Hearth: A Writer Explores the Concept of Home During Her Early Career as a Writer in Delhi, Mumbai and the U.S.
Home is where the heart is.
My heart is greedy. Not that it desires several homes at once, but it likes stuff everywhere. So by logical induction, “home is everywhere.” I’d instantaneously summoned Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon and Naomi Klein when the curator asked during my fellowship orientation, “What does home midpoint to you?”
That question, asked thousands of miles yonder from my lineage home, plopped like a pebble into the river of my mind. The ripples of thought spread far when and long, going vastitude my initial three-word anchor.
* * *
“Roti, Kapda aur Makaan” (food, suit and shelter) was the political cry of self-sustaining India’s socialism in the 1960s and ’70s (including a Hindi mucosa with the same title). Politicians of the era wanted to guarantee vital necessities to every resider of the country. My grandfather, a popular science writer, considered a nation-builder, had seen difficult times growing up. He was well witting with survival and the importance of fundamentals.
A twist of fate post-retirement put his hard-earned savings at stake, leading him to rally to get a stretch of land for a new residential zone in Delhi. Given prevailing land mafia politics, goons from the opposing zany hunted lanugo and write-up up my bewildered grandfather. But his perseverance as the president of the new managing committee prevailed. With the help of an technie friend, my father and he built a simple house with a small garden and backyard, terrace, driveway, and a garage. But the cynical manipulation of the system by a select few dented his idealism. Stepping yonder from the post, he unfurled with the solitude of his intellectual life in the home he built.
When my parents married in 1979, the house was three years old and like a toddler, a big mess. My mother says she chose to scrub the floors and tend the flowers, despite the option to get an office job or study remoter and rent increasingly help for housework. I remember there was usually a hot nutritious meal at dinner, a time when all four of us sat together (Mother ran overdue my fussy, puny self to eat vegetables), or fancy spreads (fussiness magically vanished) when the family entertained guests.
But this was still The House My Grandfather Built. I just happened to be born into this family, and I was grateful to have a well-appointed shelter over my head. The kind I was aware, by the time I hit teenage years, that the majority in my country couldn’t afford, plane without 50 years of independence. For a long time, I carried the privilege of lineage as an unresolved, uncomfortable fact.
One day I read that both guilt and pleasure vivify the brain’s same reward center. (Ah, religion, opium and masses now clicked!) I decided considering I couldn’t transpiration history, I could try to make the future better. So I stopped questioning or lugging my lineage virtually and wonted it for what it was. And perhaps importantly, what could I do with it?
Home is where the heart is. Secure.
* * *
At 22, I left home on a waitlisted ticket, making the overnight journey to Mumbai, locking myself in the train’s toilet considering my ticket didn’t get confirmed. Municipality of Dreams, they tabbed it. India’s New York. The love of my life was with me. I would try for a mass communications program and the shortened loftiness would deepen our relationship. I made it to one of the two top colleges there and moved into its hostel on the fourth floor.
Home was now a room shared with two students from variegated cities. For someone who unchangingly had A Room of Her Own, this was uncomfortable. Rose-tinted glasses turned into ordinary lenses. Adjustments had to be made. One wanted the lights on to study late; the other wanted to yack long and nonflexible with her family when home. Fights, tears, silences, hugs, treats became the norm. So this is what it would’ve been like to share space with siblings—I chalked it up to valuable experience. A new friend, who lived lanugo the corridor and was to wilt unreceptive to a sibling in the coming years, was routinely compelled by my hungry puppy expressions into cooking instant noodles during midnight pangs.
A year later, the undertow ended and it was time to move out. Staying with my boyfriend’s parents till I found a job seemed pragmatic considering we would sooner be married. But he decided not to take any favors from them, expressly when the relationship became strained on other counts. I agreed, and moved into the first paying guest walk-up we found. Haste makes hell. Home was now a tiny room shared with three girls in a one-bedroom suite where the eccentric landlady slept on the kitchen counter in the day and terrorized us in the night. I got a job as a junior features writer with the Indian edition of a teen magazine on a monthly salary of Rs 6,000 (approximately $80), increasingly than half of which went into rent. Dinners were skipped or consisted of a unseemly street meal. This was Me Paying For My Own Living From My Own Earnings. Thankfully, my parents never saw how I lived. I’d have been immediately bundled when to Delhi. Amid the growing tension, weekends with the boyfriend and his family provided relief by way of home supplies and laundry. The retrospectively romanticized struggle phase lasted six months, as long as my job. Without I interviewed Britney Spears over email—a story that made the cover—I was done. Having outgrown pop culture and travel listicles, this had been my most challenging assignment.
Home was moreover where the heart was. Broken.
* * *
I returned three years later to my Municipality of Karma in a job with my then dream publication with four times the salary—with no love in tow. This time mom helped decorate my very own one-bedroom suite with secondhand furniture. She chipped in for a stratify of paint on the walls as a token of encouragement. I could now sire to pay the rent for my loneliness. The struggle included no AC, TV or personal transport. I’d either be out reporting or hankering for a hot meal at friends’ homes. Once, I invited the former love over to show How Far I Had Come In Life. The dependency for his clearance lingered… Appreciation was conveyed with a pair of wall-hangings for my new home. But the spurned heart couldn’t rest its baggage. I put up the hangings on the wall, a subtle reminder to take him off my life.
Slowly, work turned nightmarish with a superabound behaving strangely. No matter how nonflexible I tried, suddenly nothing seemed good enough. The welcoming white walls of my house started to tropical in. The drawn colorful taps bought from a local seller shielded my uneasiness from the outside world; on other days the visionless shadows reflected what I was going through inside. Triggered by a story stuff pulled out to stave upsetting Influential Folks, I resigned a year later on the pretext of giving up journalism for an inexplicable, overwhelming desire to “learn the piano.”
“Learn the what…?” the editor nearly spat into the phone. Using a polite metaphor for art subsuming my malaise instead of an wrestling “I quit” was left unsaid. I didn’t scarecrow explaining, and hung up. The 5-mile walk when seemed to last forever. I returned home, to leave again.
Home is where the heart is. Toughened.
* * *
Sounds of spluttering and loud sighs like a grumpy granny filled the kitchen as I slowly poured the hot water into its sleek undecorous belly. I had to be shielding with my online-ordered rubber snifter that bestowed warmth like a soothing parent every night—a comforting nightly ritual that helped with sleep.
Ten years passed. I had moved 8,000 miles yonder to the United States. The country I’d been curious to visit since I was a child. We had family in this land from where, on their yearly visits, they brought us shiny, robust bars of chocolates and uneaten sharp cheddar cheese at a time when India’s economy hadn’t liberalized.
Here I was, all the major environment reporting awards in India under my belt, and possibly on the most coveted journalism fellowship worldwide. From the 500-square-yard home of my family to a 55-square-yard rented suite of my own in flipside country. I walked in with two tons of gown and an unshut mind, ready for new ideas. A big snifter of soul lotion, a new woebegone diary and a handwritten note from the previous tenant, a sexuality journalist, welcomed my arrival.
Acquainting yourself with a new home is like going on a first date. I slowly opened the smooth kitchen shelves and examined the contents. There was some of her woebegone tea and spices left behind… We’d once exchanged messages well-nigh our similar palettes. Seeing those textual descriptions come to life was different, comforting.
Nearly everything was opposite here—from the electric switches, driving side of the road, social interactions (we nearly never smile at strangers on the road in India). On my first night, I settled for a trencher of instant noodles my cousin had packed. When everything is new, a familiar element helps. Memories of the hostel days in Mumbai flowed. The friend who prepped those noodles was partly responsible for my current place.
And a place it was. The light near the coffee machine took a few seconds longer than the rest to come on, like a subconscious quirk you discover when getting to know someone. I’d never used a dishwasher before; efficient! I soaked in every nook and cranny of my new home. Move over mobile maps, there was a fun walking guide on the municipality in the bookshelf, and a paper map with the higher and other key areas marked out, hanging on the wall.
In less than six months, it became the home where new friendships were launched over cups of turmeric tea. A home where I learned to melt khichdi, an easy repletion meal of lentils and rice, with a doting young nephew as a tester. It was the home where I was unflinching unbearable to have a stage over for an afternoon of wine-in-a-tin-can and chatter, and my classmates for a supper of yellow curry, rice and vegetables. A home that with its blinds drawn offered a refuge to recharge spent intellectual energies. A home where I could spend hours looking out of the window on a rainy day, over hot coffee and unprepossessed pizza, or stay warmly huddled during a snowy weekend listening to classical music and scarfing lamb gravy and roti. A home where the kettle whistled loud and unvigilant when the water was washed-up boiling. A home where the sunshine wasn’t shy.
The street I lived on had historic significance. It was moreover a 1-mile walk to the country’s oldest university, where, in its main library, among the several million books, I found my grandfather’s autobiography. India’s famous economist lived two lanes away. We got friendly as I offered to help him pick out cereal and milk when we ran into each other on campus. I didn’t need to momentum a car; I learned to trundling then without 25 years, feeling solidarity with a group of rural women in one of India’s poorest districts who’d used the two wheels as a social movement. A reflective ride withal the neighboring river at midnight or on a unexceptionable morning lugging groceries in a walkabout or stopping to take photos of ducks and sunsets during exercise was a new hue of independence. I updated my mother over our weekly call, the only member of my family now. We exchanged a moment of quiet gratitude. I still didn’t have a significant other’s love, but this time my love for me felt significant enough.
Home is where the heart is. Healing.
* * *
Months later at the airport, ready to go when via a new stopover, I opened the parting note from a new friend of the host land: “Never stop stuff greedy. It enriches us all.”
“You’ve come a long way, baby—to the home that’s inside you,” I mused, as the boarding undeniability came.
This vendible originally appeared in the July/August 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos courtesy of Shalini Singh.