To buy, or not to buy, that was the question. As soon as we arrived in Halifax, there were things I needed to buy for our first home, but before I could do that, I needed to overcome the real challenge of finding that home. After weeks of search, we found a suitable apartment in a good locality. The rent was above our budget but we decided we could manage it.
The next step was furnishing the place. I thought long and hard about what to buy and what not to buy. That was when the arguments for need versus want kicked in. Needs were to be met, definitely. Wants could wait. A minimum set of furniture and a few pots and pans were already on my list. Nothing fancy, just the essentials.
I wanted to keep everything simple. The words of the American philosopher poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau came to my mind: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.” Thoreau was living alone in a cottage on the shore of Walden Pond then. Following his advice while setting up a home in a city seemed like carrying the idea to the extreme, so I added a few more things to my list.
In every culture, starting a new home is considered auspicious. In my native India, two things are important while entering a new home.
First, after deciding on a propitious day and time, the head of the family carries a statue or picture of the deity they worship and sets it in a prominent place in the home. All the members of the family enter the home placing their right foot first. The altar is decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, oil lamps, and incense sticks. On the altar they place small quantities of rice and lentils brought from the previous home, a glass of water, some salt, and fresh cow’s milk. Later, the rice, lentils, salt, and water are used for cooking the first meal. This is done to ensure the continuity of life.
Secondly, after lighting the oil lamps and incense sticks, the family prays for blessings of good health, longevity, safety, prosperity, love, and peace. Then the lady of the house boils the milk in a new vessel. The vessel is removed from fire before the milk overflows. The boiled milk is served to all the family members and they must finish drinking their share of the milk. Then a feast is arranged for the family members and close friends.
I must admit that in Halifax I had to compromise on a few things. For example, I could not get fresh cow’s milk, so I used the 2% partly-skimmed Scotsburn milk from a 2-litre carton. It boiled and bubbled up just as fresh cow’s milk would have. Instead of oil lamps, I had to use tea lights. The incense sticks had to be extinguished after a couple of minutes for fear of setting off the fire alarm. Since I couldn’t get garlands of fresh flowers, I settled for a few roses. And there was no feast or gathering of friends and well-wishers. Despite all these, I managed to maintain the solemnity of the occasion.
The first few months in our new home felt like one long camping session. It was also an eye opener. It made me realize how one can live a normal life with very few household things.
Cooking Indian food was not a problem. Between Walmart, Superstore, and Bulk Barn, I could find almost all the spices and condiments I needed. Then there was the Indian Groceries, a specialty store on Robie Street. It imports authentic curry powders, spices, pickles, and snacks straight from India.
When I look around my new place, I can’t help thinking about the home I left behind in Port Blair, India. The home was perched on the side of a green hillock less than a hundred metres away from the shore, with a breathtaking view of the vast ocean and the neighbouring islands. Birds sang their chorus in praise of dawn, the lighthouse on the next island beamed its beam until the first soft rays of daylight embraced the earth.
I used to watch the magnificent sun rising from behind the trees on Ross Island and the boats and ships gently passing by, as I stood on my balcony every morning sipping a big mug of steaming tea and blessing the beauty that surrounded me. It was a spiritually elating experience. Often I relive those happy moments and wish I had all that here in Halifax. Wishful thinking, of course!
Then I come back to the present. I’m happy to have joined my daughter in Canada. I like my home in Halifax, my first cozy little home in this new country. And I know that day by day, I will be able to make it better and more comfortable, until it feels just as much like home as the house in India.