Home

Home, even the utterance or sight of this word flashing on a screen or written on paper brings with it the colors and fragrances that send me into a state of unadulterated bliss. Even the sound of it resembles Om, the center, the core.  When we enter a space where people live or have lived before, even hundreds or thousands of years ago, it isn’t unusual to feel as though tendrils shot out from the walls and sought your skin, your soul. Something crackles to life for an instant, urging you to listen to what the walls have to say, to lay your hand on the surface, to reach beyond that which is obvious.

This is how I feel in other people’s homes.

My own home, the one I have tried to “build” for myself over the last twenty-six years, doesn’t inspire any of these feelings within me, at least not yet.  The spaces I have been involved in maintaining for myself and later my family, on occasion, come close to the music a technically perfect violinist might play.  Each note is sound, the rhythm is perfect but all he or she manages to get from the audience is a reaction of awe at the technical perfection.  There is never a deeper connection, no tears are shed, no involuntary smiles appear at the playing, and yet the playing is perfect.  But even such moments of technical perfection appear in flashes in this home of mine.  At other times, most times, there’s invisible chaos.  Invisible because it happens while I am oblivious to it.

It’s a home where several corners remain untouched for years at a time.  There was a corner in a kitchen where a drying rack for baby bottles sat for the longest time.  It stayed there, undisturbed for a good six or seven years after the baby had stopped being a baby.  Some corners of the house have bags from the book store – Barnes & Noble – with books that were purchased on an impulse but never extracted from the bag.  The bag made a home for itself where it fell.  There’s a curtain rod, about a yard in length, that I had intended to install over a kitchen window, once upon a time.  It now sits in a corner of my dining room, lying against the wall where my brother left it two years ago, when he decided it wasn’t a right fit for its intended space.  There is an odd shaped flat iron rod that sits in another corner.  I acquired it from one of these avant garde online design shops.  I intended to place it on a wall in the kitchen so that I could hang my pots and pans from it, the way some people do in magazines.  I remember walking around my kitchen with this rod, not finding a single wall where this rod would fit.  It now lies abandoned in one corner prompting visitors to ask, “What is this?”

My coat closet in the hallway is also rather full, so much so that nothing fits.  But if one looks closely these are coats and fluffy jackets that were once worn by my four, five or six year old daughter.  I’ve books stacked on every flat surface, books in all states of consumption.  I have employee manuals from all previous jobs, the paperwork that went with their health plans, the notes that I took during the first few week of a job, they still all sit there as if they have no place to go, as if taking a stroll to the nearest recycle bin would be too much to ask of them!  The technically perfect note hits every seven years or so when I undertake a massive clean up and get rid of everything I haven’t missed.  We’re currently between such periods.

The kitchen is another place I don’t know much about.  Only one out of four burners ever gets lit.  I hard boil two eggs on it every morning and then make some tea or rice and dal on it when I want to remember a real home; the one where I discovered how much I love rice and dal.  It’s a kitchen where a cast iron skillet sits in a corner.  I remember being excited about this purchase.  I sourced it and lugged it home, it weighed a ton.  I then tried making something on it but the things I was making just got stuck to the skillet, I couldn’t scrape off enough of it to eat.  Then the Google search for “using a cast iron skillet” started.  The verdict was that it had to be “seasoned”.  The thing to do was to get flaxseed oil, smear the skillet with it, and then leave the flaxseed oil smeared skillet in the oven to bake for forty five minutes to an hour.  Then one had to take it out, blot out the excess grease and repeat the process.  This had to be done five to six times and then one’s cast iron skillet would turn into a healthier alternative to a Teflon pan.  I spent an entire day repeating the process.   Then I tried to make a pancake on it.  It still stuck.  This was a misadventure from three to four years ago.  Now there’s a large bottle of flaxseed oil that sits on top of the refrigerator and a cast iron skillet that appears to be grinning malevolently in another corner.

I get visitors sometimes.  This year I had a marvelous time when my uncle, aunt and cousin arrived from India.  I think they loved my place.  My uncle and aunt are gourmet cooks and foodies.  All the times when I wasn’t showing them around New York and New Jersey were spent in my kitchen.  During this time four out of four burners got lit more than they have ever been in twelve years at this residence.  My uncle wanted to make a heat packing achar for my husband and started examining my kitchen cupboards for ingredients.  He stood on a stepping stool and looked through each shelf.  To his surprise, there wasn’t a single ingredient, except amchur, that he didn’t find on those shelves.  All I heard from the kitchen was , “Can you believe she has this? Can you believe she has that?” Yes, apparently I had everything!  Who knew! Not I.

I read a recipe I like, I buy everything I need, I make the thing and once the project is over, it never gets repeated.  The process has been repeated over several years of my independent existence and stuff, even useful stuff, like the things required for achar making, have accreted over the years.

But in my heart of hearts I feel as though a life shouldn’t be lived in phases.  I yearn for consistency and a need to feel grounded, settled, not always in a fugue state.  A home is the tonic for whichever musical scale you choose to mark your life.  In the key of C or D or whatever, we should be living our lives in the key of “home” if we can.  It is something to strive for.  But when I think of my life it feels like atonal music, there is no tonic.

Five years ago I felt like decorating the walls with plates, for that textured look.  So now there are plates on the walls, resting in plate-hangered comfort.  I am tired of looking at them.  Someone came to the door once to sell cheap knock offs of paintings by famous artists, the kinds that hang in model homes or doctors’ offices.  He said I could have ten of these framed pieces for $50 or so and I bought them from him.  Not because I felt it was a great deal, not because I felt any need for cheap knock offs for my walls, mostly because I felt sorry for the guy who came to the door.  Now these Monets and Manets stare down at me from a wall that guests don’t often see.  Someone gave me a Madhubani painting once, and a typical Rajasthani one with elephants and a Mughal procession was brought in from somewhere else, I spent a fortune to get these things framed and they also grace my walls.  Do I feel a connection to any of this? No.  They simply exist in the same space as me, not really soothing my soul nor filling me with house pride.

In a spot above the stair case are four 8 x 11 pictures framed in cheap plastic frames.  These represent my own dabbling in art.  They are print outs of the art I created using Microsoft Paint and my mouse.  One of them is the Afghan girl I copied from Steve McCurry’s famous photograph, one is a solitary Moroccan man playing chess with himself, one is a Southeast Asian woman in a salwar-kameez, staring wistfully out of a window and one is another copy of a Steve McCurry photograph of Rajasthani women huddled in a sandstorm.  If I like a photograph, I like rendering it in paint (virtual or real) or sketching it.  I have given up regretting my inability to create something from scratch.  So every now and then I feel as though I should strip all the cheap stuff off the walls and frame some of my own knock offs for wall art.  Then I remember the time my husband finally noticed the 4 pieces of art framed in cheap plastic frame, that currently grace the top of the stairs and have been there for over five years, and said, “Who made these? Where did they come from? I’ve never seen these before.”  To which my daughter said, “Daddy! Mommy made them, they’ve been there for the longest time?”  He said, “Really? I didn’t know she could do this?”

So, yes, that’s how much of an impact I make with my existence.  There are obvious, in-your-face things that my spouse of twenty-three years has failed to notice about me.  The home maker isn’t grounded, nothing in this home is grounded or a much loved inanimate belonging that has absorbed any essence of the inhabitants.

The way it is can only be explained using a Star Trek analogy.  There were times when Spock, Kirk, McCoy were getting beamed away to some other place or were beaming back onboard the Starship Enterprise.  But sometimes, during this process, they didn’t immediately get reconstituted.  One would see Spock or Kirk taking shape, then their outline would dissolve in static, then they would start to get fleshed out again, but more static, until finally their entire form arrived.  My home hasn’t yet fully arrived, it’s caught between reconstitution and dissolution somewhere in the ether.

 

 

 

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