Moving Out of Your Childhood Home Feels a Lot Like Heartbreak


Moving Out of Your Childhood Home Feels a Lot Like Heartbreak

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

I‘m about three months away from being homeless, and deep in mourning. All right, I know I’m being melodramatic, but I really do feel grief-stricken at the thought of leaving this old, creaking, stubborn collection of rooms I call home. This place that I’ve always called home. Sure, we’ll move into a new house in a new place. It might even be as nice as this one. No, scratch that, nothing can be as good as this looming, lumpen, symbol of my childhood. Not even close. Of that I’m sure. Yes, we’ll have a new place to live in. But it won’t be home. Not in the strictest sense of the word, anyway.  

As a millennial, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m this pitifully attached to the idea of home — we are, after all, supposed to take great pride in being terrifyingly independent and unattached. We’re nomads! Gypsies! Wanderers! Globetrotters! Most people my age boast about how many countries and cities they’ve lived in by the time they turn 30. I nod and smile when they invariably regale me with tales of their adventures, but secretly I’ve never really understood the allure. The thought of leaving a neighbourhood or city just as you’ve finally started to figure it our seems so tiring to me. It takes months to figure out which Udipi in the vicinity has the best sambar to chutney ratio, and many more to tip your way into the heart of the delivery boy who will then ensure that your dosa arrives at your doorstep before it goes cold and limp. An istriwala can take anywhere between 16 to 22 months (don’t question the math) to finally remember how each member of the family likes their creases, and any new cook takes at least six weeks to internalise that heeng is what evil tastes like. Once you’ve finally managed to get everyone on the same page, why on earth would you want to leave? When I was younger, my dad used to joke about girls being “paraya dhan” and sasural being their “real” home. Little did he know that I had every intention of moving any future husband into our very real home. The keys to this house would have to be pried out of my cold, dead fingers.  

In a world obsessed with the new and uncharted, with moving on and around, I’m the kind that likes the idea of home and history. I like knowing that when I look out of the window, my eyes will crash with the same set of snooping eyes across the road that it always has. The world around her might change and evolve, but Aunty K’s (now bespectacled) eyes can be counted on to peer disapprovingly at any young couple that might have the temerity to hold hands, or, gasp, lean in for a spontaneous peck. How many nights have my parents gone to bed, blissful and  confident that as long as Aunty K was around, their two daughters wouldn’t dare to sneak a boy into the home in the dead of the night? A 100? 1,000? Other neighbourhoods had CCTVs, ours had Aunty K, and we’re yet to find a way to deactivate her. 

But now it’s time to move on. Mum and I spend hours each day taking inventory and discussing how long it’s going to take to pack it all up, and how many boxes, people and trucks we’ll need to hire to help us move. Any day now, we’re going to start the painful process of purging our personal belongings — what we’ll take, what we’ll donate, and what will have to be tossed. We’re averaging about one crying fit each, a day. 

In a world obsessed with the new and uncharted, with moving on and around, I’m the kind that likes the idea of home and history.

You can pack up all your junk, but how do you pack in all your memories? You can throw away the boxes of papers and misshapen stuff toys that have the magical ability to hang around long after the children that played with them grow up; but do you also throw away a part of yourself and a piece of your life when you leave one home for another? This house was my mum’s first anchor to the city, when she arrived here almost 40 years ago as a blushing, petrified 19-year-old bride. Barring the two miserable years we spent in an apartment a few buildings over when this one was being razed and rebuilt, it’s the only home she’s ever lived in. In the four decades she’s spent here, the house has undergone many changes. Once upon a time, it used to be home to 16 people, and even more aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins passing through. Everyone wants to travel to Mumbai, but hotel room rents are astronomical and wasteful, so childhood was an endless shuttle from one room to another, because every room also doubted up as a guest room. Not that I minded. I’ve spent as many nights in my own bed as I have bundled up next to my grandmother. My arms and legs flung over her big belly. Hers is the one bedroom in the house my mum won’t redecorate. A cousin and I still laugh about the number of times we yanked out chunks of each other’s hair when we were forced to share a room. She breathed too loudly, and it interfered with my reading. 

Every corner of this house, my home, is bursting with memories. I can pinpoint the exact spot on the terrace I “caught” my chacha kissing chachi, 27-odd years ago. If I close my eyes, I can still see my mom and dad dancing in the living room, with the radio on. The memory still makes me smile. This was the home we brought my dad back to, after every surgery; and the home my sister left when she got married and moved cities. Of all the properties our family has owned, this one has always been my father’s favourite, perhaps because it was the first one he ever bought. This home has raised newborn babies, and said goodbye to ancestors. How do I take all this history with me to a new house? 

This home has raised newborn babies, and said goodbye to ancestors. How do I take all this history with me to a new house?

When I tell friends that I’m moving, they immediately ask me, “Where?” As if losing this home would be a tragedy only if we were moving to a smaller house, or a lesser neighbourhood. We could be moving into Antilia itself (minus the current occupants), but I’d still be just as filled with sorrow. We haven’t even moved yet, but I’m already homesick. 

I’m sure eventually, the Udupis in the new neighbourhood will be nice enough. I’m sure it will have its own version of Aunty K, and its own roster of middle-aged men who stand in their balconies with their bellies bursting out of worn-out Rupa baniyans. Which Indian neighbourhood doesn’t? But it will never be home, not in the way this one was, and in some ways always will be, anyway.