herself to teaching women how to feel beautiful, soulful and wise. Author of several books, former consultant to the Chopra Center, Khanolkar teaches workshops and retreats for women. “I show women how to be in charge of your own destiny – for health, happiness and peace. What I teach you is easy and juicy. I teach women to journey from Karma to Dharma.” Connect with Aparna through her websiteblog or facebook.

Editor: Colleen Simpson


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