City of one


Friday evening and I was leaving work. Later than expected, about 3 hours later than I’d have wished. I got into the cab and paused for those brief seconds that are those rare occurances in a Mumbaiker’s day when he or she thinks of absolutely nothing. Then snapping back into action, I pulled out my phone and dialed. At any point of time, I have a list of people that I absolutely have to call/ call back and have not had the time to, earlier. Connectivity is only leading to disconnectivity. I tackle these calls on the otherwise unproductive commute.

Network not available.

Oh damn, did they suddenly take my ISD facility off? Must remember to check. Ah, well, next number.

User busy.

Damn, this must be the middle of day rush for his workday. Will have to call later on my way back.

Ring ring ring…

Meeting? Date? Train? Loud nightclub? Who knows? At least the call went through….she’s just going to have to call me back when she sees the missed call. And I hope I hear it when she does.

Now what?

And that is when it hit me. I was flying over the flyover. It always felt like flying. At least it used to, when I used to look out of the window and actually see things. That’s why it is called a flyover, isn’t it? Because you fly over it. πŸ™‚ Instinctively I reached for my scarf to tie my hair out of tangles’ way. And then impulsively I let it be….who’d notice, it is supposed to be wind-swept anyway!

The back of the taxi was silent. The traffic to my right but blurring faintly. The bright lights…street lamps, hoardings, car headlights moved to me and brushed past. I can’t explain it. Perhaps I had just chanced on a rare moment of perfection in this perfection-obsessed but so-very-imperfect city. We were cruising along just at the right speed, not so slow as to stretch my miniscule patience, not fast enough for it to seem like reckless driving. Just the right pace to watch the city approach and pass me by as I passed it by.

I thought of my friend who moved into the city a few months back. Over a conversation of why she quit a promising job and a fun city, she told me that she was trying to make a fresh start after breaking up with her live-in boyfriend. I nodded sympathetically, thinking of memories ingrained in places that we’ve shared with other people. But she corrected me when she said,

You know, in most places, it really hits you how lonely you are, how much you miss having someone…anyone. But in Mumbai, you don’t. It is hard to be lonely here.

Suddenly all this while later, I understand. It isn’t that there is a lot of companionship here, it is just that you don’t miss it. Friends lay scattered across the globe or even in the same city, it’s like they’re all on different planets. Relationships, like everything else are finite, limited and on-the-go. And yet, work is a balm to injured egos and thwarted affections. The daily bumps and scratches of commuting dull the pain of loss.

But above all….if there are cities made for lovers, places meant for families, Mumbai is the place for individuals. You are permitted to be as mundane or as extraordinary as you want. There is enough to replace what people in other places call the best things in life. It hits you in the middle of a perfect moment when you realise that you have no need, no desire to share it with any particular person. You are complete in yourself and the moment. Why then am I writing this here? Yes, perhaps I do need to share the experience….but rather than hold it in a quiet, intimate bond with another person, I throw it out into the faceless open of strangers. What was lived, was mine alone and the experience can be shared with anyone, everyone. Everyone is equal and hence no one is special. I feel complete in myself and in the moment.

Loneliness after all, is an incompleteness, a feeling of being stretched, of being one person having to fill the space meant for two. But I don’t feel that way very often. If anything, true Mumbaiker like, I am constantly trying to fit too much into too little. A lot of ideas into one blog, a lot of sharing in one timed conversation, a lot of friends into one limited social circle, a lot of living in one small life. I am so much more me than I have the time or energy or space to be.

You can’t lose yourself in the crowd here, it just just you and you as far as the eye can see. Your choices, your opportunities, your alter egos, your mistakes, your rewards, your life.

That beggar at the signal, is who I am glad not to be. The laughing couple is who I have been once, but so long ago that it is like childhood memories, so sepia-tinted thta I am not sure if they actually happened or I just imagined it. Even memories I have to places I shared with loved ones, are so steeped in tender emotion, so special, never shared, never to be shared with another person.

If there ever was a place to learn the value of solitude, to start to fall in love with yourself, it is this. True, it really is hard to be lonely in Mumbai. This is a city for one.


12 thoughts on “City of one

  1. “Loneliness after all, is an incompleteness, a feeling of being stretched, of being one person having to fill the space meant for two.”

    I love this line–tinged with yearning and bitterness, and woe as well.

    I wish that I had such an outlook on Mumbai while it was my home. (But – considering I was only seven or eight when I left, this is not entirely possible).

    Still, there’s something uniquely welcoming about the city, that no matter when I return, I can still find something from the days of what seems like another lifetime.

  2. @ Ashish: Thank you, that’s very flattering. But then there is always something to learn in every moment, isn’t there?

    @ Vi: I’ve never lived outside this city and sometimes I wonder if my judgement is flawed, since after all I have very little to compare with.

  3. When I lived a year in Mumbai, it got very alone. i hardly knew anybody there.The first couple of months drove me nuts. And then I began to settle down. I did plays/movies and the sportsbar on my own. It felt good to not be dependent on having somebody along to ‘live’ in mumbai. Back in Bangalore today, i am not sure if I can or want to walk into a pub by myself, or watch a movie on my own. Yes, Mumbai is a place for ‘Individuals’, whether completely alone, or with a horde of people in one’s life.

  4. @ Dusty: I think that is exactly the thing I was trying to explain in a lot of words. You hit the nail on target. It is the fact that it really is ‘okay’, perfectly normal to be alone in this city.

  5. This has been by far the BEST post I have read in SUCH a long time…I can’t believe how we Mumbaiites echo the absolute, exact sentiments about the place. And I thought I was the only one who felt that way. Every line you’ve written here is worth ten times its length converted into mass of gold.

  6. @ Broom: Errrm….sorry.

    @ Deepika: Thank you very much, you have no idea what a compliment that is. And errr….sorry about the homesickness too.

    @ Gammafunction: Come to my city! There’s always room for one more. πŸ˜‰

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