It really is……. Hidden somewhere in the bittersweet twang of forsaking the familiar and comforting, is a hint of pungent hope, mixed with the uncanny aftertaste of curiosity. It is difficult to catch – this apprehension that comes with leaving a city one has come to call home. It’s refreshing, even. It is not very different from the restless ecstasy of newfound love. But then again, many before me have written beautiful things about how a city is as distinctive and unique as a person. Berger comes to mind immediately –
“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
I do not know, yet, who Delhi is. The first date was brief, but promising. Bombay, of course, defies definition. Feisty, vibrant, dreamy, romantic and tender, all at once. I believe she is old, mature; not a swaddling infant for sure, nor adolescent or naive. But then, describing Bombay would take several lifetimes. And I’m nowhere close to being a Berger, so I’ll focus my efforts on the present, and specifically, my immediate future.
As I was winding things up in the city I had come to love so much, I kept thinking about being alone. Something that I’m really, really looking forward to, in dilli, is my own space – physical, or otherwise.
Har koi chahata hain ek mutthi aasman
This move is my wager, for my own little fistful of sky. An autonomy of sorts. Freedom. I have over the years, saved little trinkets, gifts, even ideas, for when I will have a house I can call my own (for now rented, but eventually, I hope to have my own – still not sure where, though. I have an inkling it will be in south india). I’ve been searching for an answer to the incessant, annoying buzz – of people, parents particularly, other well meaning individuals, traffic, noise, congestion, and the general claustrophobic effect any space can have – lower parel, the crick in the neck of this impossible city, is the perfect example of this. I know this will not be that – because things seldom pan out the way we imagine they should. Truly, the idea that you have little or no control over anything, is a deeply liberating one. Students of the humanities, I believe, learn this very quickly – a certain comfort with uncertainty. It is liberating, because it allows you the gift of fearlessness.
From rupture is born beauty. Never from structure, or order.
That is what I hope to create, in this little moment of rupture. Beauty. and art.
Aloneness, and sometimes, loneliness, are close first cousins of art. I would go as far as to say as they are essential to the process. Pamuk put it beautifully in his nobel speech –
“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words……….To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy. As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding new words to the empty page, I feel as if I am creating a new world, as if I am bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way someone might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. The stones we writers use are words.”
(read the complete speech here if you haven’t already – https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2006/pamuk-lecture_en.html)
I resonate completely with Pamuk. I enjoy playing with those stones. Maybe I differ with his final objective. He talks about building bridges or domes. I don’t really want to build though. I want to throw them back. With vengeance sometimes. Back into the sea, or the callous crowd that has come to watch the world explode before them. The best artists, deep in their hearts, are anarchists. Even Pamuk has a defiant strain of protest and critique in his work. It is, of course, the artists and creators who create the texts, monuments, cultural artefacts and memes that we call history. They do so, with a deep sense of the self*, sometimes, in isolation.
I feel that this is the first thing that children should be taught. Many of us learn it much later. We live in denial, or just pretending it is not true. But it’s there, as insistent as Poe’s beating, murderous heart.
In the final analysis, all said and done, we’re alone, deeply, irreparably so.
The internet, of course, and social media is one gigantic calculated attempt to remedy that.
At least here, we can be alone together.
A friend once told me that I become the people I love. That I am a combination of these people, and it is almost as if I bring them forward in my performance of self at different times – either unconsciously, or consciously.
This is true. I’ve said before that I am everyone I’ve ever met. Every piece of art I’ve ever admired. Every experience I’ve had. We are all. But I become like the people I love. I know this. And so it is that I’ve ended up filling up the spring from where beauty and meaning emerge, with those I love.
It is those people who have held me by the hand, sometimes even lifted me on their own frail shoulders, or reprimanded me for straying. They have led me to this promising new beginning.
It is of them that I think, standing before the gates of an unexplored promised land. As I breathe in the dusty air, and listen to the bells of cyclists interspersed with trafficsnarl, I cannot help but smile.
As the old Chinese boon/curse goes….
may you live in interesting times
*There is a moment when this becomes inseparable from the world. That is when art becomes religion. and that is the altar at which I place my faith. Until I see that goddess (she is evasive, like all unattainable muses), I am a happy pilgrim, making my way through the shrines of others who have been there.