Three-generation family in the kitchen. Image Credit: Supplied

A recent survey of more than 20,000 people from many countries, including India, showed that one-third of them do not feel at home in their homes.

Imagine that! How can you call the place you live in your “home” when you do not feel that you belong there, you are not comfortable there and you need to go somewhere else to be yourself?

Granted, many of those who participated in the survey did not live with their families, many (I guess) were young people who shared apartments with friends and colleagues and were still adapting to each other’s foibles and possibly many were also young people living in their parental homes, who were itching to find their wings and establish their independence.

At those times of our lives, we too probably felt that way, but once we got into our own homes — and I do not mean that house we owned, but rather the houses we occupied in different places where we stayed for sometimes less than a year — those homes were our refuge.

There, we could shut the door and let down our hair, throw off our polite “outside” face, or stop behaving like an adult and throw our feet and hands about and recapture moments of our own childhood with our children …

Maybe it had something to do with the knowledge that we were in that often makeshift accommodation for just a few months and we had best get to it and make ourselves comfortable as quickly as we could.

It was not uncommon for us to have a functioning kitchen in a matter of hours, “settle down” in a couple of days with the bare minimum in terms of furniture and fixtures — and then throw open the door to single friends who yearned for “home” cooking.

Perhaps I should not have felt so much at home in those temporary homes: it would have saved us a lot of the discord that occurred when I had then to pack up once more and go “on leave” to the parental/in-law’s homes.

All comfortable with the sparse cupboards and shelves, it was not my first choice to traipse off again — but we did, because our parents and in-laws were too much at home in their homes to pack up and come to ours!

Seems like the apples didn’t fall far from the trees in both our families, and this deep contentment with our homes was catchy!

Lessons of the past

I used to think it was something to do with control of the kitchen — but I soon learnt that it was not necessarily so because in later years, when illness and incapacity struck the older generation and control of the kitchen slipped out of their hands, they still refused to leave their beloved homes and move in with one of their children.

It then fell to one of the children to pack up and go and live with them.

Now that we are nearing a similar stage of our lives, we look back to the lessons of the past and we peer into the nebulous future and we wonder: irrespective of what ailments strike, will we be as insistent on staying in these homes in which we have grown so comfortable?

Will we cling to the familiarity of the four walls of that home until we are carried out from there lifeless?

Or will we take our chances and hope that wherever we go that old instinct to make ourselves at home will surface and make it easier on those who are willing to have us share their refuge and their safe space with them?

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.