Spatial intimacy in the times social distancing

Hopping on umpteen work calls last Thursday, I logged on to one with my team at around 5:40 in the evening, telling them to chit chat for a couple of minutes before I return. “Chai ubal rahi hai,” I rushed.

Retrospectively, I think that was my moment in the deluge of work from home warmth being spread around – pets on Zoom, kids babbling in the background, mothers checking for food. We now know who works beside a window and who sits at the table, we know what colour curtains does one have, and what kind of paintings is one fond of. Gradually the formal veneer is waning – our homely language slips in, and our homely appearances are beginning to flash by. A friend recalled how she gave in to put her video on for a call, on a day she had decided to oil her lovely long hair.

We’ve also seen what celebrity homes look like. Their kitchens as they show us cooking videos, their living rooms that they’re sweeping or their balconies, thanks to the banging of the plates activity! And soon the impeccable and aspirational homes changed to really relatable ones in our advertisements. Oreo, Hit’s cockroaches ka lockdown, SBI’s ghar mei khushiyan, Himalaya’s wellness ka wada, Asian Paint’s renewed har ghar chup chap se kehta hai. These are warm ads because you can spot a mismatched switchboard on the wall behind, the 90s mosaic chips flooring, wrought iron coffee table and faux plastic plants in a vase in a corner – a mix of remote direction and user generated content.

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa celebrating its silver jubilee last month had a 25 hour fundraiser concert with over 350 performances streaming on Zee’s several channels. All shot at home. A commercial model friend relocating from Goa to Mumbai got stuck in my house for the initial lockdown period. After shooting a few editorial assignments in the sunlit west facing balcony of the apartment she quipped, “I’ll ensure that the house that I move in has good sunlight and at least one open space.”

Homes have suddenly resurfaced in our consciousness. And they are here to stay. Even as lockdowns are being lifted, precautions against the Coronavirus will linger. We might start catching up with friends after months. But this time it would be at each others’ homes avoiding public cafes that are midway or pubs near offices. Over the last decade catching-up gained the connotation of meeting ‘outside’ at neutral hangouts – malls, theatres, cafes, restaurants and bars. Homes started becoming extremely personal spaces with rarely anyone dropping by. The much buzzed about house parties didn’t really open up the home – it was only a space for the night.

We might meet fewer friends as opposed to larger groups hanging out at a Social. But these fewer friends, who would frequent now, would start knowing what’s kept where in our kitchens. We would start becoming comfortable with each others’ living areas, learning which plug-points operate and which fan is noisy at its top speed. We will start getting more spatially intimate in these friendships, feeling more at home with them beginning to being at home. Formalities may begin to crumble – reminiscent of close family and friends of our parents who would often park themselves at home in the midst of daily chores.

Homes too would start responding to the pandemic created rituals. Washbasins in the front may start reappearing. Being more at home means opening up the jammed windows and carving in more sunlight. Shoe racks at entrances etc. Routinely using washing areas, bath linen (handwashing is real) at one’s friends’ homes, would make one even more domesticated in their spaces.

While friendships deepen with opening up personal spaces and letting one in – this warm impact may also nudge a spectrum of businesses. The attention to homes will rise. The idea of having guests at home which was almost languishing through these last few years may revive. Home décor, occasion specific crockeries, furnishings, and lighting may see renewed interest. Or home activities like board games or snack and pop-corns for a Netflix afternoon.

The Coronavirus’ infused mistrust in us for outdoor spaces and surfaces will rekindle intimacy in a spatial sense to be the least with our friends and family. Going forward it shouldn’t be odd asking your friend to make you a cup of chai at your home while you wind up some other chores.