In the first of our three-part series on solo living, co-living, inter-cultural living, basically modern living, our columnist Sunaina Kumar writes on how the end of a long-term relationship made her introspect her idea of home and our attachment to the possessions that we think make it our space
One morning in February, more than five years ago, I packed a bag and left my home. It was the morning I discovered that my partner was cheating on me. I had gone to sleep the night before without knowing my life was about to change. After I found out, I couldn’t bear to be in the home we had built, which had so many little pieces of our life together. My favourite corner at home was my writing desk in a room that was painted sunshine yellow. We went to ritzy décor stores in Lower Parel that we couldn’t afford and to second-hand furniture shops in Oshiwara to look for that desk. On one wall of a narrow corridor was a collection of ceramic plates we were rather proud of, we picked the first one in Istanbul and were so pleased we never stopped. Spain, Portugal, Goa, Turkey, the plates were our version of fridge magnets, a testimony to joyful holidays we took together.
That morning, I stuffed my clothes, my passport, and laptop and booked a flight to Delhi where my parents lived. Before I left, I lingered at my bookshelf. It had all my books — books I had grown up with, books I intended to read, books that were gifted by friends, books that made me spread my wings and fly around the world. Deep in the pit of my stomach, I had a feeling I would never come back again. But like someone leaving a burning house with very little time, I chose the essentials and I left.
What If I Don't Need Everything I Think I Need?
For the next few years, I thought a lot about my books. I asked my partner to take care of them. I told him I would come back for them. The books became a totem of everything that I lost and the abruptness of it. I also thought a lot about our home. In my dreams, I would sneak into the house in the middle of the night and bring things back. I would bring back the bronze sculpture that my sister had gifted, a painting that my father had found in a flea market. I would rant against the unfairness of leaving it all behind. I knew if I asked my partner, he would return everything, but I didn’t. And so, all those things turned into powerful talismans in my imagination, they were magical and powerful and they had protected me from evil and I couldn’t own them anymore. For some time, I started avoiding Mumbai, a city I did not grow up in, but a city I considered home.
When I moved back into my parents’ house, for a long time I felt unmoored. I had a room of my own, but I missed having a house of my own. My parents did their best to reassure me that this was my home. And yet, it wasn’t the same. I did not understand how to fit in as I used to when I lived with my parents while growing up. A strange thing happened. I stopped buying books. I did not stop reading. I bought only as many as I knew I could read. I slowly pared my life down. I did not feel the need to collect things anymore, to stamp a space as my own, to buy things for the house, to match curtains with bedclothes. I eventually got custody of my books. Once they came back, they stopped being so powerful. I put them on a shelf in a corner of my room and that was that.
Learning To Feel At Home With Myself
I translated my homesickness into farsickness. There is a German word, fernweh, a longing for far off places. I feel at home every time I travel to far off places and every time I come back, I want to leave again. At some point when I stopped missing my old home, I asked myself, what is home? Is it a person I thought I would spend my life with? Is it a 2 BHK in a city I discovered myself in? The dictionary describes home as a place where something flourishes, or from where it originates.
I can’t commit to the idea of a home as a fixed space anymore. I am like a millennial in this aversion to committing, even though I am not a millennial. Home for me now is a feeling of comfort, of security that I find within me. I need very little to feel at home. If I have my coffee mug, my laptop, something to read, and a clean bed to retreat to, I can feel at home almost anywhere in the world.
I take pride in this version of me, which I have found without the help of Zen philosophy. And yet, sometimes I look back at my old self and I wonder if this too is a phase. Maybe there is someplace else, where I will discover yet another idea of home. These days I catch myself longing for it. There must be a German word for this feeling.
Sunaina Kumar is an independent journalist based out of Delhi. She writes on issues of social justice, development and gender. Sometimes she likes to think and write about other things.