Homes and the Homeland
I recently read a marvelous little book. The book is a record of conversations between Edward Said, who needs no introduction and Daniel Barenboim. Barenboim is an Argentine born musician and conductor who has conducted many famous orchestras worldwide including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The La Scala in Milan and more importantly, the Berlin Philharmonic. Incidentally, he has also played in Calcutta. As a Jew, he has come to terms with the massacre of the Jews by the Nazis and has tried to distinguish between the Nazis and the German population in general.
The book has many interesting discussions about his bold decision to play Wagner in Tel Aviv which caused a big brouhaha. Wagner, if you remember as the German composer known to be anti-Semitic and was idolized by the Nazis. He has, in his conversations clearly distinguished the music from the political opinions of the famous composer.
However, one part of the conversation between the two men related to what constitutes a homeland. Said was a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, brought up in what is now the West Bank, then in Cairo and was educated in the USA where he lived and worked for many years. Barenboim, on the other hand was born in the Argentine, became an Israeli citizen and wandered over many cities of Europe and the USA where he lived and worked.
Barenboim feels most at home in what he calls the “idea” of Jerusalem, a sort of imagined city. Jerusalem for him is a sort of city of the mind which is the spiritual, intellectual and cultural hub of Jewishness. Said on the other hand used to feel most at home in Cairo, where he grew up , but to him the ambience of New York where it was possible as he said to “ be In, but not of it” made him feel very comfortable.
This made me wonder what exactly we see as home. Is it India, or a specific part of it? Is it Ok to feel a close allegiance to your city or your state, or are you betraying the Indian homeland as whole? And what about the refugees? There were so many Bengali refugees who never could reconcile to West Bengal, or Chittaranjan Park, or Assam to be their home; they pined and some still pine for the homeland they left behind in what is now Bangladesh. There were Punjabi matrons and businessmen in Delhi who grudgingly accepted that Delhi was their final destination, but acknowledged Lahore as their home till their last breath.
So what is Home? Is it where you were born? Or where you grew up? I notice that many friends of my childhood write Calcutta as their hometown in the Facebook pages despite the fact that they originated from all corners of India and now live scattered all over the globe. This is perhaps how it should be, because when you think of home, you recall your parents, your siblings and the friends you played with and fought as a child. No matter where you go in later life and where you live and work, the word home recalls your childhood home. No wonder so many of us who grew up together still think of the Calcutta Port Trust Colony in Nimak Mahal Road as our home, though we have been scattered to the ends of the earth and Nimak Mahal is in ruins.
At least we still can return to the city of our birth and childhood; I wonder how some of our parent’s generation and their parents felt when they were unable to return to the cities and villages that they had called home and still enshrined as home in their hearts.
There is a lot of other very thought provoking material in the book. Please read it if you can.
Daniel Barenboim and Edward W Said: Parallels and Paradoxes : Explorations in Music and Society. Bloomsbury, London, 2004