Perhaps that is why the idea of owning a home was alien to me. I was quite content to live in a rented place. It would leave me free to move to another place if I wanted a change. That kind of freedom appealed to me. Who knew if I wanted to move to another city or country? I liked living in Kolkata, but I did not feel impelled to live there forever. A college friend, Ramaprasad, who was later to join the Indian Foreign Service, promptly sold his share in the large home his affluent father had bequeathed him and his brother, saying, “I didn’t want to be tied to that mansion, like a cow tied to a post.” He explained to me that he had noticed with his parents that all planning, whether a trip or a vacation, had to start with the house, its safekeeping and maintenance, “It seemed my father didn’t own the house, the house owned him.” He didn’t want to be strapped to an anchor. I felt the same way.
It was quite a surprise when my younger brother sprang a surprise. “A new building is coming up in a prime area in the city. It will have decent apartments. Would you like to consider buying one?” He made the proposal more appealing by suggesting that we, the three brothers, could all buy apartments on the same floor and live close to one another. I found the idea irresistible. I bought.
When I came to the US, my American wife, who had never owned a home, was keen to acquire one. The tax laws were on her side. Once again, I became a home-owner. I have to admit I rather like the place where I live. There are lakes and woods and gardens, and you regularly see birds and geese and deer. It is urban enough to let me buy next-door whatever I need and pastoral enough to let me walk among trees and shrubs. But do I need such a large house of which I use only a fractional part? And do I need to own it?
I rather like the idea of the capricious billionaire, Howard Hughes, who could buy any mansion he chose but preferred to live on a secluded floor of a hotel. Somehow the idea appeals to me, though many find it bizarre. I worked once for a large company that offered me a charming leased house and was quite startled when I asked if they would pay for a furnished room in a local club. Not having grown up rich, perhaps I have never had the opportunity to develop a taste for opulent and wasteful space. I also like the feeling of freedom of not having to look after a brick-and-mortar structure that evokes no strong passion. Of course, I know others who like to lavish their care on curtains, carpets and colossal chandeliers. I prefer some free time to read Murakami or listen to Mahler.
A juvenile friend told me the other day that the fact that poor people largely play football, middle-class people choose tennis and rich people prefer golf, shows that affluence reduces the object of your affection – the size of the ball. Age or experience may have jaded me enough to transfer my affection to something even smaller, the printed word. But the passion has been potent enough to overlook the imperfections of my home. I don’t need a massive edifice to read the few books and magazines I read. I need no more than a tiny table for my laptop to write the few things I write.
And there lies the supreme reason for my aversion to a commitment to a permanent home. No home is perfect. Worse, no home is perfect enough – just as Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said of her seven divorces that no husband was perfect enough – for lifelong attachment. I would like a modest variation of the so-called American Dream: a home not bought but just occupied, for just as long as your heart revels in it. Live in it, make use of it and enjoy it. Then, when the untamed devil that lives in every human heart prompts you, move on to another home, large or small, ancient or modern, that soothes your mind and delights your heart. Perhaps, in my lazy soul, there still lurks a craving to be unanchored, an undying, unregenerate gypsy spirit.