Thursday, June 30, 2005

Transition

I am packing my bags and cleaning out my room and answering phone calls from friends and ironing my clothes and selling my art history books and gifting the other books away and hugging roommates goodbye and signing my lease and paying electricity bills and dragging my luggage into a taxi one afternoon. We set off for the airport and I wave goodbye to my friends of four years until they become dots. No, not dots, but tiny specks because we take a turn about ten seconds after leaving them. The road to JFK is bumpy and the friend beside me is quiet. To be honest, I’m in no mood to talk either.

It really is like a hindi film. With an hour left for the plane to depart, a hug isn’t just for the person, it’s for everything they take with them. Heads spin with intense emotions and the world becomes a grainy movie seen through half closed eyes. Someday you’ll forget what their nose looks like or how they slouched, and someday, more poignantly, you’ll try to remember their phone number. What will you think then? Will you feel sad about how much time has passed? Or will you laugh at a development you could not imagine? Maybe you will smile or maybe you will be moved very little. But that is then. What does one say now?

Finally the plane lands at Bombay but it doesn’t feel like a full stop as I thought it would. It is reinvigorating to be among brown faces, speaking a language that was an exception yesterday and the norm today. Somewhere outside, family awaits. They have moved here recently, so we are all strangers here. This city, we realize later, does not accept or reject strangers, it merely throws up obstacles; the acceptance and rejection is left to us. Along the way home we pass by several places that have no meaning to me then, but will play important roles later. It is an unnerving thought and, if you are accepting, a delightful one; that the roads and places we take for granted might gain significance for us one day. I’d imagine it’s closely connected to that line, “Where have you been all my life?”

A week goes by and nothing happens. With passing mornings jet lag fades away and I think that the reach of that country fades along with it. Pancakes, waffles and mashed potatoes are gone, and there are Sindhi breakfasts instead. The domestic help is half horrified and half pleased when I wash my plates, but insists I leave it to him next time. Ditto for laundry. Suddenly I have too much time on my hands. What do you do then but reach out to the last thing you left? At the end of the third week, the phone rings. It’s for you, someone tells me.

Two days later I’m done with the interview. It wasn’t really an interview. Just a chat; a flip through a portfolio and a smile. Come in from the second of January. I walk out in a daze. It’s this easy to rule the world at 21? Hectic phone calls are made. Aunts ask questions later and squeal in delight when they calculate that the first day of work is an auspicious day. For the optimist, India must be heaven because divine signs are everywhere. With all blessings added up, no task will fail.

I arrive at work earlier than anyone else, reading posters and humorous notes I cannot understand and put it down to a change in culture. While I sit and wait for people to appear, homesickness strikes. Not for a place but for people who would know what to say then, and who would feel what I felt. Not for a home abandoned, but caused by that sinking feeling when you ask yourself, “what am I doing here?”

It takes ten days to cure that. An instant friend shows me Bombay by bus. Now that you’re here, the friend seems to say, let me show you what your new home looks like. And it happens, just like that. Where there was nothing one morning, there is now hope. And you figure that forgetting phone numbers isn't the worst thing. What's worse is having no one to call in the first place.

22 comments:

Olinda said...

And do you ever miss New York? What do you miss?

The first time I left, even though I'd traveled a lot, I thought I would miss it no end, but I guess the newness of the new home kept me entertained enough to keep the morriƱas at bay.

Rahul said...

You left New York too?

The people, definitely. The giant pizzas, the bookshops, and Union Square. And South Street Seaport.

arZan said...

bhatia...

very nicely written. Just wondering what made u write this all of a sudden. Something u wanted to get off yr chest, or something that brought back the memory of those days.

NYC is still the same. Of course its not THE same, but its the same !

Everytime i return to bombay, usually after two year intervals, superficially it all seems different. But a deeper look and its all the same. I like that. I dont think cities should change so much that one forgets what they were.

Rahul said...

Hi Arzan, I think this post is leading up to something bigger I wanted to write about Bombay. Incidentally, it was about how cities change. But like Bombay, or any other big city with history, I'd imagine New York's spirit stays the same. Good to know not much has changed.

Olinda said...

Yes, I've left and come back several times.

I can't imagine anyone missing South Street Seaport, but there you are!

The blackout was an opportunity to see the city as you usually don't. Someone on radio said it was like somebody had gone to a library, shaken the books, and all these characters came falling out.

amit varma said...

Lovely post, Rahul. You make me suddenly draw back and look around me at things in a different way. Good stuff.

Kafka on the Shore said...

hey, my first visit to your blog. a very well written piece - i like your style. i'll come back!

Nandu said...

Well, I left Bombay to come to NYC recently, so in some sense, I can identify!! And yes, I can understand how Bbay can be similar in some senses and different in others from NYC. You WILL have a good time there.....give it some time for you to understand the city. Go to Cafe Mondegar or Leopold's in Colaba for a West-Village-ish feel. Smoker's Corner near St. Xavier's College for a bookstore with character. Can't think of something which is quite South St Seaport, though....there used to be this place called Cloud Nine in Colaba, which was a hotel rooftop bar, which overlooked the sea and was wonderful in the evenings. Dunno if they are still open and besides, dunno if its a good idea now; heard it's pouring in BBay!! Suggestions for bookstores apart from the Strand in NYC? And I don't want the Barnes & Noble types....

Anonymous said...

aweomse man.. this piece rocks..
i will me moving out of LA soon and I can feel it already

Olinda said...

Nandu, there are some specialized bookstores that are worth a look. In the West Village there's a store that sells nothing but mysteries, but I can't remeber the name of it at the moment. There's also Posman Books, one store near NYU and another inside Grand Central, they have an interesting selection. The bookstore at Columbia University is pretty good, and there's Shakespeare & Co. at 42nd St between 5th and 6th. And one really cool place is Housing Works Used Book Cafe in Soho. They have new books as well, they have events and a cafe, and are only a few blocks from the Hampton Chutney place that does dosas.

arZan said...

There are quite a few bookshops.

Three that come to mind are

Academy on 18th betn 5th and 6th

Urban Center Books on 52nd and Madison

Pyramid on Kenmare and lafayette

arZan said...

bhatia,

Bombay is in many ways very very similar to NYC or vice versa.

But New York is very well organized if i may say so. Neighbourhoods have unique names and character. Architecture, culture and the inhabitants change within neighborhoods.

Bombay is sadly not so well documented in the basic understanding of itself as a city. If you scrape off the upper layer, its as interesting if not more than NYC.

Go to areas that u only read about in the TOI or Mid-Day...Dongri, Umerkhadi, Sonapur, Bhuleshwar, Wadi Bunder, Dockyard, Behrampada, Jawahar Nagar, and u start to see the real essence of bombay.

Sadly Modegar today is one place i would not go to. Lonely Planet destroyed the joint when it featured it in their tourist guide. Previously the only foreigners u found there were hippies or backpackers. Now they are the tourist guide toting, wide eyed tourists coming from West Village NYC :)

Within the same area, go to Gokul Bar for the cheapest pitchers of beer, New Martins next to strand for amazing food....outa the world, Brittania and Olympia near Cusrow Baug for amazing biryani and Varanasi near the Yatch Club for the best sugarcane juice anywhere.

Jammyfan said...

Awesome piece Rahul...
Been followin ur blog since quite some time now...and have enjoyed it immensely...
especially identified with the last 2 lines of this piece...
Keep writing such good stuff dude..

Sonia Faleiro said...

Lovely, just lovely. You need to get started on that book.

mandar talvekar said...

Lovely. Sheer poetry.
And I couldn't agree with Sonia more -- get started on that book.

Rahul said...

Thanks a lot guys.

Olinda, you mentioned the New York blackout. I had linked to this earlier, but here's a Suketu Mehta piece on the incident. Very nice, I thought: http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=29742

Iyer the Great said...

Amazing post!!! Certainly identified with it as I have been on the move every few years of my life and recently moved to Norway from Hoboken, NJ (via Mumbai).

Vishal said...

Great Post Rahul! I can already identify with it, as I am moving back to Bombay soon from New Jersey. Keep blogging buddy!

vAgue said...

it's odd- to understand and get what (something so spersonal) someone has written...but it is tempered with one's own moments, subtleties......

nice post...

Ram said...

Rahul,

Great post! I felt the same way leaving Chennai and landing here in the US.

Ninad said...

This is my first visit to your blog.
Wonderful post. I loved it

Sanjeev said...

First time reader of your blog.. what a wonderful read! I fancy myself as a bit of a writer (or rather 'I could be one, if I tried' if I had the discipline to sit down and pen something).. but I read simple blog entries like these and am put to shame. Very well written... kudos! I'll come back and read other entries here from time to time.. write on! and yes.. Enjoy Bombay, a most unique of cities.. full of contradictions, surprises, and a wide contrast of life adventures.