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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Homing In

It’s a house when you move into it; you have to turn it into home

What makes a house into a home? That is a question I have grappled with over the last couple of decades, ever since I moved to Delhi and began living in an endless succession of teeny-tiny apartments. 

I still retain the fondest of memories of the first house I moved into in the capital, a small barsati in Defence Colony, where the enormous terrace was more than adequate recompense for the cramped rooms. But despite my love for my first Delhi home, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of achievement when I could finally afford a ‘proper’ flat, even if it was rented. And moving into a house of my own came with its own sense of joy – and relief (as anyone who has had to shift homes every two years when the lease is up will understand only too well).

Looking back now, I often wonder what was the moment when these living spaces went from being a ‘house’ to becoming my ‘home’? Was there a magic moment when that transformation occurred? Or was it a slow and steady process that crept up on me while I was busy doing something else? And what were the elements that went into this process?

What, to go back to my original question, makes a ‘house’ a ‘home’? 

In my case, the process begins with paint. Every house I ever moved into had its walls painted that regulation, anodyne off-white. A nothing shade, it depressed me just to look at it. So, the first thing I did was splash some colour on the walls. Dusky rose pink for the drawing room. A bright sunny yellow for the den. A brooding blue for the bar. Soothing tones of grey and lavender for the bedroom. And the odd splash of lime green to add interest to a boring corner. 

Everything looks so much better once the walls come alive with colour. The house is on its way to begin looking like a home – my home.

And then, come the books. Only once I have unpacked the many cartons containing what I rather grandiosely term my ‘library’ and arranged its contents on the shelves according to my preferred scheme (thrillers in one section, biographies in another, food books in a nook near the kitchen, and so on), do I start feeling truly at home. It’s like when you are surrounded by old friends in a new, unfamiliar place; their presence alone is enough to make you feel more at ease. That’s how books make me feel in a new house.

But that is just the starting point. The circle is only complete once I have identified a favourite corner (or a favourite chair or couch) to read in. Once I’ve found that little nook, spent a day (or two) ensconced in it, a steaming cup of coffee at hand, I know that I have found another home for myself.

Next comes the kitchen, which is – when you think about it – the heart of the house. So, the third step in turning a house into a home is to get the kitchen up and running. The spice rack must be stocked with everything from fresh haldi to Herbs de Provence, from Chinese five-spice powder to Mexican seasoning, from powdered lemon grass to sachets of bouquet garni. All my pots and pans – the cast-iron ones for cooking meat, the non-stick ones for healthy sautéing, the large one for making a cassoulet, the small one for the perfect omelet, and so on and on and on – must be within easy reach. The fridge and freezer must be heaving with cold meat, Greek yoghurt, cheese (the smellier the better), and ready-to-cook frozen aloo tikkis (don’t ask!).

Once all of this is in place, and more importantly, I have used all my pots and pans and assorted ingredients to cook a meal in that brand-new kitchen, well that’s when I begin to feel at home.

The last and final step has nothing to with the house, and everything to do with the neighbourhood. Strolling on the streets to get the lay of the land; walking in the local park every evening; buying vegetables from the subziwallah around the corner; getting a takeaway cappuccino from the nearby coffee-shop. A couple of weeks of this and the area – not just the house – begins to feel like home.

Of course, the process is different for everyone. And each one of us has his or her own criterion for deciding on what makes a house a home. A friend of mine insists that it’s only when the newly-painted walls start showing a stain or two, the kids spill some stuff on the sofa and the dog chews up one end of the carpet, does she feel that she’s finally made the home her own. 

For others, making a home means having friends and family over for an evening of food, drinks and laughs. Some feel at home only after they have an elaborate Grihapravesh puja. And then, there are those who need to generate enough clutter before they can call a place ‘home’.

But whatever the process, it invariably involves putting our own special stamp on the space we occupy. At the end of the day, like all animals, we need to mark our territory to truly make it our own.

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