Living Between Cities: A Search for This Feeling Called Home

POV

Living Between Cities: A Search for This Feeling Called Home

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I had grown up hearing that travelling by public transport is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get to know a city. It took me little time to realise that it can also be an isolating experience. I have hopped onto more wrong buses in the last few months than I would like to recall. I have faced the wrath of overworked conductors asking me to get off the bus, their frustration pouring out in unknown ‘tongues’. Not knowing what is being said can at times be more crushing than knowing the exact tenor and severity of humiliation. It’s in these little moments, that I have often wondered if I even have a home anymore.

It is a task to try and learn about new places while dealing with home-city-sickness.

It is a task to try and learn about new places while dealing with home-city-sickness. At least that is how I have begun to feel. I’m not a tourist trying to enjoy a place, I’m trying to fit in, give myself enough reasons to justify moving sideways in life. A lot of you might think this is how modern life is supposed to be, but to me, it is preposterous that we have to accept change so casually. This feeling is aggravated at the sight of people who have stayed put in one place. They have so many memories of being rooted, of revisiting places consistently enough to call them their own in way I probably never will. Instead I’ll stumble into gullies I’m not even looking for, return with no memory, perhaps, of every wrong turn. I try to tell myself these people are less ambitious. Or maybe, I’m just more.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in a place and never worry about moving and starting again? From logistical issues of rent to emotional aspects like food, neighbourhoods shops, eye-to-eye relationships in the parks, starting over might be easy for some, but to me it has become disheartening. There is a financial aspect to this as well. The thought ‘What if I didn’t have the money or the privilege to do all this’ comes to mind. I moved cities when the pandemic was still in full force. It was a scary experience, but at least I had the resources to stay safe against the odds. I could order things online when shopping locally wasn’t an option. In a sense my privilege papered over the many cracks of being able to afford change.

Trying to fit into a new city is like building a symbiotic relationship with uncertainties.

Trying to fit into a new city is like building a symbiotic relationship with uncertainties. It drains you through a need for support, and all you can fuel it with is your loneliness. Your last home, the familiarity of it all, is already a place of nostalgia. Every time you return, you feel anchorless in a sea of emotions. It’s wave after wave, without no semblance of a shore. On the days I miss Mumbai (the city I moved on from) on some days I spend Rs 200 on an unsatisfactory vada pav. When I can munch on the good old station variants, I crave the mawa naan I have grown to love in Bengaluru (the city I come to for work). My work keeps me tied to both cities and though I can have cheap chai in both places, somehow, the one in the other city feels better. I’m not sure, but at times, I just wish for the other, since nothing holds a sense of permanence anymore.

My dissatisfaction, I feel, stems from wanting too much, even when the list contains the most mundane things. And because I have access to both, neither anchors me to a place of certainty anymore. These are the days I understand my parents better. Growing up, I used to fuss a lot about why they wouldn’t try new dishes in Mumbai, always craving the taste of Delhi food. “Why wouldn’t you experiment” I used to crib. I guessed they just wanted a taste of home, the way they could get it.

I often feel sorry for myself, because it’s the modern dream, sort of, to travel, to not stay put and keep moving.

I see the same sentiment reflect in the social media posts of friends trying to build their lives abroad. Along with their hopes and dreams, they pack up spices and utensils. Care packages arriving for them aren’t cute and cosy, they contain essentials for survival.

When they return home, a listicle saying ’10 reasons why that country is better than this one’ just sits under their tongues. Yet when they fly back, you can see it in their faces they hardly believe any of the things they say. I had always associated homesickness with borders, changing countries, and yet it hit me on an overnight drive from the place I think is closest to home. I often feel sorry for myself, because it’s the modern dream, sort of, to travel, to not stay put and keep moving. And yet, to me, it has become a journey of so many stop starts and U-turns I despise having to wake up every day, in an unfamiliar place.

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