For a good year, my mother believed it was just a threat, something I said only during our screaming matches. She was convinced I would never actually move out of our four-bedroom house in Delhi to live by myself, merely kilometres away.
She reluctantly agreed five months ago, oddly convinced by my “I need to grow up” logic, but on one condition: the extended family, my parents’ friends, our neighbours, the guard, the house helps and all their children should never find out that I was setting up a “bachelor pad” in the same city. I have kept my promise. So far. Some of my clothes still occupy my former almirah, the bathroom stocks my shampoo, an extra towel hangs in the balcony every few days. It’s like I never left. But I did. And the new room — with its single bed, fairy lights, red book shelf and two jute chairs — feels more mine than the one I have grown up in.
My mother worries that society will misunderstand the move. Her fear translates on the big screen in Pink, in the scene where a lawyer questions Minal’s choice of living with girlfriends rather than her parents, and assumes it is so she can lure boys back home, or run a prostitution ring. How dare a woman live by herself? And if she does, how long before she accepts defeat and goes back “home”?
Every weekend, when I return, mummy asks when I am coming home. Not “if”, just a straight “when”. For her, it’s a whim, one that I will get bored of, eventually. Moving out is a concept alien to her, but a familiar one too. For years, she has watched us consume American television, where children don’t live with their parents after 18. It was a concept that was real, but only saat samundar paar. The only time girls left their parents’ home, according to her, was when they found a boy to marry, or when they moved cities and countries to study or work. Did I mention my younger sister had already moved out to a student apartment, to finish preparing for the civil services exam? Her shift had a purpose, mine didn’t.
I had neither found a boy nor a job in a new city, but I had to leave. I just didn’t know why. Then one night at a gig, I saw myself checking the time every few minutes, and by 11.30 pm, all I wanted was to see my mother’s face. My parents and I were always close, but the last few months had brought us closer — my mother was losing both her parents to ailments, and suddenly, my days revolved around work, hospital visits, my grandparents and parents.
Like most Indian families, we don’t talk about co-dependency, and the fear of losing each other, and we never will. That night at the gig, I realised why I didn’t apply to colleges abroad, why I shed tears at the airport while leaving for an 11-day trip to Holland, and why I call my mother way too many times in a day. My parents had raised a clingy child, who knew nothing about being independent, and was almost too scared to be alone.
Our parents didn’t teach us about being alone. Mine didn’t even let me go for overnight stays at friends’ homes till I was 16. In fact, rumour has it they popped a second baby just so I am never by myself. While I am utterly grateful for my sister, I wish I knew how to be alone. Society’s plan for me was simple — born and raised in a family, wed in another.
So, in tears, I left home to begin a journey, which, in my head, was a lot more dramatic. I expected to wake up one morning feeling like an adult, with a glow on my face that would tell the world I had arrived. I hadn’t. In fact, I had never felt dumber. One day, in the first few weeks, I almost called the electrician to come fix a bulb in the socket. When the flatmate pointed out the stupidity of it, I realised I had made the right call by leaving home.
The banter in the friend circle about my big move oscillated between making my house the pre-party pitstop and the house of orgies. What surprised me was the limited definition of freedom my friends subscribed to too. Was I escaping an oppressive ruling front at home? Not at all. I was helping myself learn self-preservation, a feat our parents forgot to teach us.
Over the years, I have heard horror stories from single women living independently. Someone I know would wake up to punctured car tyres thrice a week. I panicked when I found my car’s side mirror broken, two weeks after one of the tyres of my car was slashed. I immediately changed my parking spot. Another friend mentioned how a neighbour nearly got her evicted when he saw her with a beer can in the balcony. So far, my first five months haven’t been marred by extreme incidents, but I am prepared. I walk around with a pepper spray, a Swiss knife, and I know how to inflict injury with my car keys.
I had to practice being alone. But I wasn’t ready to deal with loneliness. On some nights, did I feel like Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild, fighting inner demons in search of a greater truth? Nonsense. Used to the chirpy chaos at my parents’ house, the silence in this house, mostly my own, was brutal. I still haven’t been able to eat alone. For more than two decades, I shared my bed with my sister — often fighting, sharing and over-sharing, consoling each other, or reading books and playing games under a torch light. In the first few weeks here, and I couldn’t sleep before 5 am. Now, I have pushed it to as early as 3 am.
However, once the psychological warfare is over, I settled into a routine. Living alone became easier. On some days, I would find myself on the edge. By Friday, I want the food I have grown up eating, and sleep on the same bed as my parents. By Monday, I can’t wait to return to my fairy lights and single bed. It’s tricky. But how long can you stay in the cocoon?