Jo’burg will make you cling to every single one of your gods. Every one of your spiritual guides, your ancestors, your vices. You’ll create rigid rituals for security and not even realise you’re doing it – but by then it’s too late. Routine has destroyed your delight.
There was a time – imaginary – when the air was clean, the streets were empty and you were content in flowers blooming and the stillness of nature. The church was a sanctuary, for even a Hindu like you. You go to your place for two seconds too long, and you realise that that place was never your home because it never existed – not outside your head at least.
“So, how is Jo’burg treating you? How’s the city?”
“Well, I’m new here.”
My bouts of spirituality come like a yawn or a sneeze – a bodily reaction to my environment. And when the environment is concrete and piss and “hey mami” and shouting and endless amounts of work that could make even Kafka cry – only your ancestors can help. And like in any unhappy home, the elders know how to provide a safe space and protection. Because they’ve been through worse.
Home is not…
In this realm
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no shame in feebly grasping at the idea of home as a form of comfort and nostalgia. The world is frightening, confusing and a little too dystopic these days. When it all becomes too much for me, I visit my aiya. I smell her baby powdered body and smile as she turns salt for me at the doorway. She’s a quiet, heavy presence. She’s making cabbage curry and rotis with just a pinch of sugar. It’s a windy day. The dust specks fly around the house and as they settle, I walk around. She’s burned temple incense and I know it’s time for prayer. We go to the room: light the lamp, kneel, pray. We leave with ash on our foreheads. She shouts at the cat (she thinks it’s evil but loves it nonetheless) and then we eat. She runs me a bath as I put the dishes away. As we get ready for bed, we gossip. I try on all her jewels and perfumes and play dress up. She says I look like her mother when she was younger. I massage her hard, bony hands and paint her nails. “Thank you,” I say. “You never need to thank me. You are enough thanks as you are,” she replies.
Home is a borderland, a conflicting zone. It’s where we learn things to unlearn. Don’t worry if home is painful. Make another one.
Youlendree Appasamy writes for various platforms including Ja magazine, where this piece was first published