Fayes T Kantawala thinks about the various moments in which one might find Home

There is an Indian grocery store close to my apartment in New York. I say “Indian” because that’s what the sign says, but it’s actually run by Bangladeshis and stocks Pakistani products. Whenever I feel homesick I pop in there to walk down the aisles. It’s the kind of place my mother loves: stocked with salty Indian Haldiram chaat mixes, chutneys, chaats and chapatis. There are hundreds of loosely packed teas, spices and herbs, Dawn bread parathas right next to Sri Lankan Theti paan, all across from an imposing, locked shelf devoted entirely to different grades of saffron. Walk through those aisles and it will teach you things: I only recently found out the that “heeng” is a spice and not just a gutteral cry for help. The aroma of the small air conditioned shop hits you the minute you open the door - sweet, spicy, tart - and whispers in your ear: “home”.

I was standing in line to pay when I began absentmindedly examining the shelf to my right. Nighttime teabags, masala mix, cardamon pods wrapped in silver and…blank boxes with Spanish writing? They were old, soft and covered in the kind of dirt that only inventory basements can produce. They looked out of place next to the bright yellow powders around them, and there were, because I dusted one to see the faded letters spelling out “Bidet Ole” next to a mottled stamp saying “product of Mexico”. Bidet. Ole. Just reading the words made my skin tingle and the noise in the world fall silent, and a light shone down from the sky and illuminated the box as if to say “Yes, child, yes. Rejoice, for verily thou has found what thou was looking for.”

Warsan Shire

The Bidet Ole is the North Americans’ product name for a handheld bidet, itself another term for what we all know and love as the Muslim Shower. Leaving one’s home country is always a painful experience, but in all the years I’ve been going in and out of Pakistan, it’s never become easier to say good bye to the Muslim shower. That wonderful, civilized, sanitary staple of Pakistani bathrooms that keeps my faith in our country ever-flowing. I know some of you back home are probably not on the best of terms with the shower because by July it has probably already scalded you a several times, but still. If ever there was a marker to delineate civilizational differences, the Muslim shower would be it. I’ve long suspected that in the age of global TV and Internet, people don’t experience true culture shocks until we step into the bathroom in another country. It can be a traumatizing experience. In all my time in the US I’ve never forgiven the the Americans for their obsession with and commitment to toilet paper. And, up until the cherubs began singing to me in the Indian Grocery store, it had never occurred to me I’d be able to buy and install a Muslim shower in an American bathroom on my own. The idea was ludicrous surely, like growing mangoes in the Arctic.

“But what if?” spoke a voice. “What if?” And just like that, I made up my mind. Buying a bidet a few inches away from red chili paste didn’t seem like a good idea, so I waited until I got home to order one online. It was small, cheap and promised a self-installation so easy you’d hardly notice.

Cut to two days later. I’m in my bathroom on all floors singing “it’s a hard knock life” as I use a makeshift spanner to turn off the main water supply line that’s sending out a tall arc gliding gracefully over my upper back. All around me are plastic wrappers, wet cardboard, torn instruction manuals and the fragments of my silver bidet it was my first plumbing adventure, but there is a certain logic to plumbing that’s pleasing, like a math problem, and twenty minutes later I was looking at the best addition to my life since I discovered they made digestive biscuits with dark chocolate coatings. After all these years, after all these miles, I had found a piece of home. And It felt wonderful.

Perhaps I’ve been contemplating home because someone very dear to me is ill, and the experience has made me reexamine what in my life represents home. Home is my parents. But home is also the smell of cardamom and the feel of a Muslim shower. Home is smell of dirt after the rain and the feel of salt in the ocean. Home is many things, but as a qausi-expat, home will always be in fragments, scattered around the world, waiting for me me to find a piece of it in a homecooked meal or a forgotten shelf. To that end, I want to share this excerpt of a poem called “Home” by Warsan Shire, that articulates so well what so many of us who leave home sometimes feel.

I want to go home

but home is a mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans



be hungry


forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

i don’t know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here 

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com