Written on September, 2010
I have never been a homesick person. In fact, I admire people who set out with a backpack and explore the world. There is a thrill in eating out of packets and sleeping in a tent compared to dining with expensive china and sleeping on a comfortable mattress day after day. However, my perception of home and what it means to me has changed drastically over the last year.
Last September, I realized that I was in for a big change in life. My apartment lease didn’t get over for months. Hence, I sublet it and moved to G’s empty house (G was traveling then). I had G (and other friends) graciously open their arms and their homes to give me a place to live. For the next 3-4 months, I lived at G’s place. It is multiple times the size of my apartment and more comfortable. But, it wasn’t my home.
Earlier this January, I moved back to my apartment to spend a month selling furniture and other stuff, and got back to sleeping on the floor again. My apartment didn’t look like a home anymore. There was no longer a nook with my favorite books and a relaxing chair, a place where I could sit and eat dinner, or a bed where I could crash. Random strangers who contacted me on craigslist showed up, left me some money, and marched out with my favorite stuff without so much as a blink. The year before, after I started working, I had spent quite some time and money getting expensive furniture and little things to decorate my home. Now I was packing my life into little boxes and giving away whatever more I had.
Come February I was back to living with G. Baby Kalyani gave me company and kept me happy. I once again had a bed to sleep in, a family to live with, and everything I needed. My life still was packed in little boxes. It was home in a different way. It wasn’t my home. In March, I moved to my architect friend’s house while she travelled. I had a housemate this time, a cat I volunteered to take care of. I had to feed her, ensure she was safe and comfortable, and clean cat litter (a first time experience). I missed human company, and the evenings were depressing. I longed to have my own place. Seeking company, my fear for the only other life in that house (the cat), changed into gradual acceptance. One fine day I had slowly picked up the cat and cuddled her. I was still not a big fan of quadrupeds who licked you as a sign of love, but with my cat’s mommy gone, we learnt to accept and enjoy each other’s company.
April onwards, I was in India for about three and a half months, but it was no longer home for me. It was more like a place where my parents lived. I refused to call it “my home”, much to the annoyance of everyone. I had transitioned from that phase where my family’s home used to be my home too. True I grew up in that house and had many memories associated with it. Yet I was living elsewhere for the last 4 years, and after having made a home for myself somewhere else, I no longer saw Kolkata as home. As usual, my father propositioned me shifting base and moving to Kolkata to live in “my home”. Although I was thankful, the idea wasn’t very tempting. Although I was practically homeless then, Kolkata wasn’t home either.
For 2 weeks in July, I set on a globe-trotting experience. I visited four European countries, lived in a different city almost every day, a different country every few days, and every night, I would sleep either in a different hostel bed or in a train on my way to the next destination. Some mornings, I used to wake up confused about where I was. Try waking up in a different place every day and you would know what I mean.
By August, I was back to Seattle packing my stuff for the big move. The last few days, I mostly lived at G’s home, but sometimes I would stay over at other friends’ homes too. Packing and moving took me a while. Finally sometime in mid-August, I moved to my new home. It didn’t seem like home at first, having lived in 17 homes, 8 hostels and 5 trains the last one year (just random numbers). But things changed eventually.
The first thing I did was make a list of basic things I would need, and spent some time shopping for them. This included a bed, a desk and chair, a book shelf, china, lamps, stuff for the kitchen, and so on. These were the basics, yet I did not wait to find something used on craigslist as most students would do. I went ahead and bought them new. This depleted my bank savings substantially, especially since a used bed on craigslist could cost you $20 but a new one from a showroom would cost you at least 30 times more. Yet something in me refused to use something that someone else has used before. The day I discovered bed bugs in my room, or woke up with a back ache every morning, I would realize that my time, effort, and money wasn’t worth it.
I made a new beginning for myself, getting everything I needed for my student life. And it was the right thing to do. In 2 weeks time, I had furnished and decorated my room from scratch, making multiple rounds to shops and stores, choosing and bargaining and deciding, assembling furniture toolkit in hand, learning to use a hammer, screws, and nails without cutting myself, learning to read manuals and follow instructions, deciding on themes and colors, making multiple trips to stores to compare price and quality for bedding, and so on. It was an arduous, but a fun project nevertheless. Although I am way lazy to go shopping and buy stuff, I did this because one year of living in different people’s homes had taught me the value of getting my own little corner, nook, and space, my own little room that I could call home. If you have ever been homeless, even for a while, you will see how it changes your perspective about having your own little space. Why homeless, try going on a week-long vacation to Hawaii. The day you come back and step home greeted by the familiar sight and smell of your
mess home, you will say, “Wow, it feels great to be back home”. That is what our personal space does to us, give us a sense of belonging, and a sense of security and familiarity, so much so that even using the faucets or the bed in someone else’s place will seem “different”.