After the giving, learning to receive

Updated: Jun 05, 2020, 04:20 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

The end of an epoch with the closing of my apartment door for the last time brings new life lessons on humility, kindness and patience

An engraving shows the abduction of Persephone on a Unicorn. Pic/Getty Images
An engraving shows the abduction of Persephone on a Unicorn. Pic/Getty Images

picIn the end, it was heartbreaking. As I locked the door to my apartment for the last time I had to summon all the courage I could muster to not break down. Don't look back, I told myself, only forward, cautious of not meeting the same fate as Lot's wife in the old testament, who dared to confront with a final gaze the home she was to leave behind.

The cosmos, it would seem, has never been kind to women who linger, for to do so is to desire to feed one's subjectivity, to broaden the contours of one's sensual memory. Think of Persephone, who resisted for so long a taste of pomegranate, then, because she yielded, was exiled. She could no longer live in one place permanently and was condemned to move between worlds.

I hadn't been so on edge for a long time. In the pit of my stomach was this tangible fear of things going wrong. The night before we'd already got a call that derailed us. The friend who was meant to have us expressed sudden anxieties and instead of offering solutions only imposed conditions. We had to repack things accordingly and make new plans, figure out where we would move out to.

For someone who has always preferred to exercise agency as a generous person, it was hard for me to be in the uncomfortable position of having to seek generosity. From having practised hospitality, I had to now surrender and become the person in need of shelter. It was difficult to swallow the fact that many people whom I thought would always have my back and be there for me, weren't, and yet, I learned that in instances like these, it's the people you least expect who appear like angels to your rescue, without you even having to ask.

Up until that point, all I had been preparing for was the act of finally vacating. I had run out of mental energy to picture what it would be like after the deed was done. I was overwhelmed by how disoriented I would continue to feel for days. Soon, my experience of inhabiting the apartment will become just a memory that gets inadvertently triggered at random.

Like yesterday, when I was learning how to use the passive voice in German, I had this sudden pang. I remembered how so much of our evening routine revolved around my partner teaching me German in our living room. Towards the end of May, we had just two chairs left in the house to sit on. By D-day, we had to sit on the floor. I missed my apartment already.

When my maid had come by to collect her last salary from me, she said to me in her pristine Hindi how it is not bricks and stones that make a home but the people who people it. I gifted her one of my most favourite winter shawls, so she would have something to remember me by. We were in tears as we said our goodbyes to each other. It took everything in me to not reach out and hug her. She'd now taken up work caring for a family with a newborn, so I didn't want to expose her to any risk.

But later that evening, when I went by my neighbour, Rehaan's place, we shamelessly hugged each other. I couldn't contain myself, neither could he. It was a deeply emotional moment.

I'm still unbottling. I'm still learning to take deep breaths and I've yet to restore my body to homeostasis. I find it difficult to focus on things, and I frequently ask myself what my identity is as a cook when I don't have access to an oven. For now, I feel like I'm occupying the position of Babette, when she finds herself at the door of the two sisters in the story, Babette's Feast, and they adopt her out of kindness and let her work as a maid.

I'm infinitely more privileged than that, I realise, but I mean to say that there is something of Babette's humility that I'm allowing myself to be inspired by. There is a grace in learning to receive, in allowing oneself to access generosity from another. I am trying to dwell within a space of kindness.

We do not yet know when we will be able to get on a flight. For now, we are learning to embrace the madness of waiting, and we are learning to be. We derive great comfort from trying to replicate our routine as much as we can. It's a huge step for me to take things slow, to allow for a pace that is not frantic, and to seek closure to a formative decade in my life before moving on into the further unknown.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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