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A Love Letter to My Apartment

A Love Letter to My Apartment

A Love Letter to My Apartment: 

It was the sunlight that struck me first, golden and pooling into the slats of beachy wood floors. Pristine, when I first walked in. 7000 kilometers away from home for the first time and I was desperate to find a zipline back into the hooks of Kuwait, of Kolkata, of dark wood vinyl and gray, streaky marble floors. But there was nothing- there was a row of six, large, white windows spanning the length of a 2-bed apartment on the 9th floor of a concrete monster of a building. There was a view over a cluster of beautiful, Dutch houses: terracotta-brown sloping roofs peaking over the city landscape Toblerone-esque, tessellated windows, green and red sunroofs in the sweltering August sun, lawn chairs on astroturf cut perfectly to fit the polygonal balconies. 

Nothing like the towering, crowded palm and banyan trees in the outskirts of Kolkata. Nothing like crowded, desert-painted buildings in the ochre skies of Kuwait. Instead, there were laminate countertops and a brown couch, faded to a shade with just the barest tinge of green. There was an incredibly tiny bedroom, barely the width of the average wingspan and an almost palatial one in comparison. There was silky-soft sunlight, lulling me into a near state of delusion while choosing the tinier room, convincing myself life needs to be lived outside and I simply do not need space inside. 

As I learnt a rough two months into it- after consecutive nights of dreaming the walls are stretching itself around me, smothering and warm- I adore being inside and I have to adore my space. 

The conversation I had with my roommate discussing switching rooms was the first time I realized it is incredibly important to always, always say something. Ironic, because I had moved halfway across the world to study something so stereotypically trivial like communications, only to realize the gravity of what communication can actually mean exactly 17 days before starting my degree. Regardless, I learnt and I spoke. I still burrowed through the grout in the kitchen tiles looking for a tunnel back home, as microscopic as my self-assurance was at the time. I’d wonder how I’d ever find a footing alone. The wood creaks in our apartment and it travels down my spine. My steps creaked, and I went on learning and speaking, scratching through wall paint trying to go home, until I stopped hearing every footstep of mine echo unassuredly back to me and there were no paint flecks under my fingernails. 

It felt like our flooring settled under us a few months later- my roommate and I, steps flurrying down the hallway before a 9am class, a short three-tap rhythm hanging up the laundry on the drying rack, zipping around each other across the countertops- reaching for the sugar and the coffee, reaching for the yogurt and oats, our arms crossed paths sometimes, crossing against our cabinet because we happened to be standing on opposite sides always. Coffee to the left, oats to the right. I’m on the right, she’s on the left. 

We stood on opposite sides about a lot of things: the most enduring one was the perennial interior design debate on clutter vs. decoration, prompted by her swiftly putting away a hulking, metal paperweight of a rose placed as a table centerpiece into a dark, dusty corner of the television stand before she unpacked her suitcases. “They just make it harder to clean,” she had said. “Bare surfaces are boring,” I had said. I contained my love of surface clutter to my room and soon learnt to be soothed by the neatness of our living room. The lack of things to brush away when you’d like to create space on the dining table, a breath of peace. Clean, uninterrupted movement. A little bit of my influence bled over to the walls; the length of the large, bright room was plastered with things from media and pop culture we love. a 20×20 painting of an afternoon sun over the sea i had done over the course of an incredibly emotional two days, a detailed poster of a vintage Lord of the Rings map, a few panels from volume 11 of Tokyo Ghoul, a large poster of Arnold Schwarznegger cheering, a cat holding a katana. 

Within a year, flowers and plants overtook the windowsills. All unfortunately dead and wilting, parented by two people with black thumbs. But earlier this year, my roommate grew a clover plant- the first thing that hasn’t died here. Long and lanky, four unblemished teardrops blooming outward. She told me she bought it on the way back home to turn her luck around. I didn’t tell her, but I secretly prayed to get a part of that luck. God, let her unwavering confidence of what is right and wrong bleed into me. Let her ambition and drive wash onto me. If anything, if anything at all, let her find peace so I can see what it looks like. 

I learnt what friendship was in this apartment. Learning she likes to keep her purple LED lights on at night because she used to keep a light on when she lived alone. Learning she endearingly falls asleep on the couch after an incredibly long day of university and work, learning she’d go visit an Asian grocery store a 15 minute walk away to pick up 5 boxes of matcha for me because I could never go there myself. The crowds at Wah Nam Jong, tucked in the middle of Markthal, have always been incredibly dense, and as I also began to learn with startling clarity in this apartment, I cannot do crowds. 

When I say my roommate’s name, I’ve always imagined it sounds like a bell. The intonation of it following the same E-sharp to F pitch of a large, sweet, church bell. Musical in the way her name naturally pitches, and musical in the way she is herself. She plays the piano and the guitar, and hums along to the music she plays out loud whilst doing chores. I will miss calling her name down the hallway, from my room to the living room, bouncing across the plain white walls like little church bells, asking if she’d like to just order dinner tonight instead of cooking something. 

I learnt spontaneity in this apartment. Life back home was incredibly sheltered, the streets of Kuwait were simply too hot and unfamiliar to walk around, the streets of Kolkata are littered by half-eaten pavements that drop nowhere, and beeping yellow autos shooting by. You don’t go anywhere by yourself back home. You are nothing, if not truly by yourself, here. I learnt to appreciate being safe with yourself within these walls but more importantly yet most unexpectedly, I learnt to appreciate being safe with others. 

I think of my closest friend I’ve made at university when I think of safety. Tall and willowy in the way she is, resolute and pragmatic in the way she operates. We decided she has to stay over spontaneously one night, due to a reason too buried from the weight of the memories we’ve made together since, and as someone who is so incredibly private and particular about who I am when I’m in my room, could not reconcile the difference between how much I loved the immediacy of it, but was anxious about the unexplored vulnerability of it. I had only let people I knew most truly and loved most dearly see me asleep till then, and while she has grown to be someone I cherish, this was in the seedling phase of the friendship. I didn’t even know her birthday! But it was a strange stepping stone into doing things for the hell of it, and she saw me through the aforementioned terror of crowds each time, punctuated by teaching me a few Dutch phrases sometimes, sending me music she likes, distracting me from the buzzing heat of moving through chirping groups of students by just talking to me. I learnt to trust a little bit. I learnt spontaneity does not equate to poor plans but instead, to live for the sake of living. 

These are the tiniest, most basic building blocks of having an independent life, but back home- on one side, they don’t like expats. On the other side, there are simply too many people. A breath of fresh air at night for the sake of breathing it was revolutionary. I learnt how to pull the corners of the soft-cotton cloth of accepting life alone over the sharp metal of terror at being alone in the sprawling, postered walls with lamplights bouncing all over my first room away from home. Neither here nor there anymore, pulled in a weird angle forming a narrow isosceles across the map when you pin Kuwait, Kolkata and the Netherlands on a map, and tie a rope between them. A quick zipline back home, something I was still looking for but with less fervor. The air bubbles in the sunsoaked, warm wood flooring would barely pop under our feet now, and I was slowly making my indents. Finding a footing. 

I learnt the most interesting things I’ve ever studied in this apartment, read the most far-flung academic articles for a course on propaganda and politics once- something I’d have never read otherwise, learnt to do fairly decent nailart, put up all of the art I like and meticulously arranged the hundreds of postcards over my four walls into a coherent theme, developed all of these new hobbies and improved upon a few old ones. Had to kill a few hobbies because I couldn’t fit an 88-key keyboard in my room- despite it being the relatively palatial one. but I’ve learnt things I should have never had to learn in this house, I’ve learnt things I should have learnt much earlier, things I should have learnt a lot later. 

The crushing, solid weight of heartbreak. The sobering realization of medical bureaucracy and lack of easy access to support in a lot of cases. The quiet frazzle of understanding how terribly inarticulate you are in financial literacy, the baffling realization that you can not make coffee as well as your dad does, and you should have watched closer the thousands of times he had poured that cup for you before. The rapid, panicked untangling of your rationality when being on both sides of a witness of deep, lasting sickness and victim of deep, lasting sickness. The sinking feeling of realizing how hard- but surely rewarding- the path ahead is going to be to maintain the life you’ve built here, far away from home, in its loosest contours. The relief that comes with hearing my friends feel that little pull too in quiet chats over coffee in my room. 

The largest to the smallest of emotions that come with leaving the nest for the first time- I’d go so far as to say poking our head out of the ground for my friends who grew up as Indians in Kuwait- are so startling and new that they endure, seeping into the lived-in walls of your own first place. They materialize in postcards marking a different new city visited, polaroids with friends, silly trinkets from a trip into an antique shop after an impromptu lunch outside: tangible objects because the emotions pop like bubbles, but stick like dried soap. They’re here and they’ll continue to stay here- we move on. 

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It’s hard to make my peace with having to say goodbye to a period so beautifully magical, the place I experienced it in: finding a beautiful apartment high enough for an entirely unblocked view of Dutch summer clouds, living with a friend with whom I graduated highschool from and with whom I learnt to navigate an entirely new culture in the soft pocket of familiarity she afforded me, having another friend in the Netherlands from school in Kuwait, all the way from middle to highschool and now university. The ways we met and the events that snowballed into three very unlikely people developing the closest relationship. Loving and losing and experiencing the lowest and the highest in the same room. The soft rustle of the couch when my friends and I sink into it laughing, the distant hum of the washing machine going at 3am, the soft flicker of the switch turning off when my roommate goes to her room at night. The most ordinary, plain moments are smudged soft and sweetly, a stretched daub of honey on my life’s timeline, in the backdrop of the sun hanging low right outside, a beautiful tangerine shade at 9pm in the summer. 

A little bit over two years ago, we moved out of the home I spent the first 18 years of my life in to shift to India- a smooth segue back into what home actually should be as an expatriate- but there’s always an undertone of how deeply I miss Kuwait in everything I write, whether i mean to or not. It’s the bitter shock of salt, a nauseous imitation of orange, something sorry and sad and yearning. When I moved into this initially uninspiring, but beautifully sunlit apartment in August of 2022, I vowed to myself I could not center myself here, knowing I don’t have a permanent place in this country but in a more grounded sense, in the bed I was sleeping on. I assumed I had managed to succeed all this time, until I looked at the large folded cardboard boxes lying on the wall outside my bedroom door- waiting for me to start packing up the first little home of my own, to pop the beautiful little bubbles of times under various shades of the sunlight shining into our living room. 

Over the days of having my friends over in the past few weeks and saying bye for a while as most of us are flying away until next year, memorizing every detail of the way my friend from Kuwait moves around our apartment so familiarly for the last time, like the unconscious movements of being truly at home in another continent, focusing on the focused clacking of my roommate typing away at her thesis towards the tail-end of her graduation, alongside the cold uncertainty of not knowing when we shall see each other again, I realized I’ve leaned on these walls far more than I should have. Its paper thin, crumbly texture is as familiar on my skin as the windchill that leaks in through our windows in the depth of winter. 

I have failed far more miserably than I thought, Icarian to believe I wouldn’t let my sentiments rule my life again, that getting too attached to the soothing warmth of the sun wouldn’t hurt this time.  

Soon, this apartment will just be another place in a time I shall never return to, and the velvet-soft edge of the emotions I’ve experienced in here will sneak into everything I write, the off-white walls of this home covered in silly posters superimposing itself onto the feature rust orange wall from back in Kuwait. 

I will be looking at these 2-odd years for all of my life, and I already know the slight color it’ll give to the experiences I have henceforth. I will think of the peachy evening sun cutting our living room into rectangles of sweet orange sunlight, glinting off the pale wooden floors, gold bouncing off of my friends’ faces — a calm yellow color of finding home in people too, for the first time. 

Writer: Jude Majumdar

Editor/Visuals: Csenge Nagy-György

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