The Idea of Home.

It has been many years since my family lived at our home in Ashok Nagar. After moving back to Chennai from Trichy, we took residence at a home on Nelson Manickam Road as that was closer to my Mom's office in Nungambakkam. But upon the arrival of my pregnant sister, the extreme Chennai heat, the pesky mosquitoes and the non-stop traffic on NM road forced us to temporarily abandon fort at NM road and move back to our older house in Ashok Nagar. The tree-laden Municipality grounds behind our apartment provided a great sense of relief and calm as compared to the urban jungle that is NM road. Also, living out of your suitcase in a sparsely furnished apartment can be a joy in its own right :)

Last Sunday, I needed to wake up very early to pick up my Aunt from Egmore Railway Station. After religiously setting 5 different alarms on every gadget I owned, I endured a night of tremulous sleep fearing my mother's wrath if I overslept. A new grandmother tends to take out all her frustrations on her grown-up, dimwit of a boy!
Luckily at the dot of half past five, I jumped out of bed. Oddly, none of my gadgets were the reason! Instead it was the Church a little distance behind my house that had come alive for its Sunday Mass activities.

For as long as I can remember, the Church has been a perennial presence in our lives at Ashok Nagar. Every day from six in the morning till eight at night, the Church will gong its bells once an hour to enlighten all with the time and a select verse from the Bible. As a kid, I used to find these hourly interjections both irritating and fascinating depending, of course, on whether I was at my video games or not. Sundays would elevate the sound levels to a different plane altogether. Starting from around 5 in the morning till well past three in the afternoon, thousands of people would flock to the Church to hear sermons, sing songs and attend communal luncheons ; all of which would be broadcast through the booming mike system. My mother was never a fan though as Sundays were her sleep days and pronouncements of love and action by God do not exactly cajole one to an afternoon siesta! For the first few months, I was fascinated by the Mass! I would sit for hours on my bedroom window and stare at the people arriving in their best clothes. I could recognize most of the songs that were sung and would even sing along to a few. The communal luncheons would bring the smells of strange and unknown dishes to my nostrils. The Church would be a bee-hive of activity till the evening, when gradually the crowds would dwindle to an ant-line.

Coming from an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, I was not familiar with the concept of Mass or its significance. But I still liked the idea of meeting friends and relatives on every Sunday instead of sleeping unnaturally at home! I also liked the way the Church was more than just a religious institution, it was a social and cultural node.

Very soon, my fascination with watching the Sunday Mass and the Church stopped and I moved on to newer interests, as any middle school kid would do. But the sounds and smells would always exist. Somehow, they merged into my notion of 'Home' along with the tastes of my Mom's cooking and the dusty smells of my book racks. In ways I could not understand, I felt safe, comfortable and happy every time I heard that hourly gong without actively looking forward to it or benefiting from it. Likewise, the Sunday Mass and its associated assaults of stimuli became an intrinsic part of our lives, no longer a disturbance. Without meeting any particular Christian, I had become acquainted with the group of them. They and their actions became a part of my idea of 'Home' at a very early age.

Secularism can a very tough ideal to live by. Even educated, well-travelled folks often engage in passive non-secular actions; if not through discrimination then through preferences or prejudice.
Schools teach us to subconsciously pay lip-service to the ideal of secular thought but how many of us end up imbibing it as a way of life just from schooling?  A home that prides secular thought and equality has a better chance of breeding a secular individual. However, secularism is not merely an individual value such as honesty or integrity. Secularism is easier to cultivate and practice en masse. As a community, we need to cultivate the notions of equality and fairness to all.

How do we achieve that? It is simple. Let our children run and play together.

As children, we are not predisposed to any form of xenophobia. Children are profoundly wiser than adults in that respect. It is only the elders who often implant their own ill convictions onto their children, creating artificial boundaries in their minds. If only we let each child play and learn from all children in the community, she will grow up to recognize no boundaries except the boundaries of right and wrong.

When the child's budding notions of 'home' includes the rights of all to share and co-exist, the civilizational idea of 'India' would have triumphed.

On the other hand, a sense of home that raises barriers between 'us' and 'them' fails the same idea of India.  That is why the gerrymandering of communities and electoral lines is such a dangerous practice as it attempts to cultivate the idea of a home for a particular class or community. When 'my' idea of a home does not recognize 'your' idea of a home, you are different from me. That is a fault line, no social studies texts or lip-service to equality can bridge.


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