Revisiting a childhood home

By visiting her childhood home, Namira Hossain reflects on why such visits are necessary for many of us

014They say, ‘you can’t go back home again,’ but sometimes if you are lucky, you can. I left my old childhood home where I grew up in a peaceful neighbourhood in Baily Road, when I was sixteen. Without looking back, I moved onto greener pastures to a neighbourhood which my teenage perspective coloured as a lot ‘cooler’ – because I would actually have friends as neighbours and where my beloved city seemed to be a lot more happening. I moved on to a newer version of myself, which might have stayed the same inside – a socially awkward loner who read a lot of books, but on the outside, glittered with newfound popularity and thrived in teenage drama of crushes, heartbreaks and endless nights giggling with friends.
It is not uncommon for people to want to revisit their childhood homes. Saad Hammadi, editor of New Age Youth says, ‘I went back to my childhood home many times. I stood outside and stared at it, but never went in.’
Sometimes, if the old house has been demolished, it can be emotionally unsettling for people. Tasaffy Hossain, a freelance development worker and founder of VDAY Dhaka says, ‘it was depressing – walls were broken down, windows were missing, there was no furniture. I had spent sixteen years of my life there.’ Yet she remains glad that she got to see her old home before it got torn down.
There can be a plethora of reasons behind the desire to revisit a childhood home. According to a survey conducted by Psychology Today, it can be because people want to re-establish links with their childhoods. Another reason that some people felt the need to go back was to re-evaluate their life at that point in time, by going back to the first place where they first established their values and learnt important life lessons. A third reason found by the survey, was that people hoped to find closure especially if they had unhappy childhoods.
Ever since I moved out of my old house, it slipped away from my consciousness but never too far from my mind because I would always see my old home in my dreams. Sometimes, I would have terrible nightmares due to unavoidable circumstances, I have to move back to my old house where I am completely removed and isolated from all of my friends and I would wake up feeling a dreadful anxiety. I think there are several reasons why I felt the need to go back.
Aside from the desire to see the walls and trees I used to climb, and the verandah where I would walk in the evenings, talking to plants, I also had to satisfy my curiousity about what kind of people inhabit my old home now. Do they keep it as immaculately as my mother did, and my grandmother did before her? Are they happy? Did they spend time together as a family – something I desperately longed for as a child but resigned myself to not having.
The other reason is also because I feel as though I am at a transient phase in my life. In just a little over a month, I will be turning thirty – and I can feel bits of me that are dead getting stripped away from my being, and with that loss, I can sense a sort of return to the old ‘me’.
After the high from performing at the Dhaka Lit Fest, at the end of Day three, I left Bangla Academy armed with books and with three of my friends. I told them of my plan to go see my old home as we were close to that neighbourhood and they agreed to accompany me. As soon as the car turned right next on the corner of Viqarunnisa Noon School, I could feel waves of nostalgia washing over me. All of it felt so familiar – the bustling main road, the neon signs of the shops, the Mohila Samily Theatre and two houses down from there – the familiar gated compound where my house used to be.
I was afraid that the ravages of time would change how I remembered the place to be, but the neighbourhood was exactly the same. It felt like the place from my memories and dreams had become concrete reality in front of my eyes – the familiar street with a yellow two storey house, a red brick house, my old white painted house and right at the end – the house with the sprawling garden where I would watch people playing badminton from my bedroom window. I showed my friends the krishnochura tree that stood right outside my bedroom window and the wall I used to climb and jump off from as a child.
I felt emboldened by seeing nothing much had changed, so I walked into the familiar blue gate which was conveniently left open. I looked at the garage where we once parked our cars, and walked up the staircase where I had managed to sprain my back after jumping off the first landing one too many times. The walls looked very dilapidated and I thought how my mother would shudder at the sight. I rang the doorbell, and a woman answered with a baby in her arms. I told her that this used to be my childhood home, and I asked her if I could look around.
Upon entering, I was flooded by memories – of wandering the corridor on my own at night after watching the X-Files, hoping to find something ‘spooky’, of reading books at the dinner table and getting told off, watching cartoons endlessly in the TV room during my school holidays. Even though the new inhabitants had very different taste in decor, and had extended bits of the house with careless disregard for the memories of those who existed here before them – it still felt the same to me. My old bedroom seemed to be occupied by two little girls, one who was sleeping and another with a very pretty face who looked absolutely befuddled by my entrance into her domain as she quietly shut my old bathroom door on my face.
I wandered through the house, noting what had changed and what had not. Once my grandparents had moved and left the house to us, the house had been renovated into a two-unit house with tenants who lived on the first floor. The evidence of the change remained in our old dining room, where one could see a clear line between the newer mosaic tiles where an old staircase had been broken down to make another room. I peeked into all the bedrooms and even looked out the window onto the next street, as I often had as a child – imagining the lives of others in the humble looking houses. I refused their invitation to sit down for tea, but left with something much richer. A reminder of myself as a wilful, independent child who had a wild imagination and endless curiosity, and it made me smile to think that just like my old house – parts of me have grown and extended but much of me still remains the same.

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