I … am … home

36,000 feet in the air, flying above the Canadian Rockies, traveling from Amsterdam to Portland, back from our visit to India, I am wondering where is home? Amritsar, New Delhi or Portland?

Let me back up for more than three decades. I was born in the holy city of Amritsar, in a deeply religious Sikh family, little did I knew that the home for me would be different during different phases of my life.

My early years were spent in my ancestral home of my grandfather, where our family swelled with my uncle’s. His son is likely the closest of my cousin’s, having spent the most time with him. He was 10 years older than me, introduced me to Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson. Being the only child, I was spoilt. Being the youngest among my paternal cousins and oldest among the maternal ones, I was loved from both sides. My grandfather would carry me on his shoulders and take me to street vendors selling painted clay toys. My cousin taught me how to fly kite, and my dad taught me calculus (yes, I knew calculus as a young child, but that’s a different story). And my grandmother practically raised me. I was home.

As my dad bought his first house, we moved out of my grandfather’s home. I was 7 or 8 years old. The new home was alien a bit. I remember that I’d ask my parents to “Take me home” as they would put me to sleep. I missed our ancestral home. Over time, I made friends in the neighborhood, played cricket with them, and, most importantly, my grandfather came to live with us. The new house became home. I shared the room with my grandfather and before going to bed, I would ask him to “sing me a song”. He would oblige with singing “sacred hymns” or Shabads, which I would understand much later. He lived until the end of his days with us. That home also gave me the first experience of death. I do not believe I fully understood the gravity of it, as I was protected, and did not attend his funeral. It was maybe it was my parents’ way of protecting me. I also lost a friend to cancer at that young age – someone who was just a few months younger than me. My time there was not that melancholic though, I had lots of fun, learned to ride the bike in the neighborhood. I also started biking to school with friends from the neighborhood, eventually got a moped (yes those tiny things) much earlier than I should have been licensed to drive. I grew until late teens in that home, and the time came for us to move once to our current house within India. I think all three of us got emotional as we handed over the familiar sound of those jingling keys to the new owners. But were also excited to go to our new home.

The new house, where my parents still live, became my home for the next few years. My dad constructed it to home a decent size family. A jingling sound of new keys became part of our lives and we started to get familiar with which switches would turn on lights or fan in different rooms (we have way too many switches in each room). I did not get to live there much, because I left for studying engineering in Chandigarh and then move to New Delhi for a job. A couple of years later, destiny brought me back to Amritsar for two years and I was living once again with my parents. That was almost 20 years back, filled with some good memories. We bought our first car, and I drove it into our outer wall while bringing it home. I blasted classic rock music while occupying the top room in the house. I collected thousands of audio cassettes (my father keeps them as a memory of me). Got my first PC – Intel Pentium 133MHz PC. And I dreamed of going to the USA. I also met my wife during those years.

My move to the USA was both less of a culture shock than a climate shock. I moved to cold Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My (now) wife joined me a year later and we moved to wet Portland, Oregon in 2001. We are now settled there. We have created our lives around my work. We found friends who became family. And the house we bought in 2007, became our home where we are raising two incredible human beings.

During this last visit to India, in November 2019, as I walked into the home in Amritsar, memories came flooding back. My brain brought memories of nooks and corners around the house. My muscle memories activated while walking around a broken floor, which my parents got fixed, still, I kept skipping it. I started looking through the old photographs and fond memories of all the places I have been to. I saw colors in those black and white photos – the red seat of my tricycle, the stripes of my shirt, or the dress my mom wore. Vividly, I remembered the places where that photographs were taken – as an infant in my parents’ arms in our ancestral home and to see my kid’s photos in our home in Oregon.

As the trip was coming to close in India, someone commented that it seemed that “we were ready to go back home”. That made me think, where is my home?

Maybe it is at every place that I have lived or maybe it is where my heart lives and mind remembers or just maybe it is where I am with those whom I love and who love me. 36,000 feet above the ground heading back to Portland, makes me wonder, am I going home?

And as I look at the faces of my kids, I know … I … am … home!

Jatinder PS Nagi
November 30th, 2019
Written on the iPhone, 36,000 ft in the air, above the Canadian Rockies!

The Parable of a Wise Man

Long time back, two brothers came to a wise man to get their dispute resolved. The wise man, being wise, asked each of them to relate their story individually and asked the other to keep quiet when one was speaking. The elder brother started, “Our father was a crook and a thief”. The other nodded at his brothers statement, but kept quiet. The wise man asked the elder brother to explain his statement.

He continued, “We were a poor family when we were growing up. Our father worked in a train and locomotive workshop. After his shift was over, our father would take pieces of scrap metal like copper, brass, steel etc and bring them home by hiding them in his lunch box”.
The younger brother, kept quiet but he nodded at the right statements, showing his agreement to what his elder brother was saying.
“The metal that our father brought home, was sometimes sold to buy food, clothes or other things for the family”, elder brother said.
“Over time, some extra pieces of metal started accumulating in one of the old rooms downstairs. And by the time our father retired, the room was half full of scrap metal which was worth a fortune – close to hundred thousand rupees. Our father died few months back and we now have a dispute on division of the scrap metal. We would like you to help us”.

The wise man looked at the younger brother and asked if he had anything to add to his brothers statement.
The younger brother said, “Nothing much, except that we would really like this to get resolved soon”.

After much thinking, the wise man told them that it is up to them to do what they want.
“The best option in my opinion”, he said, “is to peacefully divide it equally between themselves. Or better yet, sell it all, and donate the money to a charity. Get blessings of people”.
The wise man further suggested to the brothers that that can involve a person who can evaluate the worth of the metal, and then also help them by selling it for them.
“Or just divide on, faith. Even if one brother gets a bigger chunk, remember that it is still in the family, his own blood. Do not worry about the money”.

The two brothers left and the wise man went deep into thought. After recollecting his thoughts for few minutes, he stood up as if made his mind about something and walked away. And he never met those two brothers again.

Now, if you are with me so far, then this parable may sound incomplete.
I will complete it for you. This incident actually occurred circa 1977, and it deeply moved the wise man. Years later, when the wise man’s son grew up, he told him what decision he made that day.

He told his son, “The two brothers started their case by stating that their father was a crook and a thief. This is the most disrespecting way in which they remembered their father. Their father’s act may be wrong, but his intentions were selfless. He killed his conscious to make sure his kids do not see the hardships he has seen. The hardship of unclothed during the dry winters, the hardship of sleeping on empty stomach, the hardship of walking barefoot on streets.”

“That day, my son, I made up my mind that I want you to remember me in good light and never feel ashamed of my actions. I decided that through my actions, I will make sure that when my son remembers me, his head is held high in pride and respect for me. I also made another decision that I will earn my living with utter honesty. And will make sure that not even a single penny be spent on my son which I have not earned by working honestly for it. My actions and my life should never be cause of shame to my descendants. Through my actions, I want you to remember me with pride that I am your father and you are my son”.

Allow me to add another twist to the story. The wise man I am referring to is my father (yes … I think he is very wise). Of course, you may have figured out, it was me to whom he said these things.
Who were the two brothers, you ask; well, I will keep that to myself.

Every time I think about this incident and look back, I am filled with pride and respect for the person (my dad) about the decision he made and changed his entire life around me. He has always been my conscience – told me to do the right thing, whether I wanted to do it or not.

Now, I have my own kids. Every time I look at them, my heart fills with the fire that burnt in my dad’s heart back in that day in 1977. I am motivated to be like my him. Barring the teenage years of my kids (where I am expecting they would hate me anyways), I hope they feel a sense of pride in me as I do for my dad, when they grow up.

A friend once asked me, “What makes you a good parent?”
After thinking about it for few minutes, I answered, “The fear. The fear that you may fail as a good parent, makes you a good parent. Because it is the fear that makes you make an attempt to be a better parent”.

Find that special little ones in your life, give them a hug. Don’t forget to ask yourself, how will he or she remember you.

October 15, 2009

Jatinder PS Nagi