There is this lyrical narration in the documentary ‘The House on Gulmohar Avenue’ – “For a while, home is what you born to, there are some homes you can never leave, some you can never go back to, sometimes home is brick and mortar, sometimes a person, sometimes a belief. A home is a place where you feel at home.” The documentary explores the sense of home and belonging in post-partition India.
I am not sure of my idea of ‘Home’, but I feel homeless at times. When I want to sleep for days, people seem unbearable, ‘I don’t see the point’ of doing anything, my body aches, I feel I don’t have any home to go back to and rest in my cozy bed.
I live in a rented apartment here in Mumbai. I have a house in Kolkata where my parents live. The house where I grew up exploring my sexuality and questioning every prejudice. I don’t have a lot of fond memories of that house. Or perhaps of that city. That place has seen me being bullied, where my grief and anger grew, where I experienced my first heart-break. I lived there with an invisible surveillance on me and policing of my desire.
It has been 3 years that I have moved to Mumbai. Anybody who has migrated here with a little less of privileges would know, how difficult it is to even find a space to sleep.
When I shifted to the city I had an anxiety of living with cis-het men. Not that I am uncomfortable around them, but I can’t disregard the distance we share, and for once I wanted to live without any pretense. I was desperate to find a space where I could belong to, something that I could call home. With the help of a Queer housing resource group on Facebook, I found a house where two more Queer people lived.
Soon I realized we are much more than our sexuality and I shared larger ideological conflicts with them. I tried to personalize my space in the house. That helps at times. Once my roommate asked me to hide the rainbow flag at my bedside when my owner came to visit. I remembered the days when I used to hide all the queer books and postcards in my Kolkata house. As the landlord started living in the same house, the surveillance on our ‘lifestyle’ increased.
I wanted to live in a home where I don’t have to hide anything anymore. I am tired of hiding.
I shifted to a newer house with fewer complications and surveillance. This was a basic apartment in an old building. The initial months here were gloomy and full of blue. I experienced loneliness, which is not very uncommon in this city of 12.8 million people. There were no restrictions here, my roommate is a nice person, Queer too. My friends asked me to put fairy lights and colorful wine bottles in the room. I did. I read plants can help to make a space livelier. I bought a plant. I tried everything, but somehow it didn’t feel like home. I was tired.
In days like these, you blame it on your body, you blame it on your childhood, you blame it in other people. You keep telling yourself many lies and try hard to believe them until in one of those cold nights silence whispers the truth in your ears. Hopelessness is terrible.
I feel I will never have a place where I would belong to.
I try to think if Mumbai is my home? I am not sure!
Do I want to shift to another country? I can’t separate the reason for doing that, the distress here or my aspiration!
Will I shift to a cozy small town in India? I don’t think they will be queer-accommodating, this option doesn’t even qualify.
Will I shift somewhere with my family of choice?
My father tells me to find a job in Kolkata and come back. I feel suffocated. Mumbai seems much better.
I can’t share this feeling of homelessness to a lot of people. They tell me many things – ‘You are more than your sexuality and feelings, make decisions based on your career’.
-‘You should love your hometown, someday you have to go back there’
-‘Why don’t you shift to Canada, gay marriage is legal there’
-‘Dude, you live in Mumbai, the queer capital of the country, what are you complaining about!’.
The people who truly understood me were people like me. A friend, who is non-binary, once shared how they love their hometown but can’t consider going back. It will be difficult to freely dressing up in androgynous clothing or even putting up makeup. A friend, who is gay, is paranoid of his nosy relatives and neighbours in his hometown. He feels irritated every time he goes home. But he misses his dog. He also shared how he has an imaginary home with his husband, two children, and his dog.
Imagination is indeed an escape for many of us.
Once a friend suggested probably my struggle with the sense of homelessness is more than finding a physical space, probably I have emotional homelessness.
Google explains Emotional homelessness as- ‘It is a lack of a sense of worth, purpose and belonging in an individual. It is an utter lack of a loving, caring and protective environment where they feel happy and content with their relationships. It is possible to be emotionally alienated even when a human being comes from a privileged or wealthy background.’
This made a lot of sense to me. I felt validated. I felt my experiences have made it difficult for me to develop a sense of belonging to people or places. Often dissociation is my coping mechanism.
Many queer people migrate not because of aspiration but distress. As we know many transgender kids are forced to leave their homes at an early age or abandoned by family. Many experience rejections from family, friends and romantic partners. Some just want to avoid the constant pressure of confirming the heteronormative script and migrates to a big city. Some just want to live freely. Even after migrating we try to find a home in places and people. I ponder do they also feel emotional homelessness? Are they also desperate to find a home, with whatever meaning it carries with it? Do they also want to belong to someone or somewhere?
I texted a few of my queer migrant friends ‘What does home mean to you?’
A friend replied, ‘Adrak chai and 8 hours of non-disturbing sleep.’ Certainly, everything is not as complicated as I make it. Or is it?