I am from Ghatsila, a sub-division in Jharkhand’s East Singbhum district. The two places where I grew up—Chakulia and Ghatsila—are both in Ghatsila sub-division, about 40km apart. Kishoripur, a village in Chakulia block, some 6-8km from Jharkhand’s border with West Bengal, is where my umbilical cord is buried. Kishoripur is the village of my family, my ancestors, the place where my father and his siblings grew up. Kishoripur, a reminder of our roots, is the place where we went during holidays or on family occasions. A wedding in the family, a birth, a death—all the rituals take place in Kishoripur. Kishoripur is the home of my family.

Home for me, however, was always Moubhandar, an industrial township in Ghatsila sub-division some 5km from Ghatsila town and the place where I have spent 32 years of my life, moving between the various bungalows my parents were allotted by the copper company they worked for.

In Moubhandar, whenever we planned to go to Kishoripur, we would never say we were going to the village. We would say: “Orak bo chalak-a"—we will go home. Kishoripur was “orak": home. My mother’s allotted bungalows in Moubhandar were just “quarters". Moubhandar is where we always returned, for in Moubhandar were my parents’ jobs and my school. Also, at that time, before schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, things we took for granted in Moubhandar were precious in Kishoripur. Like electricity. Today, there is regular electricity in Kishoripur, except for the long power cuts after thunder and rain. But, I remember, once, electricity went off in the whole of Kishoripur in the year 1993 and returned only in 1998.

Kishoripur was orak, but Moubhandar was where all that I needed was present. Security, convenience, privacy, a home for my important papers, my secrets and treasures, and, most importantly, the relief I felt each time I stepped inside our house. There was this “Finally, I am home" feeling. Somehow, I missed that feeling in Kishoripur, where we went practically like tourists, carrying packets of biscuits, chanachur and Maggi noodles with us. Even today, when I go to Kishoripur, I live out of my backpack.

In Moubhandar, I had fixed places where I kept my toothbrush, soap, everything. In the bathrooms of our houses in Moubhandar, I had a place to dump my dirty clothes, from where mother and pishi (aunt) would take them for a wash. There was a place on our still functioning 33-year-old Kelvinator refrigerator where mother, before leaving for work, would place some pocket money for me. In a corner in the long veranda, pishi and I would sit on separate chairs, my feet on pishi’s lap as she clipped my toenails. In my parents’ bedroom, mother kept a water lily that she had brought back from a Manasa puja in Kishoripur so that “our family in Moubhandar" could be blessed. In Moubhandar, everything was in place. I had my father, mother and pishi to look after me. I had no worries.

In March 2012, I shifted to Pakur—in north Jharkhand, almost 500km from Ghatsila, by train, via Howrah—to work with the state government. Pakur seems closer to Darjeeling and Guwahati than to Ghatsila. I can board a train at 11am in Pakur, sleep through the journey and reach Guwahati the next morning at 4-5am without having to change trains. In order to travel to Ghatsila from Pakur, I have to board a train to Howrah at 9.50pm, get down at Howrah at 4am, sit for nearly 3 hours, then board a Rourkela-bound train at 6.50am to reach Ghatsila at 9.50am. Tell me, which journey is easier? And where would I spend a holiday—by the Subarnarekha or by the Brahmaputra?

After my mother retired, we shifted to the house my father had built 5km away, in Ghatsila—“proper Ghatsila", as I nowadays clarify while mentioning my new address, the Ghatsila which is the sub-divisional headquarter. Now, this is home. When I went to Ghatsila in December, I carried a huge strolley with me. It was filled with the trophy I had received from the Sahitya Akademi in 2015, the mementos I had received from an organization of Santhal students and intellectuals in Pakur on the International Day of the Indigenous People in 2015, things from literature festivals and lots of books. I took everything home. I travel to lit fests and go to new places from Pakur. Yet, I don’t keep mementos from my tours in Pakur. They go back “home"—to Moubhandar, earlier, and to Ghatsila, now.

When I came to Pakur four years ago, I brought memories of home with me—memories from my childhood, adolescence and university life in my mother’s bungalows in Moubhandar. Memories of my mother praying for us, of pishi and I pulling starched saris from both ends to smoothen the kinks. When I go home now, I see my father, a hardy Yezdi rider at one time, bent and holding his lower back as he walks. I see my mother, the first woman in Ghatsila to ride a scooter, who took me to school on her scooter, hobbling as she commutes between home and her clinic. I see pishi, the strong woman who brought me up, consumed by diabetes, her saris exquisite as ever, but the blouse sleeves hanging loose around her arms.

After the publication of The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, I was asked how I was able to juggle medical science and writing a novel. I said that I had not had many responsibilities at the time as I was still staying in my maiya-babuji ka hotel. Today, now that I am staying so far away from my maiya-babuji, my father’s house, my home, it really seems like a hotel. I get there after changing two trains, journeying for nearly 12 hours, tired and dirty after the journey. I leave my shoes in the veranda and walk barefoot around the house, too scared to even place my backpack on the clean marbled floor, because I am afraid that I might dirty the house. I need to roam around the entire house for a minimum of 1 hour before I am convinced that yes, this is, indeed, my house. But even then—like it happened on a one-day visit in February—I stand at one point and stare at my father’s Mahabharat VHS tape collection arranged neatly in a showcase, fighting back my tears, wondering at the ways home has changed. Then I run to the terrace, bawl my heart out by the huge Sintex water tanks so that the neighbours can’t watch me, smoke two cigarettes, accept the changes, then come downstairs and settle down.

In Ghatsila, I have my own room and a library, but I still don’t have a permanent place to keep my toothbrush because I visit Ghatsila only for a few days and live out of my backpack whenever I’m there. I forget which switch switches on which light because I don’t stay long enough in Ghatsila to remember the switches. The Good Knight refill in my room lasts a year because no one uses my room in my absence. It is my home, but I am not there. My family is growing old. When will I live with my family in my home? I wonder if by the time I go back home permanently, the three people who mean the most to me will be there.

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a physician and the author of the novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, and a book of short stories, The Adivasi Will Not Dance.

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