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Monday, July 18, 2016

Another Window

And so I find myself at another window. Another apartment. Another beautiful night sky. Another evening sitting staring out at it alone. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to relocate and realign over the past two years. Bombay, Hamburg, New Haven and now Jerusalem. Soon, New Haven again and after that, who knows? The only constant is change. Isn’t this the life I fantasised about?

Growing up, we would move country every few years. Packing and unpacking our lives across continents was a given. We didn’t know any other way. I remember being woken gently for a 4am flight. The distant lights from the corridor were warm and filled with the muffled chatter of mum and dad planning our latest exodus. The movers had already whisked away our home, box by box. Shambhavi and I would be bundled into a taxi after a cup of tea, still half asleep but safe beneath the tender blanket of excitement. It was blanket excitement. The new flight, the new food, the new school, the new food, the new weather, the new TV, the new food and the new food. India, Singapore, London, Hong Kong and back to India – all before I was 13. We just went with it. It was the 90s. We were expats. The company would take care of mum and dad and they would take care of us. Everything was handed to us. We had the most charmed childhood. I went to university in England and Germany at 17 before moving back to Bombay at 21. But even university was organised by someone else. I was traveling again – this time mostly alone – but I didn’t question anything. I was meant to travel. You’re meant to go to university abroad. Last year I spent summer in Hamburg before heading to America for university. It was what I’d wanted: to get out of India.

I am out of India. I am in Israel. What the hell am I doing here? It’s the first time I’ve asked myself. Why am I in yet another country? Another consulate. Another visa in my passport. Another lonely, tired trek to the airport. Another long flight. Another sales pitch to a tired immigration officer, explaining why this Indian kid is here. Do I even know myself? Yes, I am here to do an internship to save the world. OK. But where has the excitement gone? There’s no warm light from the corridor. There’s my iPhone alarm. I have to turn the light on and make tea. I have to meet a stranger outside an Airbnb and get my house-keys. There’s no taxi driver with our surname on a placard. I’m not an expat. I realise how ungrateful I sound. People live their whole lives without moving around half as much as I have. Most people would give an arm and a leg to have seen so much of the world. I’m not sad about that. Most people would love to look out this big beautiful window into this amazing city. I just wish there was someone else here to look out with me. “Go outside and meet people,” I hear you say. I don’t want new friends. I have plenty of friends. My best friends are scattered all over the world. I have two sets of best friends. One from university in England, who are scattered across Europe. One from high school in India, who are scattered further still. Whatsapp is my best friend now. Maybe there will be a new set of best friends from my time in America. Another Whatsapp group. Another set of friends I’ll lose to this big world. People say the world is getting smaller. I think we are just getting more used to how big it is.

I met a girl called Lexy recently who was someone I would never usually have met. She was an au-pair taking care of our family-friends’ children in New York. I spent a month with them and I remember her reaction to my life story. She has lived in the US her whole life. She hasn’t left the country, as far as I’m aware. She’s a lovely, caring, feisty young woman who I’ll never speak to again. She’s my age but her experiences and world-view are so unimaginably different to mine. Usually when I tell someone my life story, they react with awe and envy. Wow you’ve moved around – so lucky! She was the first person who ever said, “Why did you move around so much? That must have been hard.” She felt sorry for me. It made me think. How much are we supposed to move around? We, molly-coddled, 3rd world children with 1st world problems, too good for our own country but not good enough for others, ungrateful dilettantes. My mum quipped over Skype, to my terror, that 25 was the age that my dad’s nesting instinct kicked in and he began to settle down. Settle down? Could it be so soon? I always fantasised about spending my 20s gallivanting around the world, seducing outrageously beautiful women and making money. But now the only girl I want is far away and things are weird (but that is a story for another blog) and more than money, I want to make a difference. Or, I want to make enough money such that I can make a difference.

In my current internship, I’m making a difference and I love it. If I am successful, I will help put together a deal that will generate solar electricity for 700,000 people in one of the world’s poorest countries where only 2% of people have electricity. Imagine them complaining about this kind of nonsense. What do they complain about? In India, the poverty that adorned my surroundings fortified me with perspective. Here, the lives of those 700,000 people are the perspective I cling to.

The laundromat ate my $5 today. Isn’t that expensive for a washing machine? It only takes specific coins and I lost my coins to the chasm of futile detergent. I went to three nearby shops to ask for change for my notes and they all declined in various degrees of rudeness. So I walked around town like an idiot, holding a green tub of Ariel detergent in one hand and my pride in the other. Another set of new institutions to get used to. Another integrated, end-to-end, cloud-based, cleanliness consultant and laundry solution. Another supermarket. Another commute. Another barber. Another housemate to appease. But the 700,000 are not complaining about this stuff so I can’t either.

I never questioned my innate path in life – my serial ability to find myself by another window. But I think I will start now. Is it worth it? It is worth it for another set of anothers? Another set of friends to make. Another evening having to introduce myself to new people and prattle on with the onerous task of recounting my spectacularly self-involved life story and trying to paint myself as a good person who deserves sympathy and admiration. Another SIM card. Another triumphant Facebook status, outlining where in the world I am. Another double bed filled with a single guy.

I apologise for my incoherence. I have no answers – only the 700,000 and their unimaginably different set of questions. Another time, then.


Sangeeta C said...

" To become a true global citizen, abandon all notions of otherness and embrace togetherness" Suzy Lassen.

Dear Shravan, as you find your answers within, experiences from your outer travels will illuminate your inner journey. Shine brightly and light up the lives of 700,000 together.

Urvashi said...

The amount of times i have sat by my own window and thought so many of the same things.. And especially about privilege. I may not have moved as much, but this still resonates.
One of the thoughts that struck me while ruminating though was that this was part of it. I wanted to move out of india for new experiences, for perspective. And this, everything you are thinking, the privilege and the change and the 700,000 people - this is all part of it. Its perspective and growth and its important, it makes you as a person - and it is one of the things that makes all the change worth it. So while this is weak, enjoy it. In some way or the other, i am sure that it is what you wanted too. So the next time you are in thought, just, at the very least, enjoy the perspective.

Finding myself said...

The loneliness has nothing to do with travel. One can have company but still sit innumerable nights by the window, alone, dark, dejected,unloved,year after year.
So buckle up, you still have hope and youth by your side.