The mysteries a house holds

Published: May 08, 2020, 04:34 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

The gradual and sustained vacating of my home of eight years has revealed talismans that tell me of an incredible life lived well

With me at all times will be this photograph in which I’m radiantly reaching my hand out to an anonymous someone. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello
With me at all times will be this photograph in which I’m radiantly reaching my hand out to an anonymous someone. Pic/ Rosalyn D'mello

picThere's nothing profoundly serendipitous about it, I know. If you've inhabited a space for eight years, you're bound to stumble upon all manners of souvenirs when you decide to vacate it. They assume the form of objects that had been existing on the sidelines of your consciousness. And while you chide yourself for giving into materialism, for having accumulated an over-abundance of things, especially those having no ostensible utility, you're also forced to reconcile with the fact that some memories are lodged so deeply within your subconscious they can only be recalled through sensual re-exposure to an affiliated entity.

So this thing-object that had become peripheral to your daily life becomes a wily talisman. It lurks between the pages of a dusty book, or sits innocently among a pile of medical reports, or hibernates within the antechamber of a desk drawer. Because I'm already in a state of heightened emotion, given the fragility of the present moment, every such talismanic encounter acquires extended dimensions.

For instance, this morning, noting how empty our living room was beginning to look, especially after my partner had begun to unscrew the wall-mounted shelves, I took a picture on my phone and sent it to a few friends and my immediate family. Then I sat down to write this column and found that I had left on my desk, a small pile of pages I'd found here and there. Top-most was a typewritten page whose second-last paragraph read thus — "What I had now was a room that was completely clean and shiny, like a room in an insane asylum from which all dangerous objects have been removed." Two line-breaks later, the next sentence read, "The room was the portrait of an empty stomach."

I hadn't dated when I'd typewritten these. I must intentionally not have left a trail, and it felt as though a message I'd sent in an imaginary bottle years ago had suddenly floated to my shore from the other side. As I re-read the lines, it occurred to me they could be from a Clarice Lispector novel, possibly an excerpt from The Gospel According to GH, the scene in which the protagonist inspects the vacant room of her ex-servant, discovering, amid the emptiness, a caricature that had been drawn on the wall and left behind. The rest of the book involved a mystical revelation over the eating of a cockroach, which I still don't have the stomach for.
I could be wrong about it being Lispector. I could do an online search, but I've already disconnected my broadband connection, and my phone internet is too slow to take on additional loads. I'm content with not knowing. I've been revelling in these small mysteries of what and how and where and when and why, or through whose intercession a thing came to be in my possession.

I had, at some point, committed to my life as a single woman, and to being located in Delhi, having this apartment as my base. I hadn't foreseen this moment of relocation. I hadn't expected that by the first week of May, 2020, I would be a married woman preparing to go live in her husband's home. It was not what we had anticipated even when we were getting married. But at some point, it seemed the most sensible, practical decision.

And so here I am on the threshold of leaving an apartment I had continued to live in through thick and thin, through fire, flood, and drought, through several moments of deep financial distress, when I didn't have enough money to buy vegetables. Yet, unlike the room in Lispector's novel, this increasingly minimal apartment feels more like a chamber filled with the still resonating echoes of the many incredible friends my life has been peopled with.

My closet has shrunk in size and the clothes I have retained are those capable of fitting into one suitcase that I can check in when we board our flight to Italy in the first week of June. I know I have to return to India when I'm able to continue my fieldwork. But I'll only return when I'm confident that my travelling to visit artists in their studios doesn't put either them or me at risk. When our rent agreement terminates, on May 21, we will temporarily move into either one of three friends' apartments, depending on which of their colonies have the least entry restrictions. If things work in our favour, we should be able to make our flight.

When I step beyond my door for the last time, it'll be the most empowered version of me that will be saying goodbye to the most incredible eight years of my adult life. With me at all times, until we arrive at whatever becomes our destination, Italy or Goa, will be this photograph that leapt out at me while I was flipping through a page of a book I was couriering to Goa. In it, I'm radiantly reaching my hand out to an anonymous someone. Because of the manner of the photograph's rediscovery, how it had been placed on the page, it acquired symbolic valence. It looks as though my past self was reaching out to whatever future self was to discover it.

In this moment of unprecedented contact, I felt the coalescing of all my past selves and their seeding within the abundant body of a woman boldly foraying into the domestic 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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