I left work late but determined to use the remaining hours. The back of the cab was silent. I got to my to-call list, hitting deadends.

I paused for those rare seconds in a Mumbai day when one thinks of absolutely nothing. Then I realised I was flying. Riding flyovers used to feel like flying when I used to actually see things. We cruised at a precise speed. Traffic, a blur. Bursts of light-streetlights, hoardings, headlights. The right pace to watch the city move as I passed it by. What are the chances you find perfection where you aren’t looking for it?

I thought of a friend, newcomer to Mumbai making a fresh start after a breakup. I had nodded remembering memories ingrained in places we’ve shared with others. But she said, “Most places, it hits you how much you miss having someone. Anyone. But in Mumbai, you don’t. It’s hard to be lonely here.”

In that moment I understood. There isn’t much companionship here. Friends lay scattered across the globe or in different places in their lives like they’re on other planets. Relationships like all else, are finite, on-the-go. But work is balm to injured egos & thwarted affections. The bumps of commuting dull the pain of loss. There is enough to replace what people elsewhere call the best things in life. It hits you in the middle of a perfect moment when you realise that you have no need to share it with anyone else.

Loneliness is an incompleteness, a feeling of being stretched, of being one person having to fill a space meant for two. I don’t feel that way often. I am constantly trying to fit too much into too little. Much sharing into a timed conversation, many ideas on a page, several friends in one social circle, so much living in one life. I am so much more me than I have the time, energy or space to be.

You can’t lose yourself in the crowd here. It’s just you & you as far as the eye can see. The kid holding a notebook is me in another generation. The laughing couple was almost me. Everyone is equal so no one is special.

If there are towns meant for lovers, places for families, this is a city for individuals. Mumbai is a city of one.

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