4.13 Open Water
Four Chambered Space(s)
Words by Dhyani Parekh
What does it take to feel at home? Read this heartfelt entry from Dhyani's journal to find possible answers.
Illustration by Jishnnu B
Bunnies in the Netherlands
“The Jazz bar on the ground floor looks kinda interesting, we should give it a shot once we move”, I said mindlessly as I unpacked to move into my new empty studio apartment in the Netherlands.
“Not a fan of jazz, but yeah maybe we could go”, my roommate murmured as she stared at her laptop, engrossed.
“Her bunnies were cool, but I think Marieke will take them along with her” I thought out loud. Marieke was the kind Dutch who was subletting her place to miserable expats like us, nearing the end of our exchange program. My roommate looked up with a flicker in her eye, “I don’t think I’d want to take care of them, maybe if it were long term, but no”.
I continued folding my clothes on the floor, still thinking about the bunnies, wondering the kind of commitment it would need to raise them. Was I even capable of parenting bunnies? But funnily, the situation was never going to arise. It was just a vague possibility that I brushed off.
I sat between my neat pile of folded clothes and started thinking about the amount of effort I should commit to making this new place feel like my temporary home. But I couldn’t come up with an answer for measuring the kind of attention and affection I could give and receive from a place and its people in thirty days.
We never ended up going to the jazz bar. I remember smiling timidly when the bar’s owner attempted to acknowledge our shared building and extended a warm welcome on my last day in the Netherlands. But I decided to pack my bags instead – it wasn’t worth the time. I didn’t know if I would see him or anyone I had met there again.
The couch in Goa
Precisely, a year later, I stood in an empty living room of a rather spacious villa in a small village in Goa, thinking about investing in a couch to just lie around. But again I reminded myself that this space was ‘home’ for just six months. Will I even need a couch if I have a bed? Maybe not. And for what seemed like the longest six months, the living room remained a hollow space with some forgotten and borrowed furniture that now marked my spot.
I remember indulging in sufficient small talk with the people around me in Goa, at least the four people I was able to see almost everyday. Mostly they were people who would refill my ‘survival kit’ - Polly uncle who would save some of his bread for my dinner and Antonetta who would make sure I had veggies to cook (considering food delivery services didn't function in the village).
I did my best to maintain my distance from these kind people I met everyday. Why would I want to grow close to them when I was not sure about returning to this secluded place after the next six months?
Somehow, my spectrum of attention for a place has become directly proportional to the number of days I plan to stay there. I still find it hard to understand how warm and connected I could be. Would it have been worth it to become friends with the owner of that jazz bar? Would it be okay to accept plants from my new neighbour?
The post-its on my walls
Being in a place bears a resemblance to being with a person. How long can I picture being with them? Is it long enough to like their idiosyncrasies or longer to call them out on those I find irritating? I think about every person I had once liked and imagined in my future. Funnily, all my decisions and interests would magically align with theirs (of course sparing a few traits here and there for the sake of maintaining some individuality to identify with the kind of independent woman I think I would like to be).
Every time I move to a new place there is this sense of compromise, similar to the kind I feel when I’m getting to know someone new. With new places, I go through repetitive phases of valuing and forgetting things I choose to create memories with – the nearby lake where I went for calm dips and a corner of my window that the curtain is unable to cover. With people, I love it when they share poems but get annoyed when they don’t text before calling.
These are the small things that I accept, compromise and get used to; and eventually all the parts become a habit, and before I know it, a routine - with the good and bad, funny and annoying things. And then comes the phase when I put in some effort so that these new places and people become the way I like them or come close to it. I think this can only happen when all three of us (the place, person and me) allow each other to cause small disruptions in our usual way of being.
My previous landowner hated it when I put up post-its and chart papers all over my (his) room, just like my roommate hated it when I corrected her grammar. But I continued doing both.
But soon (usually without warning) comes the inevitable point of knowing when to stop. When it finally stops mattering. When the time is right and you know you have to leave. When you’re done with ‘your’ place and people. The time when it cannot become anything beyond what it is in that moment. The possibly sad times, the time when the withdrawal takes over. And you miss the little nooks and corners and the little things 'your' place and person used to do, but you have to let go, and so you do.
And as I moved on willingly and unwillingly, house after house and person after person, I became more comfortable with living in withdrawal (over denial). I had to leave the Netherlands and return to my country and then I had to bid farewell to the kind people who belonged to the small Goan village.
I believe leaving is unavoidable, maybe even a little less burdensome when I know when to leave. With places it’s relatively more clear, I comply with the place and my plan to stay there. But with people, it’s a bit more complicated - they usually do not ‘accept, compromise and get used to’ me, like I do with them.
The drying plant
I remember lying, teary-eyed in bed, dreading the evening (a week from then) when I had to finally move out from my couch-less villa. It wasn’t about leaving the place (since I believe I made the place comply with my plan the day I arrived), but because I was missing my temporary roommate – a childhood friend who had come to live with me in Goa but had to leave (without warning). I had not been the warmest host and now I was missing his presence. The villa reminded me of the things that we had shared in the short time he had lived with me – sharing updates about the day over breakfast (which was mostly just Polly uncle’s bread) and sharing a meal at night (usually Antonetta’s veggies) while watching some sitcom. A day before he left, I had argued with him over not watering my plants (yes, I had accepted them from my new neighbour after all). His sudden plan to leave seemed unfair, I still had to make up for being rude to him - not with a farewell cake or a verbal confrontation but by continuing to make and share meals like we had been doing since the past few weeks.
In the week that followed, I had many fleeting and recurring moments in the villa – while rubbing marks of my feet on the wall and thinking about my failed attempts at a handstand and while collecting left-over mud off the window sill from my plant pots (that I had to return).
Over time, I have realised that none of those places and people (bunnies ,couch, post-its and the plants) were ‘meant to be’. It was probably naive of me to build castles in the air and then carefully pick them apart because they were never intended to last. I’ve also come to terms with the rule of time – it will not wait for me to wrap up my clouds of fragmented nostalgia and I may never find ways to cherish those fleeting moments perfectly. It’s probably always going to remain disorderly - this chaos of emotions - regrets and ‘could have beens’. There are always going to be things I should have done and said that are going to remain locked up in a box somewhere in my head (maybe denial comes after acceptance?).
Like every place I have lived in, I am now a four-chambered space for rent. We’ll have a good time and then you’ll leave. Someday, when I am ready for you and you are ready for me, we will receive all the affection and attention we deserve.
About Mysticeti's friends:
Dhyani lives in Mumbai and is a product designer and alumni of the National Institute of Design, Ahemdabad. She believes design research is best done around plants and breaks best taken with some tea. Dhyani currently works at the Quicksand Design Studio in Goa.
Jishnnu B creates visualization, illustrations and immersive narratives
Visiting Passage/s by Do Ho Suh