Moving back home after moving out (no, not because of the pandemic) has taught me one thing: it’s a disaster, unless everyone decides to make it work.
In August 2019, when I got my offer letter for my new gig and had to relocate back to my hometown, everyone — family, friends, relatives — were ecstatic. “Back home, in Mumbai, you must be so excited,” some quipped.
I wasn’t excited.
Change doesn’t come to me very naturally, unfortunately. I tend to make homes out of people and places, and then struggle to let go. When I left home at the age of 22, I remember feeling extremely unsure of everything — making friends, surviving in a hostel, moving on to another city for the job after. And then, coming back to the base six years later felt like I’m going back to square one. Leaving home had made me see the world differently, as it does to the best of us, and acknowledge how easy I had it in a city where millions come to struggle, and make their dreams come true.
“You’re lucky, you will be in Mumbai, and you don’t even have to pay rent,” I thought to myself. But why didn’t I feel all that lucky?
Every time I visited home in the six years that I was away, I always realised that while I change, home remains the same. That’s the way it has to be, right? You come back home for the familiarity, the ease to be yourself, to reminisce about the years gone by? To forget all worries about bills pending, the repair guy coming, etc. But you can’t live in the past when you’re permanently living in the home you grew up in. It was time to make new rules, and new memories.
I moved back home in October 2019. I was hesitant, and unsure of how to coexist with my parents, who have also been living by themselves after us kids left, and obviously have their own way of doing things. I’m not used to anyone questioning my movement. They’re not used to how control freaky I can be. Will we end up getting in each other’s way? Will we explode?
The four months before the pandemic were odd, for the lack of a better word. My parents, so excited to have me home, clearly had a completely different picture of what it’ll be like. I had left home right after graduation, so they had never seen my work life, except from afar. They pictured dinner time conversations, weekend outings, or — I don’t know — me participating in home activities. Instead, what they got is a forever working child who lives inside her head. The toughest one to navigate was my coffee hour before leaving for work. My routine in Delhi meant having my coffee in the morning by myself, with newspapers, and no one to talk to. I needed to feel like I still have a part of my old life (the home I had built, and the life I made), and asking to be left alone can feel very offensive. But, I did, and felt guilty too. I wanted to continue living like I did in Delhi, just to continue feeling like nothing has changed. Undeniably, I was asking for too much at every point.
So yes, it was almost as if I hadn’t come back, or at least that’s how they felt. I was feeling the change in every moment, and I wasn’t responding too well. I left for work before anyone woke up, back just in time to have dinner together, and in bed by midnight. I was grateful that they never threw the “this is not a hotel” line at me because, well, they wouldn’t have been wrong.
And then came the pandemic, at the worst mental health point in my life, which made this moving back thing even tougher, because so far, I was barely around for anyone to notice how miserable I always feel. I had to start performing, and I was exhausted.
More irritation burned up inside me as timings became erratic, no househelp meant a lot of housework, and the upheaval interfered with my very controlled way of doing things (Yes, I have issues). I became even more reclusive, and they did the most wonderful thing I could have asked for. They let me be.
Moving back is hard, but it’s harder when you have to mould yourself to the “rules” of the house, and the house makes no such effort. It creates resentment, it can make you want to leave, and it can feel claustrophobic. I have to admit that the only reason I was able to adjust after moving back, is because my parents met me halfway. They didn’t expect me to live according to their rules, and I consciously began to learn how to observe their way of doing things, and match up to it as much as I can. I don’t even have my own room in this house, but I have all the space I need.
With time, I realised that while I grew into my own, my folks were already there when I left. I observed how they do things, and figured how to adjust where I can. I didn’t throw “I am who I am” into their faces and instead, showed them who I have grown to be, and gave them the time to come around.
They, in turn, are tweaking the picture that they had in their head, as well as their way of living to accommodate me, and giving me what I need to feel like we’re okay. After all, you’re home. It’s supposed to feel like a bit of a mess, it can be chaotic, but you’d rather not be anywhere else.
And my coffee hour? Well, now guiltlessly, it’s all mine.