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My mother’s hand-drawn sketch of her ancestral house tucked away in an idyllic small town of India is displayed prominently in the family room of our house in San Jose. It is that house where she spent her childhood. No-one lives in that house now but it still stands in its majestic glory, in a sleepy old town, a reminder to all of us of its glorious past, a place that was home to many generations of my mother’s family. It was not just the house, it was the town as well. She used to say her low tolerance for high street snobbery was “possibly a fallout of her small town thinking,” the town in India where she grew up for the first sixteen years of her life. That was always home for her. Not the big city of San Jose, CA where she spent the next thirty-five years of her life. When I was very young, I never really understood why that picture on the wall meant “home” to her, why she expected that I too would share in her feeling of belonging there.
I used to indignantly defend my turf, the big city of San Jose where I was born. Now I understand. After being fortunate enough to spend many innocent summers in that small town where my mother was born, I I feel I also belong in our ancestral home in that small town. My sense of belonging does not just stem from the experience of “home” there, the smell of my favorite food, the comforting sound of my grandmother’s voice, the loving embrace of my mother’s sister and the moist noise of the aging German shepherd. The send of belonging we all have to our home there also stems from the culture of that town itself, all of which I have experienced and love. Small towns always start their territory with a symbolic and robust signboard, while their finishing lines are always a little hazy and a little disputed. All it takes is one visitor to alter the landscape of moods and conversations in a small town.
The only prospect scarier for a dweller to leave her small town, is that of not being able to leave it ever at all. And ones who do leave, often come back one day. Small town folks have small houses with generous patios and large gardens; their hearts ruled more by kindness than by ambitions. Rush hour traffic often comes to a standstill as vehicles pause to let a group of ducks cross the main road at their leisurely pace without honking and scaring them off. Young mothers and old grandmas in small towns still have a whole bunch of untold bed-time tales left in them and the patience to share those with all the kids in the neighborhoodScience is still a little scanty, philosophy is still a little dated and religion is still a little tolerant in small towns. Families eat large, uninhibited (and long) meals at a long table. Together. Seven days a week. Births and funerals are less lonely in a small town. Most people show up with genuine smiles to welcome you into this world and they often shed real tears as they bid you goodbye from it. Every home is your home with their doors open,their warm hearth and their welcoming kitchens.
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