I had to sit for an exam before admissions. The exam was unexpected and came at a time when all the chaos was at its zenith. Halfway through analyzing the most awfully ambiguous piece of poetry I had ever read I put down my pen and paused as the magnitude of what I was about to undertake washed over me.
Did I really trade in my family, friends, a job I enjoyed and four-legged companions simply to study something I thought I was good at in a country I didn’t know? And for what, really? Every time someone asked me what I wanted to do afterwards, I would smile, shrug (seemingly) nonchalantly and say I hoped I’d figure it out as I went on.
That moment of insecurity was a result of everything that transpired over the past year and the chaos of the past two weeks. I wish I could explain to you how overwhelming wrestling with Sri Lankan university red tape has been and the details of the prolonged bureaucratic battle that prompted the decision to apply for a scholarship overseas. Going overseas was never part of the plan but then when do plans always fall into place?
The past two weeks have been a whirl. Being catapulted into a foreign country isn’t easy. Being catapulted into a foreign country where you will have no kin and no support system is doubly difficult. You know that if something were to happen, there is no one you can turn to and that knowledge isn’t a very comforting one.
You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m much better now. I’m still very overwhelmed with the new-ness of it all and coping on my own. But I’m less angst-ridden about it.
I’ve been venturing out cautiously, exploring the city over the days. The key to appreciating this city is to constantly remember that it is a city of contrasts, vastly different to Colombo. From the designer stores at Khan Market, malls in the South to the beautiful Mughal architecture and street attractions in the North, I’ve been in a constant state of bewildered awe. I know I promised to take pictures of the sights I’ve seen and the places I’ve been to, but I’ve been strangely reluctant about taking my camera out. So all I have to offer to you are words.
Gurgaon is home to a multitude of multinational companies. It’s predominantly an industrial and financial city and is well, a plastic city, if you know what I mean. All gild, glossy surfaces and ornamental plants. It was nice and shiny, but so cold and artificial. My dad had colleagues to meet and meetings to attend so after the first half-hour of watching old episodes of TV shows in the lounge room, I slipped off to see the rest of the city. After it became clear that venturing out in peak traffic jam and to return only a while later, was a little pointless I brought myself a sandwich, settled myself in a corner of the bistro and (camouflaged by a paperback) watched as the day came to an end in the city.
I watched as the chainsmoker stopped at the fountain, shrugged his blazer off and with a visible sigh of relief light up a cigarette. Two cigarettes later he’s still there, now joined by other Young Urban Professionals who resemble each other. I watched as the Barbie brigade patted their hair in unison (after seeing the men by the fountain) and discussed their day in low voices, handbags swinging in sync as they strode past. Office cliques walk into the bistro for an after-work coffee loudly discussing week end plans. There’s a lot of air-kissing, back-patting and uproarious laughter, and they’re gone.
The ‘backside’ bazaar (just telling it like it is!) behind the Jama Masjid we visited the day before my dad left, was Gurgaon’s antithesis. After encountering Gurgaon it was surreal stepping into the bazaar. The mosque itself was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and can hold up to 25,000 worshippers. The bazaar behind the mosque sells everything from shawls to compasses to prayer mats and street food.
The storekeepers were setting up for the day while the women darted swift glances at us as they hurried along the alleys. In a city which prides itself on constant development, time has stood still here. As we hurried along (we were ever so late), I gaze as two white guys armed with SLR’s document the day’s proceedings. Both are ecstatic at the visual explosion before them and are wonderfully trigger happy. My hands itch to reach out for my humble compact but I feel self-conscious about brazenly taking pictures. So I soak in the atmosphere instead.
Rickshaws ply their way through the crowds and goats leisurely amble through the alleys amidst the bustle over here in old Delhi. A man in a roadside restaurant stares unabashedly at us while he deftly kneads the roti dough into flat circles and places them on a grill. We stop to ask a bearded man reading outside his shop, for directions – “that which you seek, lies further down the road” he solemnly informs us in quaint Old English. We found what we were looking for and swiftly leave before the temperatures started to soar and the crowds poured in.
Yesterday, coming back home after an evening out it started pouring. My new housemate and I ambled in the rain, splashed through the puddles, came back home, deposited our bags and then walked some more. All the little worries the past week had accumulated now soaked our clothes and dripped into little rivulets of water as we silently walked down the pathway with the wind whipping against our faces. Very Hindi movie-esque, I know.
These are just a few glimpses of what I’ve encountered and seen over the days.I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast place. I’m excited about getting to know the city. I think we might even like each other. Who knows?
This is long enough already. More later, perhaps.
I hope this finds you well.