The Refugee’s Roots

If you ask me
How many houses I have changed till now,
I would not reply.
But I can tell you
About the comforts and discomforts
I felt in each of those houses.
About a day of loose motion
In a house with no toilet;
Or a cool summer night’s story on a rooftop,
Counting the stars before a cozy sleep;
The terror of snakes in a house near fields;
The tastes of guavas and the stick of a
merciless landlady;
And the voices of grief for an unseen person’s
My grandfather, when I busied myself making
clay toys
To avoid those cries.
If you ask me,
Why I have been
So alien in all my jobs,
My mouth will remain shut.
But I would definitely open it wide
To share the successes and failures I had in
those jobs.
How the very first day as a washer
I cut my hand in a milk bottling factory;
Or about comments on my young age and short
Instead of on my teaching capabilities in my
short career;
Or how I sold things at a loss
In an uncle’s shop;
About my tactfulness in selling cheap-quality
To a Kashmiri, who even doubted
That those watches would continue to tell the
time in Jammu
Before he reached his destination, Srinagar;
Or a depressing story in a ready-to-wear clothes
And how theoretically I excelled,
And practically failed, in a life insurance
company office.
If you ask me,
To which city I actually belong,
I want to reply,
But what should my answer be?
The city somewhere in Chitral
Where my grandfather arrived
As an economic refugee,
Or the city of his political refuge in India,
The city of my father’s memories,
Which he craves to visit again and again?
The city of my birth, Delhi, from
Where we were thrown out as
An unwanted minority?
Or the city where I live now,
Or any of those cities I visited?
I know of no mathematical formula,
Or any law of gravity,
That could solve
The question of a refugee’s roots.
But let me add before I subtract
My feelings:
I fell in love equally with
The comforts and discomforts of all my houses
As equally as I loved my failures and successes
in all my jobs.
And do you know
Why I love the cities of my grandfather and my
The cities where I was born,
I lived or visited,
Or the cities I wish to visit?
Who knows which of these cities has in its soil,
My roots,
The roots of a refugee?