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Homeward: Towards a Poetics of Space

Homeward: Towards a Poetics of Space

In Homeward, Soibam Haripriya brings together writers, artists, poets and photographers to question presumptions of home, the idea of a homeland and, by extension, the nation. Articulating and imagining the meanings of home, one’s own or those of others, is often an act of confronting one’s vulnerability. Metaphorical or real, homes are necessarily messy worlds that inevitably collide and telescope into each other as their geographical boundaries often intersect and overlap. The contributors to this volume, in their different ways, upend the idea of home as a unit of stability, familiarity and familial-ity, emptying out its significance as a place of nostalgic refuge to which one can always return. The ostensibly common universal idea of home is often unhinged, they show, by the conditions of violence that underpin relations within that space. Focusing largely on the Northeastern region, often bound together in some way, ethnically and geographically, this anthology illuminates how political climate as well as geographic sites transform homes. How then may we re-imagine home when its significance as a space and place of refuge loses meaning. Homeward engages with the boundaries and constraints imposed by messy cartographies and attempts to evoke a poetics of space through the act of writing. Given below is Soibam Haripriya’s introduction to Homeward.

A book is a dream gone haywire, and fosters the possibility of dreaming new ones. Homeward began as a manuscript of poetry. It shifted shape till it became a collaboration with many others on thinking about home through many forms and genres.

Thinking about home is difficult terrain. For women, it is assumed that they will change homes — every woman is expected to be some sort of migrant, from one household to another — and women who skip this rite of passage are seen as lacking a sense of home and a world of the domestic. There could not be a better metaphor for the task expected of women to keep homes than the myth of Sisyphus, waking up every day to do the same task that gets undone — regardless of the fact that women keep the world outside too. The myth is absurd and real. But home is not solely a site of patriarchy. Some might argue that home is a site of reclamation from the violent public spaces of the outside. Akhu sings, “When the home is burning …” This song comes from a homeland where people experience the possibility of being snatched from the cocoon of home and violated by the nation state. And the nation state is a metaphor of home for so many others: sometimes to a violent extent for those who do not endorse such a view, or those who are simply thought not to belong, as the intersection of their identities does not coincide with the majority’s definition of belonging. The nature of what it means to belong is not just a sentiment. It is mapped by geopolitical facts and changing laws — and the law is a shapeshifting creature.

A lack of home haunts us and therefore evokes nostalgia as well. This nostalgia is in spite of the fact that homes asphyxiate some of us, for whom the rules of belonging to a home-proper are stringent. This is true especially for those whose gender and sexuality exceed the rules of normativity. Others belong, no matter what, perhaps because they belong to the right permutation of gender, class, ethnicity, caste. Home generates a desire for happiness or a desire for escape; it can be a site of abuse, a womb or a refuge. And what about the future of homes? Homes are mortal; they die. It is not incomprehensible that they are mortal. The cataclysmic unfolding of climate change and/or pandemics makes it possible to imagine the mortality of homes. I would have thought the theme of “home” has been mined to exhaustion, however, our understanding of home remains incomplete, thereby hopeful of possibilities. It is the ghost that haunts because it is yet to be made peace with.

If there is a thread running through this work, if such a thing is possible, it is the non-consensus on what the meaning of home is. This collection is a montage, which attempts to recontextualize and relocate the idea of home from a perspective that moves beyond the glorification of four walls and the heteronormative marriage that upholds the (il)legitimacy of relationships that are forged within.

Home could be a students’ commune that houses transient residents; a barsati on a terrace on a hot summer noon humidified by desert coolers; a riverine island eroding each monsoon or a street with no name. It is a mosaic of non-addresses or a collection of temporary addresses. It could have its dusk skies lit with the shelling of homes or maintain its fragile ceasefire peace. This anthology by its very non location in physical geography calls for an imagination of a poetics of space, a messy cartography that cuts into each other’s maps.

Many of the anthology’s contributors belong to the problematic geographical directional category glossed as “Northeast” India. The collection attempts to imagine homes and recuperate the region that has been relegated to the periphery of the nation. However, it tries to expand the idea of region beyond territorial boundaries of within and without by including contributions from Darjeeling and Myanmar. Some contributors engage with multiple homes across multiple sites, including between nations, revealing that we reside betwixt the making and unmaking of the home.

To write about home is to undertake an effort to touch it. Whether the work takes inspiration from life or fiction, it leaves traces of one’s vulnerability in some form. This anthology places together homes that are messy and necessarily collide with each other. The collection may be read as a way of structuring the affect of what spills out of homes. Some yearn for a fissure and a closure; some desire a seamless suturing. In that, this anthology is a reconstructing and reliving of homes through various interlocuters.

The anthology, conceptualized and written before the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic, is premised on an open-ended geography and has been long in the making. However, the pandemic mocks a conceptualization of open-ended geography. It reinforces minute borders. The co-constitution of identity-experience and how a “neutral” pandemic impacts us differently necessarily challenges presumptions of home, homeland and the nation. For a long while, workers walking hundreds of kilometres home will be witness to the hollowness of the idea that workers can belong to the cities that they have built. The term “migrant” when applied to people who move within the nation state is, more often than not, used with a class inflection. Racialized attacks in India are not new. However, with COVID -19, regional identities are read as coinciding with the identity of the racialized virus. These examples, which collide with the possibility of open-ended geography, are unending. The larger nation-state can house homes but it cannot be home, at least in a state of crisis. Political climate transforms homes: a critique of the nation-state can lead to the violence of non-belonging — “Go to Pakistan!” To each her own (home) in lockdown, or the long walk home. Everybody wants to reach home, no matter how perilous the journey.

Homes are never complete.

ISBN: 978 93 90514 37 3

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Format: Hardback

Publisher: Zubaan

Year of Publishing: 2022

Price: INR 1200 (and INR 550 for E-book)

*Feature image: Cover image (with a border) of the book Homeward, published by Zubaan

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