Deepti Chopra

Where is home?

I’ve lived in more than 15 houses in the last 6 years. 30+ flatmates. Some of them are now my closest friends halfway across the globe who I wake up early to get on a call with and some I can’t remember the names of anymore.

Last year alone I lived in 5 houses in 3 countries. Never my house- always someone else’s house with a vacant room because someone else left.

The dictionary defines home as: “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” But more recently home has been a series of borrowed spaces. None of which have felt like home.

What if I’ve been away for so long there’s nowhere to return to?

I think home is where most of your stuff is. But I don’t have stuff anywhere.

I left my parents’ house at 17, in search of “better”. The stuff I have at my parents’ home is primarily documents- like my undergraduate degree that my mom doesn’t trust me with. And the old clothes I made her pay for and never wore, that she’s holding onto because… I don’t know why.

30 kg. That’s how much they let you take on an international flight on an economy ticket.

The worn out t-shirts that I fall asleep in quickest, the cute flask I found after browsing hundreds, the house-plant I kept barely alive- none of them make the cut.

The houses I've lived in have been a mixed bag, each with its own beat. There was a small room for one I once shared with three other humans and several dozen bed bugs. It was tight, but we survived. There was a stint in a 6-star waterfront condo across the Marina Bay Sands- with the best view in the city right outside my window. I've also lived in public housing with a shared washroom (inexplicably located in the kitchen). There was the posh serviced apartment along the river where I freeloaded off a friend. The house at the end of a narrow alley, which I was terrified to leave post 9. The beachfront apartment with a steady crash of waves.

A whirlwind of introductions and goodbyes, a dance of setting up and packing away.

Amidst it all, there’s an undercurrent of longing. A craving for something constant, something as simple as my own coffee mug in my own kitchen.

I’ve had my share of excitement as an expat, exploring new cities, learning about diverse cultures, trying exotic foods (as far as you can go as a vegetarian). When you move so often, you learn to embrace (deal with) the feeling of constant newness. New neighbours (who sometimes call the cops on you), shortcuts to the nearest supermarket (that you find right before moving out), and new bus routes to master (or not).

I've shared houses with entrepreneurs, tech bros, middle-aged bankers, semi-professional peddlers and college students. Swapped travel stories with a Russian improv-enthusiast, learned to make pasta from an Italian researcher, negotiated thermostat temperatures at 3AM with a Belgian roller-skating pro and baked cakes with oil & gas expats.

The constant hellos and goodbyes can take an emotional toll. You're never really alone but the absence of familiar faces and of long-lasting connections can be jarring.

Rootlessness is a unique kind of loneliness.

Yet occasionally, out of nowhere, moments of profound connection emerge. Shared laughter with a new flatmate over a burnt meal. A deep bond forged over a dark comedy sitcom about self-loathing and escapism that no one else seems to get. Or the joy of finding a companion in your mission to make the perfect chai.

In my years of being a serial flatmate, I've seen it all. The flatmate who policed my washing machine usage to keep the electricity bill in check. The one who had all the bus routes across Singapore memorized. And the one who found solace in doing the dishes, Also the petite 5’1” who our agent was terrified of.

Some of the folks I've met through these shared living experiences have, over time, become my dearest friends. But they’re scattered across the globe now. Because everyone’s always moving. In search of "better”.

Friends made over camping trips, shared meals and self-inflicted hiking adventures become voices on carefully scheduled phone calls. Their lives progress parallel-ly in places far removed, never to intersect again. Instead of knocking on a flatmate's door for a chat over coffee, we now exchange memes online.

The excitement of the new never fully compensates for the comforts of the old, the familiar.

Nowhere feels like home anymore.

PS: The freedom that comes from living out of 2 suitcases is not worth it for me anymore. So a couple of months ago I committed to Singapore and took up a house by myself on a 12-month lease. I’ve wanted to start writing for a long time. Having an extra room helps build the pressure I need to start. If you’re reading this, it means I’ve at least gotten started.

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