At the age of 18, sometimes 17, young adults in foreign lands move out of their parents' house. This is widely encouraged, even looked forward to. It is a milestone moment for the person and the parents too; the little bird is flying out of the nest to make it big in the world.
In India, it works a little differently.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of moving out as well, and not just from homes but from the cities, and sometimes even the country that you spent so many years in. We get through schools, colleges and jobs that are miles away from where we have spent our years playing hide and seek, or stapoo, away from the corner where we smoked our first cigarettes, so far away from the place where we learned to become who we are - until the moment we leave.
We move out, move to another city for a job, never to come back again.
And if not that, it might be that your parents have decided to sell the house you called home for 26 years. You are sitting at work one day and you get a call from your father telling you that we have to move out of the house because a buyer has finally been found, or the family has decided to move out of that place, and you are like "Oh, okay. That is quite random but sure let's go with it."
Because what else can you do anyway?
So you go ahead and pack all your things in cardboard boxes: books, clothes, souvenirs, furniture, memories...everything has a dedicated box. You sit and mark everything you own with black markers so you know where to find them the next time, in a new house. All the while, as you are packing, your brain is constantly playing a rerun of things you are surprised you even remember.
They are all there: a flash of when you cut your sister's hair in the verandah that spring morning, the first time you learned how to skate and banged into all the furniture and almost trampled over the dog, the time you had a fight with your dad and said you will never come back (only to return in two hours because you can't be homeless).
They are all a little worn out, the details frayed and faded. But there. And in that moment you are only thankful that they all survived your countless experiences over the years.
This house that has always been the backdrop of your memory even before memory existed for you, these walls that you have painted so many different colors over the years, that corner where you sat and learned the names of all the states and their capitals, or the room where you spent countless hours watching Dexter's Laboratory....you will never be here again.
You will never see your mother in that kitchen and hear her complain about the day through that small window, you will never see your father sitting in his corner, or prune the rose bush that was your labor of love in sunny winter mornings.
It is amazing how a 2-BHK and a tiny brain can hold up so many emotions and memories.
For the ones who move out, there is always a 'coming back'. But everyone who has done it will tell you that once you leave home, you never really come back. In going away and the rush of finding who we are (and who we are to become), we somewhere let go of who we were. Now, when we return, it's only for a couple of days because Ma was missing us, and not even a day passes that we start getting restless to go back to what we call our "freedom".
Until the day you get that call from the father saying you have to move out of the house because a buyer has finally been found, and you go back one last time to haul your past into cardboard boxes, mark them with markers, and say goodbye to those streets you know like the back of your hand, the park who nursed many heart breaks in, have a last conversation with all the neighbors and friends who ask you to remain in touch knowing that you probably won't.
And you give the house one last look all around, lock the door one last time, and say goodbye to the house you were born in, grew up in, and the house that built you.