By Swathi Sriram:
‘Aasmaan se tapka, khajoor mein atka’ (Literally translates to ‘Dropped from the sky, only to be caught in a bush of cacti dates). Someone spoke this phrase to me when I mentioned I had moved cities. They asked me why and for what, to which I did not have an immediate answer. That set me thinking.
I spent twenty years of my life living in my city of ‘Comfort’. I went to school by the school bus, same time, same uniform, same school, for ten long years. The next two, I spent in commuting to a different school by cycle or by walk, sometimes. The remaining three were my years of college, where I began using the government bus and strengthened my ‘cityscape’. I started being on my own, discovered new routes, walked all over the busy lanes, found buses that reached my destination and then finally ended up becoming a mobile-map machine who could close her eyes, create graphics inside her brain and give out all sorts of information about local transportation.
I was always fed with food, hot and steaming, tasty and healthy all the same. Never set foot in the kitchen. I did not even know how to boil water, let alone cook. I left my city of comfort to pursue my masters, where, I was given almost the same royal treatment.
After those years of ‘happiness, sunshine and glory’, life brought me to face reality when I got my first job in an entertainment channel. I moved cities. I had to deal with a different language. People wore different clothing and spoke very different English. I stopped depending on others. I stopped expecting food to rescue me from my hunger pangs. I started cooking, I started choosing what I wanted to do and I believed in what I did.
I gained confidence. I could speak a different language, I haggled with auto-drivers, complained about soaring prices to the vegetable vendors. Routine jibber-jabber with the society members about the municipal corporation helped. Small talk with oldies every day on the train opened me up and yet, I missed home. I missed my city of comfort and the joy I got every time my dad hugged me when he came to the airport to pick me up. I missed a lot of things about the house itself.
I decided to spend my vacation at home. I went home in the midst of my first job. I figured I didn’t have the freedom I did when I was away. I couldn’t shut the door and sit by myself, or get out of the house after a certain time. I had a 10 p.m. curfew. The roads which I had once loafed around — the flyovers, bridges, junctions, parks, beaches, restaurants, movie halls, play halls, and even the local transportation seemed so different and if I must unabashedly express, crude. Hell, even my own room looked different to me! I could not feel the connect anymore. I was lost in the very city I considered home for two decades. I wanted to return to where I came from — quite literally and otherwise, too. But where do I return to? Where do I belong? The devil or the deep sea? Cat-on-the-wall — just like my decisions in life!
Then it struck me. I do not belong anywhere. I miss a home that does not exist, a city shaped from nostalgia and a freedom which I possess only when I am with myself. I am a stranger in my own home and an intruder to my own memories. I do not belong anywhere but with myself.