I just listened to Death, Sex and Money – which is rapidly becoming my favorite podcast ever. This episode was on people who live alone: what they like about it, what bothers them, how much it costs – both financially and emotionally, and what it’s taught them about themselves.

Anna Sale, the host and creator of the show, has a brilliant conversational style which encourages people to reflect and open up. On living alone, she says:

Today, more than a quarter of American households are home to just one person. But we don’t often talk about it, and it’s clear from your stories that living alone can be pretty complicated.

I don’t live alone and I never have. I grew up in a big family (seven children, two parents, three grandparents, plus various strays who stayed with us for periods of up to three years). I had a roommate in college. I lived in a commune with six friends for a year. I got married at 21 (and discovered for the first time what a quiet home could be like).

When I was 23, we moved to India.

I have almost literally never even been alone in my house since then – forget living alone. In Indian households, there is always someone somewhere. (I remember once arriving at a friend’s house to visit. I had my son who was 3, my daughter who was an infant, and our ayah with me. My friend’s husband opened the door and said: “Oh, you’ve come alone?” Translation: Children and servants don’t figure in the calculations.)

That same logic would apply whenever relatives came to visit. We would get a call (if we were lucky; often people would simply appear on our doorstep) that so-and-so aunt and uncle were arriving the next day. They would never say how many were in their party and it was considered rude to ask. They would also never say how long they would be staying for and it was even ruder to ask that.

In those very early days, before I had the confidence to set limits, these invasions  (three adults, four children, a driver and a servant – just for example – stayed for a week) made me feel that my home was no longer mine. The language would change to Punjabi or Hindi. Massive meals had to be prepared three times a day. My children’s sleeping routines had to be tossed. And in a 3-room house, any kind of privacy (an unknown concept in India anyway) was an impossible luxury.

Nowadays, with two of our three children grown up and gone, my father and Ravi’s aunt no longer living with us and our house now a large and spacious one (5 rooms instead of 3), it seems like it might feel quiet and empty here. Think again.

Servants have become a vital necessity. I work full-time and cannot step foot out of the house without them being there (neither my 98 year old mother-in-law nor my 25 year old daughter with special needs can be left alone); but that also means that if I do prefer to stay at home, the staff is still there too. And though it sounds impossibly ridiculous to complain about our dishes being washed, our food being cooked and our laundry being done by other people, there are many times when I would far rather just do it all myself for the simple pleasure of being “alone” in the house while I did it.

But actually, that wouldn’t solve the problem either.

Everyone who lives in a house has the right to follow the routine that works for them. One of the things about my mother-in-law? 98. Still VERY ACTIVE. She is still, at this age, teaching. And it is a marvel and one of the things I admire most about her. But being 98, her students come to her. All. Day. Long.

So on those rare days when I am at home in the daytime, I am constantly having to open the door to the children who troop in and out of her bedroom all day long. Sometimes a sibling tags along and sits waiting in the living room, watching me curiously as I write or cook or read a book. Sometimes a parent arrives early to pick one up and then I have to stop what I am doing to chat.

Sometimes, oh so rarely!, all the stars align. Ravi is at work. Moy Moy goes for a walk with her babysitter. Mummy’s students have a holiday. Mummy is asleep. The maid has called in sick or left early. I am – sort of – alone in the house.

Pretty little china tea pot


The longest it has ever lasted is ten minutes. But that’s long enough for a cup of tea.

What a treat! A cup of tea! ALONE!



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