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#16 Lately its felt like home
Lately, I've been having dreams of my friends in Austin, but in my dreams, they are not in Austin anymore. I'm hanging out with them in my childhood haunts in Kakkanad, India. In one of the dreams, I'm with my friend Haley in a quaint little plant nursery near my childhood home. The first time I saw the lush green nursery from the outside, I imagined it would be cozy but found out that it just camouflaged a mediocre restaurant. A type of restaurant that remained in business only because they added msg to their dishes. In the dream, we are attending a lecture on Christopher Alexander inside the restaurant. I know Haley's never read Christopher Alexander, but she's an architect, and I like to project my idealistic impression of an architect and what they would read onto her. She knows this and keeps telling me that I don't really know her. But she bears the burden of being my only architect friend. In truth, I know more software engineers read Christopher Alexander than Architects.
Some nights I have dreams that make me lie awake in bed motionless, looking out the window at the specter of concrete and defiant fall leaves that occupy the edges of my view. On this particular morning, I had dreamt about E. I was at a wedding in a home near my father's hometown Vadavucode. The leaves of the mango and jackfruit trees were lush and dark. Dark green moss covered the roof of the house as an aesthetic consequence of perennial rainfall. I sensed she was outside the house somewhere and pictured her wearing a green saree with a gold-colored border. It contrasted well with what she described as her vapid LA blonde phase. I looked for her outside the home and never saw her but still vividly daydreamed in my dream what her disposition would be. While at my day job, I tried the prompt Vapid LA blonde wearing dark green saree in a house in Kerala on the Midjourney image model. The result is warped, just like how I remember my dream and her.
Maybe as a consequence of these dreams, I've been projecting my hometown onto Austin when I walk around. Even the chunky squirrels that seemed abominable to me five years ago now remind me of their more leaner cousins in Kerala, India.
The one thing I do miss that I've not found in Austin are churches with high ceilings and baroque ornamentation that I used to find meditative to sit in. I grew up not religious in a part of the world where being secular or atheistic was still new and made me stick out among my childhood friends. So I imitated whatever religious gestures my friends performed. Among these was the habit of drawing a cross whenever we passed a church. For a short period of my life, I felt morally righteous doing this while also fearing that someone would soon find me out from my lack of practice in drawing crosses. The irony of a dearth of aesthetic churches open to the public in Texas but not in Kerala, India, is as thick as an afternoon in mid-July. So on such afternoons, instead of churches, I find solace in dimly lit bars like Backlot that blast cold air so much so it feels like I'm in an arctic research lab fearing whoever around me is not who they say they are.
The popular narrative about home tells me that feeling at home is safe, comfortable, and tranquil. I feel at home when I no longer have to use Google Maps to get around my neighborhood in West Campus and when I find things that I'm likely to find if I've been some place for two or more years. Such as this estate sale for the founder of Fangoria, a horror and cult film magazine. The lack of subtlety in what the things he owned signals mirrored my grandfather's home. One was full of books written by Marxists, socialist magazines, old radios, and VHS tapes, and the other was full of gay porn, science fiction magazines, old radios, and VHS tapes. I also feel at home when I outlast most white guys in the dry sauna at Austin Bouldering Project.
The fleeting feeling of deep comfort also brings the stagnation that comes with being at home. As familiar grooves set in it feels like portals to something new close. The soothing comfort of sitting in the same booth and playing the same Joy Division song on the jukebox at Barflys always wins over the temporary discomfort of a new bar these days. Then I visit Sacramento for a weekend and sit in a bar that is spiritually the same as Barflys, playing the same music. This makes me realize that there is a discomforting sense of having already been there in most cities in the US.
I complain about the need for better bookstores in Austin. The pure randomness of Half Price, the tourist vibe of South Congress Books, but I found Malvern books and walked out with three books that no algorithm would have recommended to me and then came to know that they are closing down soon. "Maybe I'd have been more serendipitous in a more walkable city," I tell myself as I walk back home. And so, I take a trip to walkable cities that I can find in continental North America. I go to Montreal and insult the French Canadians by telling them how much their Catholic Churches remind me of churches back home in Kerala, except that the Montreal churches have stripped themselves of any vestiges of strongly held religious beliefs. "Everyone is welcome," they all say, but all I see are tourists, no sight of the poor or the suffering.
"Don't look unsure when you're in NYC. You might get approached by scammers if you do," my roommate Grant, who's from Rochester, tells me. I go to NYC and feel right at home. It feels closer to a big Indian city like Bangalore or Delhi than an American city. The distance between Rochester and NYC is apparently more considerable than the distance between Kerala and NYC. Eventually, I end up back in Austin again.
I talk about all this with E when I'm back, and she tells me about the books she read as an adolescent, the open fields she played in, the animals she grew up around, and the feeling of wanting to escape Brenham, Texas. The distance between Brenham and Kakkanad doesn't seem to exist at that moment and that too feels like home.
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