Saturday, May 6, 2017

Home

“Put your hands back inside!!!”. My father yells at me from the driver’s seat.

Mildly startled by dad’s sudden reaction, I stop surfing the wind outside our car.

He masterfully makes another sharp turn on the curvy road leading us up the Western Ghats.

It’s early in the morning and my view of the beautiful valley outside is obscured by the fog.

Dad takes his gaze away from the rear view mirror for a second and seizing the opportunity, my hand starts creeping up the window frame.

“You know this car has a side mirror too, right”? Dad asks me in his peculiar stern yet steady voice.

I pull my hand back in.

The automatic windows of the car go up and he turns on the child lock.

Dad’s instant remedy to my disobedience might seem appropriate for a toddler, but I was about to turn 27 in less than a month that year. It didn’t matter, within the confines of the family car, Dad is boss, end of story.

“He started doing that a few years ago”. Mom adds to the impromptu discussion about my poor backseat manners.

“Where did you learn that”? She asks me without turning back.

I look outside again, the fog seems to be lifting a little, and I start to ponder over mother’s question.
It took Nikhil a long time to get the class of 2011 together for a group photo at my medical school.

He didn’t expect it, but this turned out to be a herculean task.

For nearly a month, almost every single day I woke up to one of his group texts to the class detailing times and locations where the picture was to be taken.

I made it to most of the photo calls, but no matter how hard he tried, there was always someone missing.

With every cancellation though, the size of the crowd kept diminishing.

We seemed to be getting nowhere

Then genius struck Nikhil and he scheduled the photo shoot 10 minutes after a mandatory meeting the class had to attend.

We were in full attendance that day and this was a golden opportunity to get the picture taken.

Nikhil didn't even bother to send a text out.

I still remember seeing him standing in the portico, physically stopping everyone trying to leave early.

“We finally got them together Thomas”. He said looking happy and relieved at the same time.

"Pramod should be here in about 15 minutes" He confirmed, referring to the photographer.

I was very restless and it showed.

“What’s happening’? He asked me

 “I’m sorry Nikhil, I have to leave now”, I told him.

What? Leave? Why? Where? Now?

His eyebrows perched up an inch with each question almost popping out of his forehead altogether.

“Sorry man, I don’t think you will understand”.

“But go where, and why?” He asked me again.

I didn’t answer him.

He stretched his hands out enquiringly.

I took a deep breath and replied.

“Home Nikhil, I want to go home”.
Some voices are very hard to forget.

I can recognize my father’s voice in a crowd of a hundred people just the same as listening to him yell at me from the front seat of a car.

Then we always have Morgan Freeman.

Popular celebrities aside, there is someone else whose raspy voice is etched in my memory forever.

Casey Kasem.

To me, he is the greatest radio personality of all time.
While not many people may recognize Casey as the creator and former host of the radio show American top 40, when I say he voiced the character Shaggy from Scooby-doo, it may ring a bell.

I consider myself very lucky to have listened to him count down the greatest hits in America before he retired from the airwaves in 2009.

His signature catchphrase – ‘Keep you feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars’ is amongst my favorite quotes of all time.

AT-20 a shorter version of AT-40 aired every Sunday afternoon from 2 to 6 exclusively on Radio Indigo in Bangalore, the time usually coincided with my post lunch siesta and I tried my best to listen to the whole program from start to finish.

I was especially interested in a segment he called ‘The long distance dedication’.

Every week Casey would read out a letter sent to him by a fan usually from a very far off location.

Syndicated versions of his show were broadcast all over the world, and so, these letters came from everywhere.

All of these dedications were basically, heartfelt moving stories that left an impact on you long after the show ended.

It was clear to me that Casey filtered through hundreds of them before choosing one to read out loud on the programme.

Some of these stories were funny, some of them very heartbreaking, some even inspiring, and to top it all off he would end the letter by playing the song that was requested, which was usually just perfect for the occasion.

One dedication, in particular, I have carried with me to this day.

It came to Casey from a mother living in Alabama who wanted to dedicate a song to her son in the army away at war, she talked about how they both loved listening to his show together and was hoping he would be tuning in from the far-east while he reads out her letter to the world, and she couldn’t wait for him to come back home.

About 5 months later, Casey read out another dedication, surprisingly it came from the same person.

I exulted in joy when he read the portion that said her son did manage to listen to her long distance dedication.

There was a slight pause and his voice deepened as he read out the rest of the letter.

Her son had passed away recently.

I’m sure anybody listening to the show, whether it was live or a recorded version stopped in their tracks for a moment to process what they had just heard.

I felt a lump in my throat when she talked about her hope of seeing him again in heaven some day.
Not very long ago after a particularly long shift at work, I found myself at a traffic intersection in India waiting for the signal to turn green.

My tired eyes scanned the world outside as I temporarily rested my chin on the mirror of my motorcycle.

The hustle and bustle across this insanely busy city junction had mellowed down at this hour, and every exhausted soul on the street seemed to have only one thing on their mind -
I can’t wait till I get back home.

It was in that moment that I realized something very important, it didn't matter if we were out every day saving lives or building houses or fixing cars or writing code, we are all trying to find our way back home.

What is home then and where exactly is it at?

When I think of all those long distance dedications that Casey read out each week, it becomes clearer to me that our individual definition of home may vary from person to person, but it’s basically a place where we feel loved, accepted, safe, appreciated and cared for.

While someone may feel that way in the presence of their family, to another, home is the warm embrace of a loved one.

And maybe some of us don't know where home is, because we are still trying to find it.
What I did on the day of the photo shoot back at medical school may seem a little cruel.

But earlier that morning for the first time in my life, I had discovered where and what home was to me.

I was listening to 'Switchfoot's - This is Home' on the radio just before the meeting began and for some reason every single word of that song made sense to me.

15 minutes of waiting seemed like a lifetime and I just knew that I had leave that afternoon no matter what, and as soon as possible.

I got on the first bus that came along and sat impatiently in the back seat. Not knowing what to do in order to calm myself down I put my hand outside the window and the heavy breeze of Bangalore city gently lifted my fingers up in the air, it was as though I was surfing the wind.

The palpitations in my chest stopped only when I saw my mother in the living room, resting on the couch, embroidering something on a pillow case.

I sat next to her for a moment expecting a barrage of questions about why I came back so early, or why I still hadn’t taken my shoes off.

But she didn’t say anything.

I snuggled my head into her lap and closed my eyes.

My heart was full.

I was home.

Until Next Time

TGV