Editor’s Note: There’s a difference between a house and a home, and a home and a ‘Home’ with a capital ‘h’. Houses are but buildings, formal residences, rooves over our heads, apartments, hostel rooms, rented stays; ‘homes’ are houses that are made and filled with love. Homes with a capital ‘H’, on the other hand, magically, aren’t necessarily physical entities at all. A Home is something that makes one feel as if they have a roof over their head. It can be a person, a park, a bench near a river, or a home that no longer exists in the tangible world. Eisha elaborates, “When I first learned about proper nouns, I was told that they had to be written with a capital like you would a name. I was not ‘eisha’, but ‘Eisha’ with a capital E, so that you would know that I was a person. A home is not just the space held between roofs and walls, or the boundaries of a map, but a space that you can find yourself, a person. A real home, like you or me, is a Home with a capital H.”
Delhi, the city of both refuge and refugees, has been periodically found and called ‘Home’ by people of different kinds. Some come to seek, some come to escape, and some others come to settle. Despite its constantly changing landscape, the spirit of the city has remained the same. It welcomes everyone with open arms and tells them that here is a place that they can call home, rather ‘Home’.
More recently, however, Delhi is moving towards a change that might alienate the people from the spirit of democracy, the spirit of what it means to be home.
Responding to the Prime Minister’s prioritisation of the Central Vista project over the COVID crisis, which is being planned in a way that will create a boundary between the people and the symbol of democracy in Delhi, actor, writer and spoken word artist Eisha Chopra writes about Delhi and her search for a city she once called Home.
Here’s Eisha in her own words.
“I have always been a voraciously curious person.
When I see a scab on my arm I have to pick at it to see if there’s still fresh blood underneath it. When I see a curly mop of hair, I have to fight the urge to tug at it and see if it springs back into place. If I see a mango cut into checkered squares on a plate, I have to eat it and find out, has it now turned sweet or is it still sour?
I’ve always been aware of these small little flights of fancy, but I also knew I could take them because I had a place that I could call ‘Home’.
Mama used to say I was like a house cat – you can let her out because you know she’s going to go where she wants to anyway, but you don’t have to worry about her. Why? Because cats always find their way Home.
My first Home, as I knew it, was at N82 Panchsheel Park.
It was a big house – or so it seemed to me because I was so small. The house had a front garden and a back garden and to a little cat’s delight, plenty of places that she could hide. Nooks, crannies, small walls with even smaller alcoves and for some reason, unknown to me – plenty of big cupboards and little storage rooms that nobody ever visited.
Everyone knew that house and my heart would swell with a sense of love and pride when I’d tell people where I lived.
“Oh, that big, white house with the bougainvillaea?” Yes.
“The one opposite the Golden Dragon Bus Stop, na?” Yes.
Golden Dragon was one of those iconic Indian-Chinese restaurants. The kind that everyone knew of, but never ate at. But still, you can taste it in your imagination. It tastes of grease, oil, memory, history and nostalgia, and it made you wonder if they were all any different from each other.
It wasn’t about the arrogance of a big house.
It was about the safety of a warm Home – one where nobody ever knew where the cat was hiding. They just shrugged and said, “Let her be. She’ll show up when she wants to.”
And that heart cracked when the family decided to break down the house and move. Someone had broken into the storage room with a blinding, bright flashlight.
Time to clean up! There’s no longer any space for all this.
Grease. Oil. Memory. History. Nostalgia.
I always felt a little homeless after that move.
But why? Why was the idea of Home so intrinsic to my being? I had recently read about ancestral wounds, and how we carried them for generations. I wondered if I had inherited the homelessness of my family when they had all been forced to flee Lahore back in the day.
I decided I did.
I first left Delhi when I was 17 years old, but wherever I lived since- New York, Bombay, Goa, I’d always find a way to make a place to hide myself in.
Strange. So Home was just a place to hide?
And if that’s the case, then why travel the world at all? Maybe at the heart of all this is travelling and performing was the dream of someday, somehow, getting Home.
“So where is Home?” people would ask me in those travels.
“Delhi? Oh! You’re a Delhi girl!”
They’d say that with an equal mix of genuine contempt and well-intentioned humour as they’d scan my arm for a fancy watch or a handbag and my face for the arrogance that this term had come to mean. I’ve never owned a fancy watch or an obnoxious handbag and they’d back away confused at my lack of armour.
What is armour anyway? A way to fight or a way to hide?
Occasionally, I come across a thumbnail online that reads: ‘People You Might Know’.
Might know? I want to laugh. I’ve known them forever!
We’ve ALL known each other forever. We are DELHI!
We THRIVE on our foreverness, on our familiarity.
But where is all our knowing now? “Tu jaanta hai kya?” All these years of knowing, now we’re only known for this?
I still carry that homeless child in me. Do I even know my Home anymore? Or maybe I’ve just forgotten? How could I remember anyway? The big, white house opposite the Golden Dragon Bus Stop isn’t there anymore, nor is the bus stop itself. Like everything else, it was replaced by a flyover.
Memory. History. Nostalgia.
Now flyovers, subways, and underpasses.
But none that can guide us Home.
Even the shiny black lamp posts of Rajpath are now gone.
It’s too dark. How does the cat find its way Home?
What’s left of us as a city now, anyway?
Who knows? Or rather, who remembers?
Before the smog and smoke choked us?
Before the heat, disease, and pollution?
Before the polarisation of power and protests?
We’ve been burning for years.
We stopped breathing long before Sars Covid-19 hit.
We are sad. We are tired. We are all at home,
But more than ever, we are missing our Home.
I wondered, where are all those people I might know?
Every night, I fall asleep dismal.
Every night, I fight to hold on to my own fading history.
But then, this morning I woke up to a message on a Whatsapp group from another person I might know.
“Guys, a friend needs an oxygen cylinder?
Can any of you help?”
Within seconds, the phone was flooded. With numbers, WhatsApp contacts, screenshots, and leads. Nobody asked who this friend was. Or stopped to think if it was worth their while to find out. All they wanted to do was help the people they might know.
We’re getting scathed, and stormed and weathered. Layer by layer scourging deep into those ancestral wounds.
Like that scab on my arm that needed to be picked.
There is still some fresh blood beneath it. Under the armour, what we’ve been hiding in our little storage rooms for years.
The thing that always defined the spirit of this city.
Under its Delhi-ness, is all its Dilli-ness.
Kindness. Empathy. Family. Familiarity.
And maybe that’s all Home ever was.
Just a sense of Hope.”
Actor, writer and spoken word artist, Eisha Chopra wears many hats. First seen on screen, in the critically acclaimed, Neera, she has been seen in diverse and pivotal roles in a number of television and web shows since, in popular shows like What The Folks, Out Of Love, Official CEOgiri, and The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family. Her writing work from behind the scenes can be seen in shows like Prisoners of War, Made in Heaven, Clean-Shaven, Love on the rocks, Out of Love and in various Tedx Talks as well. She likes to express herself through various mediums and explore culture and emotional anthropology through her work.
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