Homeward bound

Home is where the Heart is

‘Homeward Bound’ is a Simon & Garfunkel song that’s all about the solitude of a struggling poet-singer in a strange city. It speaks of nostalgia for ‘home’. It is claimed that Paul Simon wrote it at a railway station near Widnes waiting for the early morning train to London. ‘Home’ apparently was a woman called Kathy Chitty. For him. At that time.

‘Home is where the heart is,’ we have been told. That’s true. Home is also family. It is village or community. It is nation. It is also, well, home; the place you live, the place you grew up in, the place which more than anywhere else holds the most and most poignant of memories.

Covid-19 has either forced people to inhabit home, either physically or through that interesting device called nostalgia. Much more than they did before. Some are homeward bound, as in they are on their way home, and others are home-bound for they can’t leave and are possibly learning that some binds are not easily severed.

‘Home,’ in Sri Lanka, is still something that pulls. We may work far away from what was ‘home’ before studies, work and preferred lifestyles took us away, but come the aluth avurudda, this home-pull is what empties Colombo. People go back to the gama, the ‘village’ that is coterminous with ‘home,’ in our cultural sensibilities. And wherever we choose to set up residence, we try to implant bits and pieces of ‘home,’ things that remind us of a different place and time.

Everyone wants to go home now. Those who have left village to ‘make it’ in the city or were compelled to find employment far away because income earning opportunities were hard to come by, want to go home.

Take the case of Vadivarusan, a resident from Hatton. He’s married and has a two year old son. He’s stuck in Colombo where he has been working as a laborer, earning Rs 1300 a day. Now had he worked on a tea estate back home he would be earning 500 rupees less. Of course he ought to be getting at least 1000 rupees per day but that’s a different story. So it makes sense for him to work in Colombo.


What is the value of being able to spend time with family? How does one calculate the worth of a son-father relationship marked by immediacy? Clean air, familiarity, proximity to family and friends -- how do we measure such things? Why don’t we detract from the Rs 1300 things such a loneliness, frustration, the inevitable discomforts of shared living quarters and poisons breathed and consumed? Can we put a value on such things? And is it because such things are hard to calculate and categorized that we consciously or unconsciously leave them out of the equation? Isn’t this why it becomes easy to compare 800 with 1300 and pick the latter as the better option.

And there are people living abroad, young and old, out there for studies, work or because they wanted to migrate for whatever reason. They want to come back. That wish is understood. We all know the pull of ‘home,’ and we can’t and indeed don’t want to resist.

It’s a good thing. Anything that has anything to do with roots has the potential to yield something wholesome.This, however, is a crisis situation. It falls under categories such as unprecedented, unexpected and overwhelming. In a word, extraordinary. We don’t know if we will ever get back ‘ordinary.’ I’ve always believed that significant transformations happen with earth-shattering events or with the most delicate and even imperceptible acts — a mind-finger dipped in heart-ink writing a single word, ‘love’ or just three words, ‘let’s just be,’ for example. Covid-19 in what it is and what it has done probably falls into the former category.

We don’t know how things will play out. Maybe we will get back to the poisons that we embraced in our ignorance and arrogance. Maybe we’ll just go home or, if that’s where we are in body, mind and conviction, stay home. And therefore, let me finish this note with the words written by Dayasena Gunasinghe and sung by Gunadasa Kapuge and Sandya Bulathsinhala. It is one of Kapuge’s lesser known songs. The first line is ‘viyalee giya dethane netha kiri binduwak erune…(not one drop of milk seeped into the parched breasts…).’ Here is the last verse.

mathu yam dinaka sithuvillen sitina sanda
daethaka pahasa sihineka men daenevida
sithiyam pothe lova vimasa balana sanda
kandulaka hedaya maha sayure dakeevida

If there comes a day when deep in thought
as in a dream will the touch of a hand be felt
if gaze was cast across the map of the world
will (you) notice in the Indian Ocean a tear-shaped isle?

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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