Rosalyn D'mello: The sheltered walls of inertia

Updated: 24 November, 2017 09:32 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Sometimes inertia is so subtle and normalised, we don't recognise how it defines the lives we lead and the choices we don't make

I am now enthused by the prospect of a freshly painted apartment. Pic/Thinkstock
I am now enthused by the prospect of a freshly painted apartment. Pic/Thinkstock

I always registered the inertia as a punctuation mark made by the body when it is jolted out of a state of complacency. I have this hazy memory of my science teacher in school providing us with an analogy of being in a BEST bus that's moving a certain speed until it has to brake, causing the standing body to thrust forward either a little or a more forcefully, depending on the momentum the pause generates.

In classical physics, inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion. The metaphor is implicit in the word's etymology, deriving from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, sluggish. Isaac Newton described it as the vis insita, or innate force of matter, a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line. Sometimes inertia is so subtle and normalised, we don't recognise how it defines the lives we lead and the choices we don't make. After all who wants to consciously upset the prevailing domesticity of our every day? If it's broken but still functional, why fix it? So, naturally, I was deeply apprehensive about starting on renovation work in my apartment, but I'd realized, a few months ago, that it would soon be five years since I shifted into the apartment in Delhi I presently call my home.

The ceiling in my bedroom, which doubles as my workspace, had begun to chip, and the cracks along the door frames of every room had been widening a little more every day. I couldn't put it off any longer. It was time for not just a suturing but also a revamp. The clunky plywood bookshelf I'd bought off a friend six years ago had to go; it was occupying too much real estate. The kitchen was crying for more shelf space, especially after the existing one came crashing done one morning when I wasn't around, because the wood had been hollowed out ages ago by termites. It was the wake-up call I needed.

I'd begun to feel embarrassed about hosting anyone, given that I do identify as one of those house-proud sorts. Once my body decided it had healed sufficiently from the trauma of the laparoscopy, I consulted with my landlord, brought in a contractor, an electrician, a carpenter, and decided to get on with it. I willed my apartment out of the inertia I had let it slip into. I'm writing this on Day 4 of the home improvements. The paint smells. There are speckles of wall scrapings everywhere and curly shavings of pinewood I bought from the wood market at Kotla, along with iron-coloured debris from drilled holes. Yesterday, there were six men in my house, all at once; five painters and a carpenter. Today, there will be seven, including the electrician.

I have made some audacious decisions after several browsing sessions on Pinterest. I am excited by how the floating shelves - an idea I had for optimising my library - is slowly materialising on my walls as we speak, expanding the spaciousness of my living room. After much vacillating, I froze on a crimson shade for my kitchen. The carpenter seemed troubled, but I knew I wanted a darker paint that would warm up the room. I feel less uncertain about how it'll turn out. Despite my initial reservations about having all this masculine energy in my home, about how this renovation would be an interruption to my routine and my writing schedule, I find now I have gone over to the other side. I am now deeply enthused by the prospect of a freshly painted apartment and a more efficient kitchen. Deciding to see this through also meant renewing my commitment to continuing to live where I do; an investment, you could say, in my immediate future, one that emphasises how much I have already settled down, grown roots.

What I hadn't imagined is how much I would enjoy witnessing the work ethic of the labourers who are chipping away at every square foot of the walls and ceilings, along with the carpenter and electrician. They take great pride in being here on time each morning, sometimes earlier than I expect them to arrive. They change their clothes to mark the beginning of their labours and end the day doing the same thing, after cleaning up the debris. Sometimes, I have to urge them to leave because I have somewhere to be, but that doesn't prevent them from taking their time to do things professionally. I always thought of writing as a form of masonry; pitting word upon word, baked brick upon unfound nuance. As I am confined to one room where I continue wrestling with my deadlines, I think about the word-practice, the difference between theirs and mine, however elusive. Both have something to do with the questioning of inertia. Both are mobile and redolent of great dignity.

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 Send your feedback to

First Published: 24 November, 2017 06:10 IST

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