The Beginner’s Guide to Going Solo


The Beginner’s Guide to Going Solo

Illustration: Shruti Yatam/Arré

When I was younger and more impressionable, I made the mistake of going to the only kind of neighbourhood multiplex there is — an expensive one. I had shown up for a nearly empty morning show to watch Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (RIP, thoughts and prayers, etc) do things in cars that Bombay’s roads have never quite allowed me to.

Halfway through the film, the projector went out abruptly, as it often does during Hollywood releases in India, and the lights came on. From four rows ahead of me, I saw three classmates from school looking at me with expressions better suited to seeing someone you know actually go doggy-style on a real dog. Instead of waving at me, or saying hi, their mouths were open, forming the most sincere look of confusion I have ever encountered. I imagined an ice cream cone melt in one’s hands as he tried to register this cosmic reality of one of his brethren watching a movie, all by himself.

I had become a rebel without a cause, without even the knowledge that I was one. You see, apparently, Indians don’t do things alone. Think about it for a moment, as you go over all the nights at your favourite yuppie bar, the cinema, the theatre, or even on vacation. It’s likely the visual that played out in your head is a cluster of people. It’s rare, isn’t it, to see a person out doing something fun all by themselves?

Of course, as a culture, Indians are very, very community-driven. We rely on our family, immediate and extended, to act as pillars of support and the boundaries for our spectrum of thought. Our ideas are rarely our own since we’re raised to be sheep from dull education, the kind who are discouraged from doing anything that doesn’t involve listening to our parents and eating dry fruits as we go to bed early.

The simple desire to do something, for example, is easily outweighed by a simple “I don’t have anyone to do this with.” But, why really? To sit across from, or next to, a face that we’ve seen hundreds of times and hear the faux dramatic details of their lives for the umpteenth time? Does one really need another human being’s presence to eat ramen that’s so good that it’s a shame you’re not swimming in it? Is it anywhere on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to take a class, or workshop, or watch a movie or show of any kind with someone you’ve already gone out with eleventeen million times? Why must you?

There are only two signs of something being good: you either shut up to savour it’s quality or beauty, or it moves you to speech, laughter, shock, or Instagram. Anyone or anything else for this burst of catharsis, quite frankly, is as necessary as the elaichi in your biryani.

The simple desire to do something, for example, is easily outweighed by a simple “I don’t have anyone to do this with.” But, why really?

You can come to me with your “happiness is better when shared” greeting card argument, and I won’t deny it even for a second. But really, is happiness, or having fun, or doing anything you enjoy outside of home only worthwhile with your so-called squad?

I remember last year, this sharp essay about how Indian women are seldom taught to be alone, was doing the rounds of Facebook and Twitter. The author spoke about how she had to learn to be on her own, after her husband moved cities. “Now, I enjoy solo-eating,” she wrote. “Rather than try to bolt down my food as quickly as possible and leave, I make an occasion out of it… I discovered the pleasure of cheap mid-morning movies in completely empty theatres. No screaming kids, no rustling packets of popcorn… It took a while for me to realise that time and silence were gifts to cherish.” Forget women, even men have trouble being by themselves.

I wasn’t always someone who went out alone. It was kind of standard to go out for pretty much anything else with someone. I even started playing badminton because I had friends who’d come to the club for a few games. Solitude was something I hadn’t discovered yet. And then one day, I didn’t find company for something, and I realised I’d outgrown most of my friends. I made new ones at poetry slams, stand-up comedy open mics, at meals in strange houses where nobody is a chef.

It’s barely even about seeking new connections, which are an icing on the cake. The driving factor has, and should, ideally be the experience itself. The need to do something new shouldn’t be freighted with a reason like There Won’t Be A Bum I Know Next to Mine.

If you haven’t already been going out alone more, start. Get a new hobby, join a class, and show up at places alone: Drop into a café with a damn book, eat, gaze at something in an art gallery, and change the image of someone who does things alone, which is in more need of good PR than the Indian government.

I like to think of myself, and other people who show up to things alone as fascinating characters in a movie. None of these have a best friend hanging around to support them. Because quite frankly, they’re interesting enough to hold your attention for as many frames as you’ll indulge them for.