Rosalyn D'Mello: Home is everywhere I am

Updated: 20 April, 2018 05:56 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

When I arrive at whatever destination I am temporarily to call home, I begin a nuanced process of inhabiting it

For me, it's an evolving study of how it is possible to customise the subject of one's belonging through itinerant domesticity
For me, it's an evolving study of how it is possible to customise the subject of one's belonging through itinerant domesticity

Rosalyn D'MelloEvery fifteen minutes, the church bells ring. I have yet to discover whether they have been pre-programmed or if this bilingual village has a designated timekeeper. When I arrived last Saturday each gong felt distinct and momentous. I have since grown more accustomed to this recurring sonic intervention, but ever so often, it still has a way of punctuating the hour, dividing it into four neat 15-minute portions, each hourly gong reminding me not only that every second counts, but also of how much time I have left in Europe (my visa is for exactly 55 days).

Aslı (my Turkish artist friend whose home I visited and lived in for a week last June) arrived in Eppan a day after I did. It is she who is responsible for my invitation to this residency in an apartment in a village in the St. Michel area of Eppan, in Bolzano/Bozen; a now autonomous region whose two names serve as a reminder of its curious position within Italy and its Austro-German heritage. We were in conversation with each other on Monday, April 16. Someone in the audience asked her about her itinerant lifestyle (more nomadic than mine). She replied by mentioning a series of meditations she follows, devised by a Buddhist monk. With every step, she is instructed to breathe in and out while chanting this simple mantra: "I am home, I have arrived."

We each carry different notions of home with us like extra baggage. We associate the word with a range of familiarities; linguistic, culinary, geographic, to name, but a few, the full extent of which are revealed only when we undertake the risk of travel. Suddenly, the identities you otherwise hold unquestioningly when you are in the site of your regular residence get more complex and nuanced. Me, I become suddenly aware of my status as a post-colonial citizen. My dark skin feels darker still, my accent gets confused, and I become more fully aware of being from 'the third world'.

When I arrive at whatever destination I am temporarily to call home, I begin a nuanced process of inhabiting it. On Wednesday morning, when I woke up and cooked what has become for Aslı and I a kind of farewell breakfast (bhurji), she remarked that I seemed so at home it was like I had been living here for at least two weeks. She was on to something; cooking is my most intuitive strategy. Foraging through local markets for ingredients is my way of establishing the lay of the land; what it is capable of producing, what it believes it yields in abundance; what flavours seem unfamiliar to its territory, and which are encoded into its regional DNA.

When I met one of my co-residents, Elif Erkan in Milano the afternoon after I'd landed from New Delhi, I asked her what it was like in Eppan. She said it was like being in The Sound of Music. When I was taken on a long bike ride by Kathrin and Sarah Oberrauch, the lovely sisters who run this residency called Eau&Gaz, from St. Michel towards a stunning lakeside in neighbouring Kalterer See, I realised how apt her description was, except I hadn't imagined as many vineyards spreading out for miles; the grape fruit in full bloom, readying for harvest yield. I am surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks and luscious greenery. Dandelions sprout on every wayside, speckling the spring landscape with a sunny yellow sheen.

I am sharing the apartment with Elif, also from Istanbul, but fluent in German and French, apart from Turkish. This time she is the embodiment of my guardian angel (the universe always designates one such person per trip) and even though she is busy making work, she functions unassumingly like a homemaker. We share this proclivity; this need to feed and nourish others and derive sustenance from acts of unintentional generosity. Masatoshi, our Japanese co-resident has to bear the brunt of our combined maternal tendencies, but he does so ungrudgingly. It hasn't yet been a week since I arrived, but we have slipped into a collective intimacy. We have configured our individual work routines despite our cohabitation. Through the day, we intuitively share household chores. The evenings are usually wine-fuelled. Over home-cooked meals we inadvertently share our personal and manifold notions of our diverse homes. It is a welcome break from the seduction of cloistered solitude that marks my writing practice in my apartment in Delhi. It is also, for me, an evolving study of how it is possible to customise the subject of one's belonging through itinerant domesticity. Yes, I am home. I have arrived. And yes, I will arrive again and be home once more. This new truth is what I remind myself of each time the bells toll.

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 mailbag@mid-day.com

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First Published: 20 April, 2018 06:14 IST

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