Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Nostalgia for an imagined homeland

What is it about the idea of a homeland that is so alluring to us? Why is it that this notion of belonging to some place has the power to captivate us, hold us hostage?

I'm a fake Kashmiri. I don't speak the language, have never visited Kashmir and, to the best of my knowledge, have no relatives living there. My only link to Kashmir is that at some point, shortly after they climbed down from the trees and realised that the ground could be more than something you use to break the occassional fall, my ancestors toodled down from the mountains and made their way into the Indo-Gangetic plain. Of course, centuries of intra-community breeding mean that I have a bloodline that is more or less pure Kashmiri, but except for chatting up cute nurses at blood banks (of which there are NONE) I'm not sure how that helps.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I am capable of the soggiest, most disgusting sentimentality about the Valley. Each time I hear of some new atrocity that the inhabitants of Kashmir have been subjected to, each time they achieve some new triumph, I begin thinking about what this means for the history of 'my people'. I can spend long hours reading misty-eyed prose about the glory of Srinagar or the beauty of high pastures surrounded by chinar trees, or the clear stillness of crystal pools nestled deep in the moutain's heart. Stuff like Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown or the incredible poems of Agha Shahid Ali can choke me with nostalgia, move me almost to tears. Kashmir, for me, remains a magical place, more myth than actual place, as fascinating as Macondo, and as illusory.

That this is foolishness, a kind of playacting, goes without saying (though, looked at differently, it is also a triumph of the imagination). The real question is why. Why do I feel this way about Kashmir? Could it be that there is such a thing as genetic memory, so that what I seem to feel is simply the distant echo of the lived experience of some long dead forefather? Or could it be that it is some quality of Kashmir itself that moves me - that the story of Kashmir, that legend of an Eden revoked, of a modern-day paradise destroyed, would touch my heart no matter where my family happened to come from?

Or perhaps this nostalgia of mine is little more than word association - that having been conditioned to see the word Kashmir as an inherent part of my identity, I am no longer able to hear those two syllables spoken without having them establish a connection to something deep and vital within me. Or perhaps this emotional attachment to Kashmir is simply a counterbalance to the sense of alienation I feel with the rest of the world, a surrogate womb, a metaphor of childhood and innocence made place. Perhaps it is simply that in order to be an exile (and not simply to feel like one) it is necessary to have a homeland one is exiled from. Perhaps we all need to believe in a place where we can be or become ourselves, a place where we shall no longer be at odds with the world. Perhaps this feeling of mine is nothing more than some vestigial territorial instinct - perhaps we all need a land that we can imagine ourselves fighting for, dying for - and Kashmir just happened to be the most logical choice.

Maybe there really is no place like home because home - like love, like revolution - can never be more than an idea.


Mahjabeen said...

Maybe any idea of 'home' becomes significant when the individual really establishes him/herself in that land-

(in whatever way that may be defined- ie. opening a business in that land, getting married, having kids)-

What i'm getting at is that a home becomes home when one has a vested interest in that 'home' aside from mere family connection (being born into it, rather than having a hand in creating it) that make it home by association.

hopefully that makes sense

Cheshire Cat said...

Revolution's not just an idea. The earth does it once a year, like clockwork, without ever breaking into a sweat...

As for love, ever played tennis? Then well will you know the ignominy of it.

Falstaff said...

mahjabeen: I understand that - certainly if you're invested in a place in some way then it makes sense to call it home. What fascinates me is that you can consider someplace home even if you're NOT invested in it, have never even visited it.

Cat: :-). Tennis? Love? What the deuces are you talking about?

Lakshmi said...

Came here via Amit Verma's India Uncut. Will drop by more often...

Maybe there really is no place like home because home - like love, like revolution - can never be more than an idea.

I would have disagreed to that a year or so ago but not any more.