Spectator by Seema Goswami: Home truths
When your house becomes your entire world – because the world outside is off limits for you – how do you cope?
That’s the question that I have had to grapple with over the past few months as Covid-19 ensured that we hunkered down at home, for fear of contracting the infection. And even now, though the lockdown has been relaxed, I continue to cower in my flat. It’s not just that I am a coward who fears infection (though that is part of it); it’s also that I have several co-morbidities that put me at particular danger of a bad outcome were I to get the disease.
So, as long as coronavirus is out there, I am going to stay safely inside.
Which is why my world has contracted to my home. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, my home has expanded to become my entire world.
Either way, I have to live my entire life within the confines of my apartment. And though it did feel a little claustrophobic at first, I have gradually found a way to make the space work for me and my quarantine partner (aka the husband).
The first thing I did was to make dedicated workspaces for both of us. After a little territorial jostling, we finally settled on a formula that worked. He has taken over the dining table to do his writing (in longhand) while I have annexed the sofa in the den to work on my laptop. One armchair in the living room, which gets the best light, has been designated as the spot from where he does his Zoom calls, webinars, and TV commentating. I make my video calls from the study, mostly because the Wi-Fi is strongest here. And over time we have learnt to treat these as sacrosanct spaces, where neither of us intrudes on the other.
The other area that I have spent reorganising is the kitchen, where I now spend more time than I did before. The first thing I embarked on was a massive clear out, throwing out old expired bottles of sauces, spices past their sell-by date, and ingredients that I had no use for.
Then, it was time to organise my drawers, putting stock cubes in one, curry pastes in another and so on. I ordered kitchen racks and spice jars online, cut out little paper labels and organised all my herbs and spices. I can’t begin to tell what a difference that made when I was cooking, to have everything I needed within range and neatly labelled.
The lockdown also made me discover the virtues of an oven. For years, I had just treated it as a way of reheating food. But as the challenge of providing three meals a day took its toll on me, I needed to expand my repertoire from stir-fries and curries, and do something more ambitious (by my standards, of course). So, back I went online to order some roasting pans and dishes in which I could make one-pot meals. And ever since they arrived, I have been making at least one meal in the oven every day. (It helps that you can just assemble everything, bung it in for an hour, and relax with a book or a nice glass of wine while dinner gets ready.)
But while I experiment with all kinds of cuisines – Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Chinese – I am never happier than when I am making the kind of comfort food that I grew up eating. So, rajma, kadhi, aloo wadi make a regular appearance on my table. And out of respect for my husband’s Gujarati roots, I have also learnt to make dhokla and handvo, the tastes of his childhood.
The other area of the house that I am redeveloping is my balcony. It always remained bare and empty because houseplants didn’t seem a good idea given how much we travelled. But now that I am stuck indoors, and the balcony is the only outdoors I have access to (so to speak), I am slowly greening it, so that I have something pretty to look at.
It started off with a few jasmine plants, which are already budding with the promise of fragrant flowers. When I was sure that they were flourishing I got a little more ambitious and bought some frangipani plants. My cousin, who has both a sprawling garden and a green thumb, sent me some basil and mint along with some flowering plants and creepers. And slowly but surely, my bare balcony is transforming into a green bower. It’s not quite Lodhi Garden (ha!) but for now, it’s enough to keep me sane.
Talking of Lodhi Garden, I still haven’t had the courage to head there for my usual evening walk. Instead, I have created a walking track within my house, which I use for an hour every day. I start off from the bedroom, walk down the long corridor past the dining area to the den at the other end of the house, take a detour into the living room, then back to the long corridor, which leads to the bedroom. Sometimes, just for a little variation, I take in a few turns of the front and back balcony as well. It is a bit tedious but it ensures that I keep to my 10,000-step count for the day and get enough active minutes.
And for the moment, at least, that’s quite enough.
Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004
Spectator appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, July 26, 2020
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