How to deal with two cities, a tenant, and the idea of home

By Sandhya D’Mello

A message  popped up on my phone: “What happened to the Power of Attorney?” It was from my sister-in law in Mumbai. She needed the document to lease out my home in Mumbai — since I am not there, and to collect the rent on my behalf. My instant reaction: Alright, here comes another rent-paying cuckoo to dwell in my nest.

Like millions of NRIs, I also came to the UAE to build a home away from home. I was in my late 20s when the idea struck me to buy a home in Mumbai. It would have been a wise thing to do, in terms of a long-term investment and asset building, and more importantly, to have my own home.

I enjoyed the long process of house-hunting with my better half. We saw dozens of upcoming flats and spent several weekends over a period of months looking for a suitable place. One rainy windy evening, the real-estate broker insisted we see a flat, 550 sq-ft, ideal for a family of three. Because of the rain-induced traffic snarl, we struggled to reach the place see the flat. This was in Thane — Hiranandani estate, in Ghodbunder.

After a quick round of the flat, I asked the broker, is that all you have to show us? Don’t you have more houses in the same community that we can see? The broker reluctantly said yes, he had one place in mind, and he even had the keys with him, but added it was beyond our budget. I remember telling him, “Dekhne ke liye to paise nahi lagate na?” (Doesn’t cost anything to just see the place, right?), and so he unlocked the flat, which was 1,000 sq-ft and beyond our budget. I stepped inside, took one look around and knew in my heart that this is it. This was my dream house.

I told my better half that no matter what it takes, we are buying this place. Then came the tough part — of scraping to save every last penny to pay the EMIs for the loans taken to possess that dream home, our home.

Back in 2000, we furnished it with modest furniture. We were living in Thane, in that plush locality but with minimal resources, as the major chunk of our income was going towards our monthly loan payment. We survived on curd rice for some six months, with pulses thrown in as a luxury. During this time, our mixer-grinder stopped functioning and we did not have the money to repair it. We lived through that phase eating dal-rice and pickle as our staple diet.

Why am I sharing my saga of sacrifices? Well, because that home which we own — and that was made on all those sacrifices — is fortunately occupied by a tenant. But I don’t live there now — it’s a property I own, but I question if it is really ‘my home’.

We lived in the Thane house for three years. And, if I can say so myself, we maintained it well. I still remember one day when I was packing my bags to move to Dubai. I stopped packing and walked around the house, through the bedrooms, the living room… I looked at the curtains, quilts, pillows, the light in the kitchen, trying to memorise the look of the spoons, cups, saucers, the sound of the fridge. I foolishly even lingered over my name engraved on the steel vessels; a normal practice back home, when you purchase a utensil, you get your name engraved on it. I felt for every corner of that house. I felt like I knew even the nails drilled into the walls of that home. And all of that was to be abandoned as we set forth to build another home in the UAE.

The script of my life completely changed as I landed in the UAE. I was blessed with two more lovely kids, both born here. My Mumbai-born eldest was already a great pillar of support. He was little when we lived in Mumbai but he remembers that home, and has a connect to it. Unlike the younger two, the eldest has witnessed our trials. He holds memories of our home back in Thane dear to his heart, unlike his NRI siblings who were born and raised here, for whom it is a mere flat to which they don’t have a real connection.

We buy houses and we do up those 1000 sq-ft spaces to make beautiful homes, a perfect family and so on. But life is not predictable. Living away was not what we had planned.

I am now almost in my late 40s. The loans have been paid off. We’ve even made a profit on the so-called home, but we don’t live there. We are not sure if we ever will. Whether or not you lead a kid-centric life, it’s not the bricks that make a home, but you yourself, and the people living with you that make one. Our two kids, born and raised here, relate more to the UAE, even though we always go back every year for their school vacations.

It’s a bittersweet fact to reflect on, that with time, they too will seek greener pastures and build their own homes.

And so, I sigh at that text from my sis-in-law, and get on with issuing the power of attorney to deal with the next tenant.

A mum of three, Sandhya loves fish curry almost as much as cotton saris

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