It has been a long time since I left behind Kuwait, that landscape of childhood years: witness to the ways in which I tormented my brother, a bidet that was not connected to the plumbing, a shelf held together with masking tape, a cot that was placeholder for bedding, roads lined with date trees, fully clothed beach-goers.
There are some objects that have withstood the moves and the years and the careless stowing away in airless spaces: a bowl with Disney characters painted on, a tiny car that glowed as you moved it on the floor, a Wren & Martin grammar book whose spine had atrophied, an album of stickers.
There are some objects that didn’t survive: a camera dropped into the sea, with pictures from the only holiday ever taken, an electronic pet that demanded to be fed every two hours, a wallpaper that was too green and too bright, as though to make up for the brown that was pervasive.
There are also some reminders that do not make much sense: a man named after important figures in both biblical and Dravidian theology, a rare family outing to watch a eleven year old Harry Potter, a tower that held a sphere of water.
I think of the girl I was then, who once wore shorts and stood looking at the desert across the street, hoping that a boy would stop playing football and look at her for a second. I think of the untruths and half-formed ideas I learnt. Could I unlive those if I went back? I am apologetic for some of them—stay away from locals, Friday Market is a breeding place for bedbugs, nothing is as good as it was in India—but I suspect the satisfaction in dismantling old judgments is superficial. I might have just replaced them with newer untruths.
Sometimes I want to go back, to see for myself if the dust storms are as I remember, if the Bangladeshi grocery store down the road is still called baqala, if fat cats continue to guard the corridors in rundown buildings. But returning would mean replacing my images with new adult-like perception, naked without their sprinkling of nostalgia. Maybe this is a risk that I do not have the courage for.
I return often to these things, these visuals, these scents from another time. I write them down because they may slip away.
As a child, one of the things I wanted was a house I could call my home. An unmovable house that witnessed our lives, with a swing in the backyard, a terrace that allowed play, a house of sunlight and books and the smell of curry leaves spluttering in oil. I now see I wished for something unwieldy, I would rather have the home that my memories give me.