I thought again of home. To feel at home. Find the house. To be at the house. One of the side effects of months of pandemic and lockdowns has been that I seem to have taken root. I’ve always been proud of my home, but that hasn’t coincided with wanting to be home. I was nimble about the idea of home, easily referring to hotel rooms and other temporary shelters. I didn’t need to trudge to my residential address for convenience. My sleeping bag served the same purpose when I left.
I feel different now. I love to travel as I always have. But I don’t need it right now. I want stillness, both physical and mental. I want to renew my frayed sense of belonging, repair my connection to the earth, the sky, the air, the trees and the animals that support my life force. I want to stay in one place to make sense of the whirlwind of distress and confusion that has washed over me recently.
We haven’t had time to process the layers of loss and trauma triggered by the events of the past two years. The emotionally charged women-led anti-CAA protests across the country were disrupted by violence in northeast Delhi in February 2020. The scenes of chaos appeared to be playing out live on our social media accounts. We were still reeling from the violence and its impact on displaced people when the news of the pandemic and the sudden lockdown left us oscillating between fear of the unknown and the security of having homes where we could to be safe.
We have seen millions of Indian migrant workers struggle with job loss, hunger and sudden homelessness. Desperate to survive, they chose the impossible solution of walking thousands of miles across the country’s highways in an attempt to return home to their villages and districts. We have witnessed an upsurge in bigotry and the targeting of minority communities as they were held responsible by baseless rumors for the spread of Covid-19. Within months, farmers in Punjab and Haryana rose up in protest against new farm laws and sat in defiance at New Delhi’s borders for nearly a year before being reassured by the state. The second wave of Covid-19 has brought death and devastation to the lives of almost all Indians, regardless of our privilege. The hunt for dissidents and civil society activists has left the average Indian confused about what it means to be a democratic nation.
How to look evil in the eye and call it by its name? Just this week, as I typed this column in spurts, state-commissioned bulldozers were razing the homes and livelihoods of residents of Jahangirpuri in my own city of Delhi. A week earlier, houses in Madhya Pradesh were being demolished. In both cases, Muslims were selectively targeted after public clashes were reported between Hindus and Muslims during processions held during Hindu festivals.
It is impossible to keep pace with bad news, let alone the role we should play in slowing our society’s descent into chaos. To create a pocket of calm for myself, I put together a list of “10 best ideas to avoid collapsing in response to mass violence and the naked display of hatred and apathy in the world that around you” and I shared it with my friends on Facebook. I encouraged them to add their proven ideas in the comments and promised to test their effectiveness. In no particular order of priority, my list included these examples:
- Feed the puppies in your hallway.
- Read a new book. Gather five to six so that there is always one at arm’s length.
- Read your old books. Take them out of the library and leave them wherever you take a break during the day.
- Remember to answer emails and compose smart lines in your head.
- Avoid smart phones.
- Cook (or think about cooking).
- Dance badass moves when you think you’re alone.
- Send cake to friends who constantly tweet about violence, hate. They need your love.
- Consider calling your mother. Or father.
- Make a plan to be happy on Eid day.
- Once a week, have a seizure. It’s slightly cathartic to cry after holding everything back for years, weeks, days, minutes. The theme must have resonated, as soon enough there were over 90 comments, and two ideas that repeated themselves many times were:
- Quit social media
- feed the plants
Maybe those two stood out for me too because I neglect them both. I haven’t taken a break from social media for years and even though I love plants, I continue to come across them without watering them, without talking to them or listening to them.
I started watering the plants in our garden to keep my promise to try new ideas. It worked. As the water flowed from the hose into my hand, washing away the dust and making the greens glisten, I felt my own head go cold. The knots seemed to melt away.
When I scan through these crowd-sourced lists again, I realize that we try to identify things that may seem like physical labor, but offer to renew our emotional energy. These are all small acts of nurturance. They are the definition of being at home. Home — where we find strength and perspective, so we can take on the world again.
— The writer is a filmmaker and author.