Home is not a place. It’s a feeling.
It’s the feeling of a comfort and familiarity. Whenever you are away for work, studies, holiday, treatment or any reason, it’s the feeling of ‘country roads, take me home’. It’s where the thrilling but also exhausting experimentation and exploration for newness or growth, takes a break. And the comfort of comfort and sameness gives you ease. Cozy bed, dal-rice, family, garam chai; are the kind of mental images that conjure in your head.
It’s the feeling of safety and protection. But this safety is not just physical. It is more emotional. A place where there will be no judgements. No boss. No clients. A place where there is no pressure to sound intelligent, confident or come across as different or witty. No ‘Harvey Spector’ pressure. But more of a ‘this is us’ world. The evening ride back home is the feeling of ‘the day is finally over’ and you slowly and gradually leave your guards down and transition into your family mode. Homes and families may bring different stress but at least you have changed the stress channel and it’s a break from work stress.
All in all, it’s ‘home sweet home’. Popular sayings like ‘You are my home’ come from these beautiful feelings associated with ‘home’.
The truth is that ‘home’ gave this sense of comfort and exuded all these relaxing feelings because of the context of ‘outside’. The outside made us feel judged, unsafe, tiring and therefore ‘home’ felt the way it did.
However today the ‘outside’ has invaded ‘home’. With ‘work from home’, the office has come home and along with it all the stress. Meetings, deadlines, pressure of projection, everything is now happening from home. There is no boundary between office and home. No commute that helps you transition from one mode to the other. No hours being followed. And with no maids and the household work, it has made ‘being at home’ more stressful. The happy concept of ‘Work from home’ which meant, my family will be at work or school and I will be by myself working peacefully is no longer true. You have to work with the rest of your family at home, giving you no space to compartmentalise.
The feeling of safety associated with ‘home’ now is more physical than emotional. You are physically most safe when at home. But all things that emotionally make you feel less secure; deadlines, judgements, competition have come home. All the bad things of the ‘outside’ have entered home and all the good things of the ‘outside’ like friends, relatives, shopping, none of that can enter home. ‘Atithi’ is not ‘dev’. ‘Atithi’ is now ‘doubt’ of a virus.
Even the feeling of familiarity and ease that the ‘home’ stood for, got compromised in the last couple of months. A forced ‘new’ behavior had to be adopted; a new way to wash vegetables, new way to keep the house clean, a new way to keep yourself sanitized.
‘Stay at home’ women are unhappy as the erstwhile freedom and space that they enjoyed on weekdays is compromised. Working men and women are feeling the stress of having to manage work and home. The growing job insecurity is only making things worse. Kids are most anxious as they are not used to spending so much time with their parents. No physical activity at playground or sports are making them irritable. Thus ‘home’ is now a place with people who are fatigued and on their edge.
‘Outside’ is the craving. The idea of ‘outside’ is now more comforting and desirable. ‘Outside’ is what makes ‘Inside’ different and vice versa. For one, it gives our life, two physical spaces and thereby two emotional spaces.
In the beginning of the lockdown, we saw many campaigns romanticising the ingrained idea of home; families playing board games, women trying new recipes, couples spending time together. But now we are beginning to feel and see the harsh reality of confinement. The number of divorce cases filed during lockdown have more than doubled in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. Divorces, domestic violence and mental health are the extreme issues resulting out of this new reality. The truth is that everyone is having to deal with so much more and ‘home’ no longer necessarily means that you are stress-free or sheltered, at least not mentally. Thus, our short-term associations with ‘home’ will evolve. Am hoping the next phase of lock down will have more honest conversations and brand narratives unshackled from our past, dominant notion of home. It’s time to address the new reality of ‘home’.
The author is national planning director, Mullen Lintas