Last evening, when I was about to step inside my house, I was greeted by a snake at the door. A long, dark one, slithering along the floor. That sight scared me. So I hushed myself and rushed straight into my room. And as soon as I had locked myself in, a strange thought occurred to me. The thought of those stray dogs that were roaming (and barking) not very far away. They still had to live with the snake in the vicinity. Unlike me, they didn’t have any place to hide themselves in. In other words, they didn’t have a home.
What a tragedy it is to not have a home! To not have a place to retire to at the end of the day. To see others entering their concrete structures while you roam around the streets aimlessly. (If this sounds like a Bob Dylan song, trust me, it’s not a coincidence.) Anyway, coming to not having a home… True, a part of us does seek freedom beyond all bounds, but there is also a part of us that prefers to be caged in, shielding itself from the threats of this cruel world.
We all need a home.
Now, allow me to go a step further. Home exists as much in the psychological sense – if not more – as it does in the physical sense. Often we call our dwelling place our home. But the idea of home goes much beyond that. There is our house (which we call home), then there is hometown, or home country. And then, of course, we have our families with whom we share our home, and without whom this home would just be an architectural wonder (or blunder). To make matters more complex, along comes the Theseus paradox: all the above-mentioned aspects of a home are likely to change. We shift our residences, relocate to new cities, and even family members change as new ones arrive and old ones leave.
What, then, is a home?
No doubt, home is our dwelling place but it is spread across past, present and future, in our memories and dreams, in real as well as in a metaphysical world. Where we spent our childhood (which shaped our idea of home) is still our home, and so is where we are planning to move next. Then there is an abstract idea of a home in our head and we strive towards it. That is our home too. How much abstraction are we able to bring into reality – that’s a different matter. But there is always a home in the head which is a beautiful blend of all our identities, our hopes and desires, even fears. In short, home is an identity.
This means, you can be homeless even if you haven’t lost your house. That’s the modern-day homelessness I am speaking of. Where there are houses upon houses, but few homes. No one quite knows where they truly belong. There’s a strange kind of spiritual crisis one can see all around where people believe nothing (and they cannot accept it either). The way all cultural and religious identities are dying a slow death, it’s worth pondering. There remains nothing and no one else, except the individual – the lonely, miserable individual. That (identity) too is under threat now. The age-old question ‘Who Am I?’ has become meaningless, adding more meaninglessness to life if there wasn’t enough in it already. All this has rendered many to become homeless while sitting comfortably insides of what they describe as their homes and pitying the homeless of the world. That, to me, is a bigger tragedy than that of the stray dogs dealing with a snake in their vicinity.