Solipsism – 1

A few days ago my Facebook cover photo displayed the image of a woman wearing her house.  It was the photograph of a photograph displayed at MOMA.  The idea was intriguing to me for several reasons.

For years spaces have given me something to think about.  I remember a house we used to visit as kids; the house of my late aunt.  She lived in what we used to think of as a posh Patna neighborhood.  The homes there were huge with lawns, balconies, porticoes and armies of servants, not something we were used to seeing in a barsati or a duplex in Delhi.  Without launching into the other materialistic attributes of my aunt’s house, let me just say that the house was her and she was the house.  One couldn’t imagine one without the other.  It was as if she shared her DNA with the house, it was so much a part of her.

What is a house except for a space enclosed within four walls, a ceiling and a floor, just bricks and mortar (or wood and metal here in the US)? I realized it was so much more when we visited the house after my formidable aunt passed away.  That home had lost its soul in a very palpable way even though she was the only member of her large family who was now missing.  Something, some crucial essence had left those spaces and even as a kid I could feel it and sense it at some indescribable level.

I felt another instance of this affinity for spaces when I spent a couple of nights at a friend’s home in Delhi.  I was there for just two nights.  I hung out in many different spots in her house – the couch in her bedroom where we shared a cup of tea, her porch that looked on to an immaculately maintained garden where we had our breakfast, the dining table where I chatted with her mother-in-law about some memories that could only have been considered shared memories had we lived in the same place at the same time but felt so anyway.  I felt welcomed in her house, embraced by her space.  Now when I see pictures of her home, her garden, the ivy on her walls, the Gurjari furniture on her patio, it all feels so familiar, so much a part of me.

Another such space is a retreat in the Berkshire mountains in New York.  I have spent a few days there, once with my husband, once by myself and once with my daughter.  The grounds there, the vegetation, the openness of design when it comes to the rooms and the meditation spaces gives me a strange sense of attachment despite it being someone else’s space, someone else’s home.

A picture that became a Facebook cover photo for me next was Van Gogh’s famous painting of a room – Bedroom in Arles.  One could stare at this bedroom in Arles forever and wonder about the artist.  The bed is situated at an angle that blocks the door.  Perhaps it hints at an aversion to uninvited intruders, perhaps it also hints at the occupant’s reluctance about leaving this room.  All he needs appears to be in the room, some food, some water, some clothes and what appears to be his life’s work, including a self-portrait.  It appears to be an attempt at fusing his identity with the space he inhabited during his Arles days. At least that’s how it appears to me.

There must be a million different insights into Van Gogh’s reasons for painting the bedroom in Arles.  I am simply thinking about my home as I think through everything I’ve said above.  I rarely leave it these days.  I think of things I wrote in the past where I referred to my town being a bedroom community.  I felt no connection to my own home those days.  I came home just to sleep.  Now I never leave home if I can help it.  I don’t want for a thing that is to be had outside.  The seasons don’t bother me; I couldn’t carry out weather-based small talk if I had to, it’s always 70 degrees Fahrenheit where I am.  My car doesn’t get started for days, I sit here day after day, my face lit by the fluorescence from the computer screen as I solve someone else’s problems with extraordinary zeal.

This “extraordinary zeal” hints at a surreal immersion, some form of narcotization or escape.  It’s as if some invisible force is blurring the lines that defined me, that made me feel distinct, things like a desire to express myself through words, to read what others have written, to sing, to play music, to even watch television, are distant memories  These days I just lose myself in work, completely.  When I do glance up the sun is about to rise again sans the sensation of a new day, new beginnings.

I am an entity that wears my house and loses some of its essence to an extraordinary zeal about something that probably doesn’t deserve such devotion.

The spaces that feel so familiar and so comforting are perhaps only so when one gets an occasional, tantalizing glimpse at what’s within.

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