[Writing isn’t easy to forget. And writing doesn’t need a paper. Balconies illustrate this perfectly. When I stand at it, looking at the covering and uncovering of the sun, I’m writing. There are words that ring in my head. Pound. In Berlin last week, I sat at the banks of the Spree and watched a house party happening on the other side. Smoking men and women gathered at the balcony and I thought they were writing. But prioritising writing for a personal blog is quite easy to forget]
I’m moving/ I’ve moved. It’s an attractive thing to say. So this time when I moved, I told only a few. I’d like to think I don’t want anyone to know where I am. But that kind of obscurity takes courage and other resources. This piece is not about leaving as most of my pieces are. Why write about the erasing act of leaving when you can write about the more optimistic act of arriving?
I dread the partition between the visitors lounge and the passengers at the Chennai International Airport. This time they were all there. A wall to separate the goers and the stayers. To go or to stay. That was never a question. But a mother’s trembling face, so supremely restricted to avoid any outburst of tears – that can always make you want to stay. She, I know, is the only one who can demand me to stay and I will, without a word. For no other roaming, seeking or finding can give love as pure as a mother’s.
On the plane to Frankfurt I brood over her face. That mouse like, awkwardly symmetrical face with lines becoming deeper every passing day. I watch a movie. When it is done, I peep over the screen to watch The Walk with a stranger in front of me who doesn’t know I’m watching along. I’m occupied. But for how long? Soon there will come a new place with a new language where words, noise and every other element of distraction will fail me and I will be alone, forced to face the things left behind.
Arrivals can never be spoken of without hinting to departures. It’s easier to connect an arrival with a departure, given the proximity of the two events. But a departure could be days, months and years far away from an earlier arrival, thereby allowing us to speak about it in isolation; till the consequent arrival. One could argue they are inseparable – always arriving, always departing. To arrive is to depart. To depart is to arrive.
But I’ve done this before. I’ve arrived and started clean about 8 times in the last 6 years. That’s the only thing I know how to do – start over. Like every page I deleted and tried to write over. But I’m not that naïve. I know the past is more concrete than words written and burnt, written and backspaced. Events, people and places of the past are alive deep in memory and if not there, in the unconscious. A fag or a shag, a sneeze, a breeze, a shoe hole, a song, a word, a touch – anything can bring them back. And for those who expect to live innocuously as I hope to live, there’s always a fear of bringing them back. There is no leaving anything behind.
S will take me to Göttingen from Frankfurt. S, an old classmate whom I haven’t seen in a long time. This keeps me occupied before I touch down. What will I say to him? What happens when we run out of sharing the meagre things we have in common? Will the silence be too loud between us? Will I, at some point, collapse in fatigue of bludgeoning emotion, in front of this semi-stranger? This is a first for me – to not arrive somewhere alone.
I’ve thought about Göttingen for almost a year now. People will and have asked me why Göttingen. I always come up with something to say – it’s an old university town, a good faculty, a good course, a small town, etc., But that’s not it. I just picked it out, out of a long list of places. I didn’t really pick anything. I merely walked with a semi-prolific faith towards something already set out in time.
On the train there is an unusual flow of chatter from my end. I simply cannot stop. I want to tell S how I feel. How it is ridiculous that the continents are really only half a day away. And yet it is not the same sun that shines here or the same clouds or the same air. The backyards of houses seen through the train are different, with different coloured toys. The landscape is combed, organized into rows of weeded out barrenness. The industries are similar, their greyed walls could be ones from my town in India. But the equipment is different, the towers and domes are different. The leafless, black trees are different. The voices in the train are alien. The sensation in my stomach is alien. It’s brief, like little bolts of lightning at every new thing I see. It takes me time to know that it is neither fear of the past or the future, but simply an unwinding joy for the present. I’m in a new country.
As S and I wait near the exit of the train to get off at Göttingen, we see a baby wrapped in white, so inconsequentially sized, sleeping in a pram. So tiny, you wouldn’t know it if it was gone. The doors opened and there we were, in Göttingen, the face of an unknown baby in my head.
For 3 days S and I do our own thing. As if we weren’t even in a new town. The transition seems simple. I feel carefree and light. Some honesty around S rids me of doubts, power politics, arrogances, keeping images, etc., I’m stripped of my elemental politeness to give way to more raucous, crass conversation which snubs the conditioned critic in me. The semi/pseudo intellectual who thinks to live is to gather and digest knowledge finds a simpler language to converse in.
But the morning of the day he leaves, I stand brushing my teeth, eerily fixated on the duty at hand. I’m nervous again. This move is not like other moves. I’ve grown. I’m a semi-adult who knows things, who has seen things. Who knows it’s difficult to learn a new language, to manage money, make and keep friends, find and keep love, finish a novel and travel.
I see off S at the train station and sit down to eat a baguette. I hadn’t read many books in the last one year or attended lectures or conferences. I considered it an intellectually low year where I did not feel an urge to learn in the conventional way. Instead I was thrown open to other things. The most consequential encounters of the last year were with children. Be it in Romania where I ran around in muck with them or took them out on expeditions and bicycle trips, or in India where I taught my niece her first words. There was something that children had that I had too. That was essentially a feature of me which I hid or glazed over with my persistent urge to be a mature woman. As S called it, a stick up my ass.
I come back to a light and spacious room with a balcony. The sun is kind. When it touches my face with mellow hotness, the chill in my body goes away. I close my eyes shut tight and grip hard the wall of the balcony. I make myself tiny, inconsequential, very much like the baby in the pram. After a few minutes, I wasn’t there.