Since the lockdown began, every room in Shweta Goyal’s 3-BHK in Mumbai has been repurposed. The living room furniture has been shifted to a storage area, so that her children have space for their daily exercise, jumping on the trampoline and skipping. The family’s recreation room has been turned into her daughter’s classroom. In her own bedroom, Shweta tries to steal time for her yoga classes on Zoom, between the time the family watches television and plays board games. In the evenings, the family-of-four gets together in the kitchen where they plan meals, every member chips in and the tasks are divided. Like most apartments in the city, there is no open area to access and there have been disagreements between neighbours from her building about sharing the terrace.
“It’s not an easy situation for any of us, but we’re doing all we can to ensure that home is a happy and productive space,” she says on the phone, in the middle of a hectic afternoon of organising tasks and cleaning the home. “In some ways, I’m reminded of my childhood, when we did not have options for going out and all we had was our home and our mothers had to think of ways to entertain us and to keep cooking different varieties of food so we would never be bored.”
As lockdown becomes the new normal, the home has become a bubble that none of us can escape. It has forced us to engage with our homes and the spaces it offers in different ways - home is now the office, the gym, the classroom, the salon, the movie theatre, and much more. Collectively we have had to scrutinise and readjust our relationship with our homes and those we share it with. The internet is full of advice on how to stick to a schedule while working from home, how to stay fit and active at home, how to stock your pantry and find easy recipes to cook at home, how to cut your hair and do your nails at home, take up bird watching in your balcony, the list goes on.
Home As The Safety Bubble
In the ancient world, houses were made with mud and bricks and their purpose was for people to find safety from wild animals and inclement weather. In the middle ages, the concept of comfort was introduced as houses turned into spaces for retreat rather than defence. With the advent of the coronavirus, as almost the entire world is self-isolating at home, the home has again become a refuge, a place for safety.
For many people, quarantine has turned into a test of their relationships with those they spend time at home with. Families, couples and housemates have been forced into full-time togetherness. Those who would see each other at mealtimes, evenings or on weekends are now spending all their time together. For some, it has meant a strained environment and a struggle to find privacy and for some, it has meant a strengthening of relationships.
Rekha Dixit is a writer who lives in Delhi with her husband and two sons, 18 and 20 years old. When the lockdown began, the first few days were difficult to get through. “We would fight with each other and everyone kept to their own space. Until we realised we’re in this together and there’s nowhere else to go,” she says. The family has since taken up hobbies together. When the weather was milder in Delhi, they would sit in their balcony for bird watching. Now they sit out in the evenings for stargazing. Starry skies have emerged in Delhi as both air and light pollution have decreased. She and her husband work from home and her sons attend classes on Zoom during the day and during the evenings they get together to bake and cook. She admits they’re lucky to have a spacious home with a garden and that makes all the difference.
Rediscovering The Meaning Of Home
When work and study along with the demands of running a household are brought together, it can end up as a testing time. For those with young children even a spacious flat can turn into a confined space. Sherry Jindal Addvant, who works in digital marketing in Noida, spends all her time in her bedroom these days, which doubles up as her office. Her husband has taken up the guest room for his office while her daughter’s room is now her classroom. Her six-month-old toddler is usually in the living room with the nanny. It was a double whammy, as she rejoined work from maternity leave in the middle of the lockdown. “The house is divided between two offices and one classroom and I don’t know where my home starts and my office ends. I’m unable to switch off my mind and sleep at night as I spend the day working with my laptop on the bed. If I need some downtime, I can’t go anywhere, I can’t switch on music so I don’t disturb the others,” she says.
While many of us have rediscovered the joys of our home, we have also found out its limits. We might need new ways of thinking about the places we call home after the pandemic. Perhaps homes of the future will be designed to be more adaptable, for people to live and work in and spend more time in.
Weeks into the lockdown, most people are thinking of these things. “After this lockdown, if I could change one thing about my house, I would make sure I have a house with open space or at least a balcony,” says Shweta Goyal of Mumbai. “It would give me peace and fresh air. It would let me connect with the world, instead of looking outside through a grilled window.” For Sherry Jindal Addvant, it would be a separate space to work in, which is not her bedroom. It would have a proper desk, she says. Our homes are where we spend most of our time, where we live our lives, and after the lockdown, they may change as we change.