Finding Home in Concrete Walls


“Where are you from?” In a city like Bombay, it is a question that is as ubiquitous as “What is your name?” In my case, the latter inquiry has often left the questioner confused. I don’t blame them; no one’s ever heard of a Conchita. Where could a Conchita possibly be from? Some have pinned me to be a Bengali, and when better sense prevailed, have acknowledged the Spanish roots of my name. But it wasn’t until I factored in my last name—a Fernandes is unmistakably Goan—that recognition would strike. But I never lived in Goa. I’m a gulf kid who was shipped to Bombay at the age of 18. I would always tell people that Kuwait was home because there wasn’t any other place to call one. Like everyone around me, I, too, wanted to belong somewhere. Blanketed by the naivety of my early twenties, home was any place where you remained firmly rooted for decades; a place where your ancestors came from. Kuwait fulfilled the first criteria, and that was enough for me. However, with each passing year in Bombay, a distance germinated between me and the country that I thought was home.

“When does a place become home?” My tiny one-bedroom apartment in Bombay is a far cry from the spacious two bedroom unit in Kuwait. Nevertheless, it is a luxurious space for a single occupant in a city that is sprawling with matchbox flats. I was 19 when I arrived here. It was bare except for a fridge and two plastic tables. I did not know anyone around; at that point, I barely knew the ins and outs of Bombay. Unknown to me at the time, it would be home for the next 13 years.

For the first 10 years that I lived here, I barely made any drastic additions to the place, except for the essentials. The only personal addition was the books that I began buying since I moved to the flat. It is by no means a diverse or impressive collection, but over the years, my books have reached an incredible height (literally). Located a few feet away from the window, it has been an absolute joy to wake up to it every day, and has been my anchor in times of distress. It was also in this apartment where I brought home my first cat, Schmoo. When she passed away in 2019, the next year I welcomed Kelsier, a feisty, handsome tabby.

Over the years, I’ve hosted many get-togethers with friends, learned to cook edible food, amply fueled my horror movie obsession, met some incredible people who are now some of my closest friends, fell in love and also had my heart broken—all within the walls of this apartment. It is here that I changed into a relatively discerning adult, and it is here that I discovered the transformative power of photography.

When you’ve lived in a place long enough, it inadvertently becomes a container of memories, or in my case, a tinderbox ready to burst into flames. The sparks were already there, but it was the pandemic that set forth flaming fires that ignited every part of my being. I collapsed, picked myself up, and collapsed again. There were moments where I was very close to completely disintegrating, moments that fueled the embers of my distress. What saved me was the camera and the corners of my home that provided a backdrop to encapsulate the spectrum of emotions that I felt.

There’s a tiny space between my window and where my books are, where the light is soft in the cooler months and piercing at the peak of summer, where I’ve sat and stood for numerous self-portraits. It is through this light, falling at a sharp angle on the wall—showing the dichotomy of light and shadow—that I’ve discovered my own duality. That even though I am a carrier of grief and trauma, there is an abundance of light and hope within me. It is through these realisations that I have also discovered what it takes for a place to become home. Yes, Bombay is home, but I have only ever lived within the walls of this apartment, the walls that carry numerous stories and secrets, the walls that became the catalyst for my coming of age.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart because the time has finally come to bid adieu to this apartment. It is time to take down the photographs from the walls, it is time to gather the objects that have adorned the corners of this space, it is time to make peace with this compulsory separation. I am told that one’s home resides in one’s heart, and that you carry it with you wherever you go. But what if your heart is scattered and sown into the physical walls of a place?

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Better Photography.