At the cross-roads of the need to travel to find oneself on the one hand and the elasticity of affective connections that tie us to various time-spaces on the other– like Spiderman’s nets, if you like a pop culture analogy–lie the roots of the sense of both exile and belonging.
When the self grows impatient and unhappy, one goes abroad. When it grows too large to identify with one, self, limited place, it desires to belong to more and larger things. It seeks to collect in a basket the best and choicest of the meadow’s flowers and fruits. If the choices(t) lie beyond the horizon, one travels. If the basket is too heavy to take with us it gets left behind. There will surely be time to bring armfuls of fruit back after the harvest.
But the body is a curious thing. It consumes and houses the fruits of that labor without qualms, and leaves for the heart-basket only impressions of the fruit that was there. All the harvest has gone into the making of the house and its corn-gods. The sheaves have made the walls, the leaves the roof, the fruit the offering, the chaff the fence. Nothing is left except the ritual of setting some fruit aside for one’s ancestors and the prayers for one’s continued journeying. One becomes thus one’s own house and one’s own god, honoring in trinity the past and the present.
Some, unsatisfied still with the attachments and bereavements of lands, leave for the water and the sky. But the water that does not ripple hindered by soil and the air that forms the clouds that shadow the earth obey still the same laws–the anchor line of memory, the sail-line of desire. Fishers of men and tillers of soil, ye are as one in the journey to the meanings.
You should go abroad to find yourself, my father said. I went because I was running away from self-failures (self-fashioned, my mother would say). Even before I began, it was too late to turn back. I had committed myself to the larger daughterhood of ridding my father of his (as I imagined it) paternal responsibility rather than make pragmatic and happier choices by following my mother’s kitchen suggestion. It was a strange mix of individualistic hedonism, feminine shame, misplaced feminism, imposter son-hood, adult responsibility, and adolescent cowardice. I ran away from the oppressive thing weighing down the net of time over me; that entire thing was my past, its elasticity was the bungee-cord of time, and I was under its threatening touch.
When I came to that other land I didn’t want to be there. I lived it out because I looked forward firmly to the end of time, to the end of trial and exile. That was how I saw it. I would succeed in my work, I would accomplish the character-making that my father and mother had won and hence valued, like a good child I would win their praise, I would return home victorious and virtuous. I would do so if I did not already, by virtue of the virtues accrued through that process of winning, win a trophy husband. Like a responsible Indian girl, or so I imagined. Life was hard, but this hardship was short, and I could make it end rightly if I proceeded with due virtue.
That did not happen. There was no way to go back, and I did not want to know it. I asked the powers that be why I was not delivered after purgatory. The powers were silent, naturally. This had nothing to do with them. In agony I, plant, uprooted myself and threw my body into the prevailing currents. Better this between domain of not-being than a painful decision to wither into the truth. I would carry on because there was no chance of going back yet. I came to the middle lands.
I nearly died there, walking the thrice-nine land beyond the thrice-ten kingdom. I was the eye of my own needle, the eye of my own storm. I could not see beyond my quest, others could not see into my heart for the gap that seemed to be there.
Until one day, while contemplating the evacuation of yet another thing, I realized that I would not be the snail I had styled myself into. The house on my back which, like a tragedienne, I had imagined, did not exist. It was a dream-house that I carried, immune and ideal in blueprint, a desire to belong everywhere and back there. As a ‘cosmopolitan,’ inhabitant of world-shell, I belonged nowhere except in my study-shell mind. As long as I remained myself, I could not be indigenous, one of ‘them.’
I was not in exile, then, from myself. No, I was acutely, needlessly, conscious of what I was. Indeed, that was the very thing that had led me to know when I should leave each place. I was, if anything, in search of a thing I could not find now—the eye of the needle. I would have to learn to be at home with the sense of my dispossession.