Namaskar Y'all - 2019


Home Sweet Home

By Shyama Parui

It's all my fault! I worry too much and before we leave the house for vacation, I have a long list of things that need to be in order. Even after the top priorities are taken care of, thoughts of possible mishaps steal any real chance of attaining moments of Zen. At the heart of the problem is the separation anxiety associated with temporarily parting with my home sweet home. Beach resorts, adventure camps, unique B&Bs, and ocean views from marvelous hotels hold their allure for a while after which we all long to be home. Sleeping in our own lumpy beds and eating comfort food cooked in our kitchen on our favorite plates each with its distinct scratches, has its charm. The size, value or material comforts are rarely the reasons we gravitate towards our home. It serves as an anchor saving us from drifting away.

The older members of our family often reminisce growing up in homes that had belonged to the family for generations. They dreamed of having their grandkids spending summers running around in the same house. Putting one's name on a comfortable house was considered the pinnacle of success for the “middle class". The structure called home symbolized status, respect, and the honor of the family. Its value was much greater than the sum of its square footage. When my parents moved away from their hometowns to Mumbai, they traded the joint family set up for a nuclear or single family setting due to nothing else but space constraints. Hometown still tugged at their heart even after many decades.

My parents may have moved residences only a couple of times in their entire lives, whereas my sisters changed residences confidently more than twice in one decade. I moved the furthest away in a country over 8000 miles away, but I haven't lost my affection for the city that many love to hate. As new immigrants who landed in Charlotte at the turn of this century, we were not sure whether it would be a place where we would put our roots down. Renting an apartment seemed like the logical choice, not to mention the safer bet in case our worst fears came true. In those days, we rarely worried about hurricanes and tornadoes, but said many prayers for the smooth arrival of our Green Cards. We felt as if our lives were on hold until we had acquired the label of “permanent residents". We lacked the confidence to borrow a huge sum of money and “settle down" in this country before being fully accepted.

Stepping into our home for the first time and having friends over for “Grih Pravesh" and “Satyanarayan Puja" (ceremonies to bless the new home) was indeed special. The task of furnishing rooms, maintaining the yard and making mortgage payments seemed daunting, but the joy of reaching that important milestone outweighed the concerns. Like most couples belonging to my generation, we did not bind ourselves into making it “our forever home" nor did we envision our future generations settling here. Nevertheless, that didn't stop us from personalizing the house with our Indian American taste and style, on a budget of course.

Even after experiencing many ups and downs of home ownership, I can't imagine completely ruling out buying a house. Yet, I hear that many individuals nowadays prefer to rent rather than own. In what is being explained as a generational difference, 20 somethings are not keen on buying a home. With burdensome student loans and a willingness to job hop, a large investment that keeps them in debt for 30 years or ties them to a single geographic location does not make sense. This lack of permanence has perhaps led to the success of “gig economy". The new trend of ride sharing services has also taken away the “need" for purchasing a car even in smaller cities and suburbs of the US.

Lifestyles have consequently changed across generations and income groups. For example, in a study of spending habits of the Top 10 percent (based on annual income), the rich prefer to splurge on wellness in the form of organic foods and Pilates classes, rather than designer handbags and flashy clothes. Personal investment of time and money in education and information has replaced acquisition of traditional status symbols. The attractiveness of showing off a shiny new car has, ironically, faded.

I requested my friends to share their responses to the question, “What does a home mean to you?" through a Facebook poll. Admittedly, the sample of convenience was small and statistically not significant, but it satisfied my curiosity about the attitudes people have about their homes. Most (i.e. 48 percent) friends consider it “an extension of their personality and 22 percent think of it as “a place to live." It is not surprising that the smallest percentage of people feel like their home is “an indicator of success" or as “an investment". Our primary residence is usually a place we spend time being “us" as a family and “building memories" as one of the responses said.

In a secure environment, the walls and the roof envelop us with warmth, serving as the haven we long for when we need to be comforted or to sing loudly and dance wildly without fear of being watched or judged. At the most basic level we need a shelter, but it evolves as an extension of our personality and by default an investment because for the average person, their home is likely to be their biggest investment. To some degree the decision on the type of residence you buy depends on the buyer's income and preferences which can be perceived as success. A range of emotions and not to mention sweat and blood goes into building and maintaining your home. And as I am concluding this piece sitting on a plane en route to Canada to visit family, I am brimming with excitement. I also know that I will be equally excited to return.

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Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com