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What makes a home, homely?

The question is quite self-explanatory, or maybe it isn’t. In either case, a quaint overture never hurt anybody! This ‘idea’ stems from the second most common phrase that people use when returning from an exhausting trip – “I’m so glad to be finally home!”

We can only award a second place to this phrase, thanks to the award-winning exasperation that is – “Back to work tomorrow! ”

At that moment, when we refer to a place as ‘home’, what is it that makes us call it so?

For instance, throughout college, while I was bunking with a couple of roommates in an apartment near University, home always meant my parents’ place. In fact, that designation did not get reassigned until recent years to the place where I actually live for three-hundred-thirty days a year. Why is that? How do our brains distinguish between two abodes as ‘home’ and ‘long-term temporary accommodation’? As always, I don’t think there is an exact answer to this question, but I do have some observations.

Now, I am sure you’re wondering where do I stay for the other thirty-five days in a year. Do not worry. That is only a dramatic way of saying that I do take vacations. Not everyone in India is blessed with multiple homes. That privilege is reserved only for the rich, the powerful, and the inherently-dumb-but-illogically-lucky category of people.

My first instinct tells me that it is the familiarity of a place that we associate with the moniker ‘home’.

But think about it – if I blindfold you, and I bring you to a place that looks exactly like your current ‘home’, right down to the weather, smell, furnishings, lighting, and sounds, except that it’s in Russia. Will you be fooled, and start calling it home?

If you are, at present, in Russia, I apologize. You can substitute Russia with the USA. It’s almost like a second home, isn’t it? Just kidding.

The look, feel, and experience of a place is only one part of what makes it homely, and I call that normality. It is easier to refer to someplace as home when it fits into the routine that you’ve been following over the years. But this begs another question. We do refer to cosy vacation rentals as homely quite casually. Clearly, they look and feel nothing like your actual homes, then what’s the secret ingredient there?

If you’ve vacationed only in five-star hotels and luxury villas all your life and don’t know what I am talking about, I envy and pity you simultaneously. Also, since you’re already reading this, how about bank-rolling a book publication?

The answer to homeliness in vacation rentals usually comes down to two things – the lack of over-the-top opulence that resorts tend to parade, and service that reminds you of a family rather than the dysfunctional relationship between Alfred and Batman! Obviously, no one is serving you stuff at home necessarily, but the family does go an extra mile to make you comfortable.

Please don’t take that in the wrong sense. Hotels do this as well, just that they charge for it.

So does this mean that any place that looks similar to your ‘home’, is devoid of resort-like luxuries, and has a familial aura around it becomes homely? Nope.

There is a far more critical component that assists in the journey from a house to home – time.

Nope… not time – meaningful time.

How can there be a meaningless time? – Try reading this short post on puns. Absolutely meaningless irrespective of whether you like or hate puns. Just like this side quote.

Until you spend sufficient time in a place and create meaningful memories in that time, a house can never become a home. I fought my life in Bengaluru (in my head, of course) for the first three years and treated it like an extended college period filled with endless bouts of work, partying, work and partying. During this time, ‘home’ was always Pune, or wherever my parents resided. Why? Because I wasn’t ready to commit to the city that I lived in. It’s been four years since then, and I’ve created so many fond memories in this place, that yes, Bengaluru does feel like home now.

Also helps that this city has the perfect ambient weather that does not make me sweat as Mumbai did. It does have a lot to learn when it comes to street food, but let’s leave that out of this argument. It’s taken four years to call this place home, and I am not about to do a U-turn based on missing vada-pavs!

So then, is that it? Do we ACTUALLY have an answer to this ridiculous question?

Probably yes. It’s how I think of my home at least.

But, for some people (most North Indians stuck south of the river Narmada), the food is what makes a place ‘homely’, while for others (most South Indians stuck north of the river Kaveri), the language is a big factor that defines a home.

Similarly, you may have wildly diverse views than mine, and that is okay. What is not okay, is to not KNOW what makes your home, homely, for you.

Because, believe it or not, housing has gotten a lot more affordable in the lockdown, and you don’t want to end up investing in a house that can never become a home.

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