Forgotten addresses

Even if the dish is small,
Give away one cup, or half,
To whoever asks.
Happiness isn't in short supply.

– Shailesh Bohare 'Sanjariya' in
Bantane se mithata hai sukh

It is not easy to understand the travails of people without an address. Those who have to leave their homes under duress seldom carry anything more than memories. Uprooted from the location of pain, pleasure and struggles, reminiscences begin to fade. Some cling to sepia images in the family album for emotional sustenance. A few remember the opening line of a folk song that they are no longer able to complete. Over time, most become resigned to a life divorced from the past. They are the orphans of history – sometimes survivors of ethnic cleansing, but mostly unwanted children of the nationalism project in evolving societies.

World Refugee Day, marked annually on 20 June, is a grim reminder of the fact that a large number of people still have to flee their homes, for reasons of physical safety or outright survival. There are many things that transform happy householders into fugitives in search of shelter, but the most vicious of them all is the obsession of the majority with 'cleansing' their community of all ethnic, religious and linguistic 'impurities'.

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Himal Southasian