Here’s something you can do if you’re driving north on the Western Express Highway. North is away from the city. Drive on the stretch between the Andheri flyover and the Jogeshwari flyover. Just before the exit for Jogeshwari and JVLR, there’s a bump. This isn’t a sharp bump that could wreck a car, it’s gradual enough to not want to slow down for. The road gradually slopes upwards and the suddenly drops to slope downward. You should be driving down the highway at a minimum speed of 60 km/h when you hit this bump. This is hard during peak traffic hours but it’s possible either late at night or early enough in the morning. There’s a chance that you can even do it at the right time during the afternoon. If you do it right, you’ll experience a split second of free fall and it should feel like going over the top of a rollercoaster. I haven’t been on a rollercoaster for really long and maybe i’ve forgotten what it feels like, but I always brace myself when approaching this bump and go “wheee!” as I go over it.
A life where I sleep at 5am and wake up in the afternoon feels very different from a life in which I wake up before 10am. The time after midnight has a sense of mystery around it. I think it’s because I’ve seen so little of it compared to the rest of the time I’ve spent alive. That mysetery and novelty still remains even though I’ve pushed back the boundry and explored more of the night over the years. Change is welcome, more often than not, in lives as regular as the ones we live these days. And something as small as staying up through most of the night everyday can feel like I’m living in a different, parallel world. Even this city seems so much more habitable at night. Without the crowds and the sun beating down on us, with empty roads that make distances seem small and with silence enough to hear our own thoughts, this parallel Night-Bombay is quite a nice place to live. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough and the air’s clean and the sky’s clear you’ll be able to see a decent number of stars past all the ambient light. Already the newspaper boys are stacking up their papers to make their morning run, kitchen lights are coming on, and people are getting out for their morning walks. Night-Bombay is closing. Soon it’ll be twilight, then it’ll be morning and around twenty million people will wake up and return this city to chaos.
I’m coming home next week. Six days and a few hours from now I’ll be stepping off that plane. I’ve been kinda down lately and so for the past two days I’ve been doing what the Americans do when they’re down. No, not drinking, shopping. I shopped so much that I don’t know if they’ll let me take my bags on the plane without a hassle. I have nothing more to do in New York City, I’ve done as much as I could. Besides, all the friends I made here have moved on. There’s too many people in New York who’re just passing through. I’ve realised that a lot of people my age move around a lot. There’s not that many of us that can name one city as home. I don’t really have anyone left to say goodbye to here anymore. I still need to say one last goodbye to the city, but it’s too soon for that. I love this city. That’s a bold thing to say because I’ve been here only 5 months. I’m sure that this place isn’t like anywhere else in the world. It’s the center of the world in many ways. If you’re anything like me, you will love this city too. I’m actually surprised at how infrequently I’ve been lonely here even though I knew nobody here when I came and I’ve been here a whole five months.
This place doesn’t seem new anymore, I’m used to the sights and sounds now. I don’t know if I can explain this to you well enough but for my first few months here, everything seemed strange. The cars, the buildings, the trees, the highways, the weather… They were all such a stark contrast to what I’ve been used to seeing. Now, I can imagine driving on the right side of the road just as well as I can imagine driving on the left. When we rented a car and went for a road trip two months ago I turned onto the wrong side of the road thrice. I haven’t forgotten Bombay at all though. I can close my eyes and imagine it in just as much detail as I ever could.
I still have some shopping and a lot of packing and planning to do. I’ll be busy most of this week. Time will fly. I’ll spend 5 days in office not doing much and killing time and pretending like I’m doing work because I’ve gotten really good at that over the years. I’ll be back before you know it. That doesn’t say much, because obviously, I will be there before you know it. If you knew I was there before I was there then you’d be wrong. I’ll be there soon. Sunday evening. And then on Monday if I’m not completely dead after not having gotten enough sleep on the flight I plan to drive around the city just to see if anythings changed. You should come with me, if you’re interested in driving around the western suburbs. If you can drive me around then that’s even better. And then on Tuesday, I’ll go to office and tell them I’m leaving as soon as they’ll let me. Honestly, I’m not just saying that, I really will. And then a month later, I’ll have to get down to doing all those things I’ve been saying I need to do when I quit my job. I don’t know if I’ll get the time but at least I’ll try. Things never work out so well. I’m already twenty-three now and I don’t really know where the past few years went. I always thought I’d be doing something fun by the time I’m this old.
I don’t know about this year. Two thousand and eleven. I don’t like the way it sounds and the feeling it leaves in my mouth when I say it. Two thousand and ten was supposed to be right and look what happened to it. I’m not complaining at all about having been in New York for five months of it, but that everything else wasn’t as good as it should have been. Which again doesn’t mean it was bad. In any case, lets hope I’m wrong about two thousand and eleven. I’ll see you soon.
Being sick is useless when you have nobody to look after you. I can confess, I like falling sick sometimes. I’m sure a lot of us with a routine life and a comfortable home and someone to look after them do. It’s a break from your routine life then. You sit at home all day, watch feel good movies through the afternoon, sleep a lot, wear pajamas and get fed simple food. And every once in a while, someone asks you how you’re feeling and if they can do anything for you. That’s when being sick is worth it. But when you’re far far away from home, when you don’t know anybody well enough to have them take care of you, (Now don’t get me wrong here, I have friends here. It’s just that I’ve known them for about a month and I’m not really that sick. I had a bad headache all of yesterday and a headache and a fever on Tuesday but I’m mostly fine today and I didn’t go to a doctor or anything), and when you don’t know what doctor to go to or even how the medical system works in the country you’re in and you have anybody to take you to the doctor, it’s not worth it.
If I was in Bombay, I’d have gotten an appointment yesterday and then walked down to the other side of the 1st Cross Lane in Lokhandwala Complex and paid my family doctor a visit. Because that would have made me feel a lot better. Here, I didn’t know the first thing about where to look for a doctor. My boss told me that I can either try to get an appointment with a local doctor, which could be 4-5 days later, or I could go to an ER where they’d make me sit for 4-5 hours before I’d get anything done and that I have medical insurance for up to $10,000 with a deductable of $100 (I’m not sure what that means.) And I swear, next to me mom and my best friend back in Bombay, he did the most to make me feel better.
If you remember that one old Vicks Vaporub commercials, where they claim that the touch therapy helps, they’re damn right. It’s much better when you don’t have to rub the Vicks on yourself. If you’re ever going to go live far away from home, take this piece of advice. Write down exactly what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go and who you’re going to call if you fall sick there and stick it on your fridge or something. Because here’s the thing about living in a whole new place. You don’t know how to go about doing almost anything. You don’t know what to buy at the supermarket, which cereal, which brand of milk, which brand of eggs, you don’t know how the weather’s going to change, when to carry a sweatshirt, when to carry an umbrella (here in New York, the weather’s unpredictable as fuck. It can be 30°C one day and 23°C the next. When it rains, most of the time it gets warmer. 25°C can feel colder that 22°C even when it’s sunny because it’s THAT windy), you don’t know which bus or train to take to go somewhere, you don’t know where to go to chill on a Friday night, you don’t know if you can be in the middle of nowhere at 11pm and try to find your way home, you don’t know how long the days are and when the sun rises and when it sets. You can’t even tell what time of the day it is by looking at the sun because it never passes even close to overhead.
All of this not knowing and exploring and trying new things and even most of the getting fucked over by doing the wrong thing is fun and exciting most of the time. It’s always fun and exciting in the start. Change is always fun and exciting in the start. That’s what the honeymoon period is all about, remember? But there’s this thought at the back of my head which formed only a while after I got here, and for another while it was easy to suppress by doing more fun exciting things. This thought was a want for the comfort of old routines to fall back on, the comfort of home. But being stuck in this house for the past two days (I haven’t been going to work since I’m sick) doesn’t allow me to suppress that thought anymore. I’ve already counted the number of weeks I have until I come back. I didn’t count days because the days are too many, and the number of weeks sounds really small knowing how fast weeks fly when I work 5 days a week and then go out in the city on the weekends.
Oh, Bombay, I miss you so much and I want to come back. I don’t want it to be this way though. I don’t want to want to come back. I want to enjoy the little time I have left here. I want to finish what I came here to do before I go back. (I’m not sure what I came here to do but it doesn’t feel like it’s done) I still haven’t seen American Idiot on Broadway, I still haven’t driven a car here, I still haven’t been to the Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Yes, I’ve never been one for doing these touristy things, but I still want to do all these things once. The whole time I’ve been here, I have only seen the face of a friend I knew from before I came here once. And that was for 3 days, and that was almost 4 weeks ago. You’ll never know how this feels until it happens to you, because I can’t explain how something as trivial as not seeing the face of a friend or a parent or a sibling for long enough can make a difference. I’ve been smiling at most of the Indians I’ve passed on the street today. I’ve felt like starting conversation with some of the uncles and aunties, the same uncles and aunties that I’d been avoiding when I just got here. I was watching a video of Tough on Tobacco play at Cafe Goa, and I swear I got goosebumps. Because it’s Cafe Goa! It’s Bandra! It’s Bombay.
I honestly thought I wouldn’t get homesick. I thought I wouldn’t be here long enough. I thought new York was so much like Bombay that I’d feel right at home. I guess all of this is amplified by my being sick, but it’s true, I’m homesick. I don’t want to need to think so much before doing simple things, I want to be able to know exactly where to go for everything and get it done in 5 minutes. I don’t want to keep having to plan things to keep me from getting bored and homesick and depressed. I don’t want to have a list of 5 one-month-old-friends, all of whom I have to call when I want to do something fun. I want to have friends who will call me for fun things to do when I don’t have the energy to find them and I want friends who’s places I can just go and sit at and do nothing and still be entertained. I want to have a damn car that I can drive around sometimes if I’m too tired to take public transport or if I just feel like driving around. But here’s where I’ve ended up. I’ve been living on a high so far, and being sick and stuck at home pulled me right down. I don’t know much about drugs, but the high can never last forever, can it? It’s always followed by a low. The higher the high, the more obvious the difference is. I’ve been sleeping less than 8 hours and partying all night on weekends and going out whenever I could. Don’t get me wrong, I can do all of this, I’m twenty-three. The consequences are rare. I would do this in Bombay sometimes. Well, I guess that’s about all I have to say. And here’s another piece of advice. Don’t sit at home all day for more than one day. It’s incredibly depressing. You may not understand why but you will see it happen. Get out at least for a few hours, take a walk or ride a bicycle or go jogging or sit on a bench somewhere or ride a bus or train to nowhere and back, do whatever does it for you. but if you’re nearing 48 hours, get out of your house or you risk depression.
Context: I’m going to be in New York for the next 3 months. I wrote this on the flight on the way here. A lot has happened since, but for now I’m dead tired, and I really should sleep so I can get to work tomorrow morning.
I’m leaving you for three months now and this is the longest I’ve ever been away from you. It’s true, that one must explore and not stagnate, but you’re just so damn convenient and comfortable. Besides, you’re the only city I’ve known. As I grow older I find it harder to leave your comfort, which is why I must go now. I know you understand. After all, you will be able to comprehend much more than I can imagine, being a city as big as you are. I will miss you. I will miss your people, I will miss their attitudes, I will miss your weather. Oh, how I’ll miss those rainy days. You shouldn’t miss me, you have far greater things to worry about. Or maybe you will, who knows.
There’s a map on the screen in front of my seat. The white outline of the plane moves further from the dot labeled “Mumbai” with every word I type, at almost 1000 kilometers per hour. 83% the speed of sound, the pilot says. I never liked the name Mumbai much. You will always be Bombay to me. I’m flying over Karachi right now. What I want you to know is that this is not about you, this is about me. I’ll come back different, and you’ll be just the same. Who knows, I might even like New York more. No, that cannot happen in three months, but this is only the beginning. You see, I can only live about 50 more years. In another 6 or 7, my body won’t be able to do all that it can now. This is a lot of time in my opinion. Whether you think this much time is enough depends entirely on what you think you need to do in this much time. I don’t think I need to do as much as most others. but I still have a lot to do. And to do all these things, I can’t sit around in one place. Take this letter for example; it would never be written if I was sleeping under your warm blanket tonight. Take all those songs I wrote in the recent past; they wouldn’t have been born if you weren’t at least an arm’s length away. And as much as I complain about Thane, I know that it helped me find me. And it’s also true that you would rejoice with an entire day of rainfall if you knew how much of you I found inside me.
Nobody’s as big a part of me Bombay, nobody. You’re etched under my skin, you’re a part of my heart, you’re deeper in my head than I know. If I really think about it, at the times that I’m happiest I’m always doing or seeing or feeling something that has to do with you, something that has to do with something we did when I was young, or something that has to do with what I see when I look at you. That may not have made sense to a lot of people, but I know you understand.
I have to find more of me now, I have to make more of me. I also have to make a lot of some thing that is more than me. I have to make , Bombay, I need to create. Whether it’s my own future or yours or whole other worlds. It’s all that really matters right now. What I find and what I create. I hope you know what it feels like.
And so I must go. I’ll always come back, you know. Of course you know. You’re something like the first girl I ever fell in love with, I’ll always have a place in my heart for you. You’re home. In the end we both know that I’m going to come back to you. And we always know where I can come to find myself for every time that I lose myself out there. Here’s to new things, new places and new people. Here’s to new situations, new sights, and new sounds. Here’s to Novelty. Here’s to me.
I’ll be back, 86 days from now, and oh, the stories I’ll have to tell. I know this will have its ups and downs but lets just hope that things don’t get too bad. I don’t know what I want, but can I tell you a secret? I don’t think anybody does. And the ones that think they know exactly what they want don’t even know what’s out there. The day they find out, they’ll be shocked my old friend, they’ll be awe struck. It’s very easy writing a letter to you, you know. It feels almost like I’m actually writing to a friend I’ve known for all my life. Anyway, I should probably get some sleep now. This whole thing with time zones and indirect flights isn’t easy to get the hang of, so I don’t know how much sleep I’ll be able to get. Wish me luck.