You know the Thought Experiments. This is the back of the envelope.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Calcutta Diaries - II: Living Alone, and Loving It

Leaving home for college at eighteen was...well, let's call it a mixed experience. I'd led a happy, sheltered life up to then, and while I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of exploring life and learning to survive, I was still a little scared, deep down.

Eight years later, I'm confident I can start calling any place home within three hours of arriving there. By the time I've had my first breakfast, I'm fairly settled in - and once I discover the closest place toothpaste is available, and locate the nearest post office, I am officially set. 

But this place I live in here at Cal is, by far, the place I love the most, and will miss the most terribly when I move out. Actually, scratch that. I know Rez is irreplaceable in my memories and my personality. Gurgaon was indispensable, and 32 U.B. brought in something no other place can. But this apartment, here in Ballygunge, is the first place that is entirely my own. It is all mine to do up, the walls and spaces are mine to clutter and declutter as I see fit...and once I shut the door after stepping in from work, it's my safe little cocoon that no one can enter without my express permission; a happy little bubble to float around in till it is time to go back to work. It's bright, happy, kitschy where I want it to be, with lots of space and sunshine and fresh air. There's greenery right outside my window, and I am actually awoken by a shaft of sunlight falling on my face every morning. If I slide the windows open, my curtains billow in the breeze...sometimes, when I've pulled an all-nighter and dawn breaks in, pink and golden, through the cracks in my curtains - or when I can see rain in the golden light of a streetlamp, and feel warm and cosy in my little house - I feel so physically full of contentment and happiness, my heart could explode.

I do the sweeping and mopping, I cook my own meals, fetch my own groceries and do my own laundry. I patiently lodge multiple complaints when the AC or the water purifier goes bust, I replace my own bulbs, I defrost my own refrigerator, and I negotiate with the plumber or the electrician because replacing a faulty plastic tube cannot possibly, reasonably, cost 700 bucks. I've learnt to keep candles and matches where they can be reached easily in the dark; and, even if I say so myself, I've elevated inventorying the contents of the fridge to minimize wastage, to a fine art. I'm crazy house-proud and have been known to politely ask friends to reschedule their visit because the flat is untidy. I can look at a shirt or dupatta and tell you whether to use Surf or Ezee, or baby shampoo; I can also starch clothes to perfection. I can multitask three ways to Sunday - cutting up craftpaper and fooling around with glitter while watching TV and keeping an eye on the saucepan as well as the two new shirts I am soaking together for the first time. These are things that I take as much pride in as I do in my achievements as a student and a professional...more pride, sometimes, because these are things that make me happy. Frequently, they act as stressbusters after a day doing something I am not always excited about. Always, but always, they make everything else I do, worthwhile. You've got to experience it yourself to know what I'm saying. Nothing chases work-induced exhaustion away like coming home to a laundry hamper that's empty because you took care of it yesterday, or a meal sitting in your refrigerator, just waiting to be microwaved, with an additional stir-fry on the side if you're up to it. Independent as I felt during college, and even when I received my first paycheck, nothing beats the high and the sense of self-sufficiency actually - physically - being able to look after yourself gives you.

Does this mean I am a domestic goddess? Far from it. I screw up more often than anyone I know. I guess it's a domestic occupational hazard.

So these are the things I have learnt, mostly the hard way. For those of us who live alone and manage our own houses, these should point you in the right direction.

 - Never step into your white-tiled bathroom in your sneakers, just to retrieve the scrunchie you left on the shelf. It is far easier to remove your shoes and put them back on, than to scrub grime and mud off the tiles later. Been there, done that. Believe me.

- Always keep a tube of quick-fix glue handy. You have no idea what a gigantic sense of security it gives you.

 - Keep Post-Its within easy reach, unless you do not mind running down to the store fourteen times a day.

 - Put your house keys wherever they're supposed to be as soon as you enter. I cannot say this enough. When you live alone, there's no one else to go ballistic over for misplaced keys.
My books! Well, at least the ones that I have not sent back home in three instalments because I had very little room here. I have a huge pile of these just waiting to be read.

I Cook!

As a stressbuster, cooking ranks right up there with clearing and sorting desks and drawers for me. Sure, there I days when I come back so late, so irritated with the world, and so exhausted, that the idea of standing by the hot plate or the microwave is practically loathsome. And sure, more often than not, I make errors of judgment in ingredients and measurements and cooking time, and the end result is just about edible, if that. But I also know that if I can only drag myself away from the comfort of my futon and into the kitchen, I will invariably come out a lot calmer and happier than I went in, even if the original idea for dinner landed in the trash (quite literally), and I've had to resort to milk and toast and apples. It's just that it is incredibly liberating to be able to turn raw material (again, literally), into a meal, and to call it your own. It feels so, so good. And when a cake is in the oven, or vegetables are cooking in a saucepan, the aroma is heavenly, homely, and therapeutic.

I try new recipes off the 'net, from cookbooks that came with ovens and stoves...even some outlandish combination that I've thought up at work. I seldom, if ever, follow measurements to the T - and that has often proved my - and my dish's - undoing. But like in everything else, my gut likes to take over, so I let it. 

I'm good with a knife and chopping board - and not too bad at kneading and whipping. What I am a basket case in, is knowing when something is done. More often than not, I overcook my food. My pasta dissolves into a mushy mess because I boil the bejesus out of it. My oats melt into an unrecognisable mass because I cook the living daylights out of them. And when I simply mean to saute my greens and carrots, I end up boiling them (no, don't even ask). I cut cauliflower into neat little florets and dice my potatoes just so...but then I poke them so enthusiastically with my spatula when they're cooking, my curry looks very sorry for itself by the end of it all. I roll perfectly round rotis, but they're not always perfectly even, which means they cook unevenly...which means little patches of dough show up in the final product. And, heaven knows how, I always burn the bottom of the pan I boil milk in - and then spend the better part of an hour scrubbing the pan in the sink.

So, yeah, it isn't always perfect, or even easy. Sometimes, it gets lonely, this living all alone, doing everything on your own. Sometimes, at the end of a bad day, when your upma is a watery mess, your clothes won't fit into your laundry hamper because it is already overflowing, and the cable is kaput because you forgot the DTH recharge, all you want to do is yell into the walls. But then, when you love your house, it loves you back, and being loved is an amazing feeling. It may not chase away the blues, but it makes them easier to deal with. And that is a wonderful thing.


Absolute Chemystic said...

I have lived on my own for the past 8 years I think. Suffice to say I loved coming back home at dusk, to my small apartment, turning on the lights and knowing that it was going to be me, and my cup of tea. It was satisfying in this odd way. I love this post. Its almost like I think these things, and you pen them beautifully. ha! From my head to your hands ! :D Lately, I feel like I am growing up too quickly. Either that, or I have had the time to acknowledge what I have already known for a while. I want to go back to making paper-boats in the rain.

Crossworder said...

Turning the lights on...isn't there something so soothing about that moment when you do that? I couldn't agree more - especially the bit about knowing it's just me and my cup of tea - and that last bit about growing up too quickly, or maybe just having had more time for realisation / acknowledgement.