Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dissociation Paradigm

The belongingness that you feel towards a city is a peculiar phenomenon. More often than not, there is not much of a clear cut reason behind why you feel the way you do about a particular place. For me, that city was Delhi for a very long time. And after a considerable amount of thought, I came to the conclusion that this attachment was based on a single premise: Familiarity. I spent 20 years in that city and a part of me began to be defined by Delhi itself. That is true of every place though! There is a certain trademark of every city’s inhabitants. Delhi is for aggression, Mumbai for progressiveness, Kolkata for simplicity, Chennai for conventionality and so on (these are my views and I am not typecasting anyone).

So I was all Delhi – aggressive, boisterous and a bit egocentric (by using the word “bit”, I am just cutting myself some slack to be honest!!!). I spent so many years getting each and every bit of Delhi ingrained in me that even today the mention of the name brings a sudden allegiance towards Delhi as if it is a long lost sibling! And when destiny took me to Mumbai, a city that I had heard so much about but never really wanted to be a part of, I vowed to myself that I will keep that Delhi spirit alive in me. There was no reason to have an aversion to Mumbai other than the obstinate resolve to be addressed as a “Delhite” for life!

And then came the transition phase of my life, when I moved to Mumbai some 30 months ago. There is a compulsion within to keep yourself so fervently attached to your hometown (which for me is Delhi for I have hardly spent any time in my birthplace Chennai). It is an emotion so hard to describe. For one thing, that is where all your roots are – friends, family and so many memories built out of years of growing up. And then you know that, here in this new city, you are an outsider and you always will be. So you want to keep that bond with the city you left alive, just so you have some place that you can call your own. And for that, you keep going back to the memories that you have of Connaught place and Lajpat Nagar where you have spent all your teenage days, even as the memories become thinner and thinner as years progress. After a point of time, you are forced to accept that you have gotten over the obsession of wanting to be referred to as  a “Dilli ki ladki”!

For me that moment of realization happened in the very near past. On my last visit to Delhi, I became aware of the change in me. I don’t speak the same language any more (I have a lot of Mumbaiya slang in my Hindi). I don’t know what restaurants to go to and when people ask me for suggestions my mind keeps going back to Lokhandwala or Colaba or Bandra. I have considerable difficulty in remembering some of the “galli and raste” that used to be at my fingertips. I feel a bit out of place when my friends are talking about a new place that they have been to recently. And above all, I feel like a visitor in the city! I find myself wanting to get back to my life and that life is not in this city anymore!!!

It was unsettling initially to feel so unconnected to Delhi. But it was even more of a shocker to think how less of a time it took me to move from one end to the other of the spectrum! May be, I was not as fixated on Delhi as I thought I was. Or probably, the familiarity that makes one belong somewhere developed between me and Mumbai! Perhaps, I was much better at adapting to a newer territory that I ever imagined myself to be!


  1. Mumbai sabko apna leti hai ;)...probably you wouldn't have adapted so fast in any other city...

  2. Exquisitely written da - and I could very much associate with the "framework" in which one associates with a city: familiarity is definitely one important aspect.

    But then again, as you have rightly pointed out, familiarity itself does not endure, particularly when you take to living in another city for an extended length of time. Since 2007, for example, I have felt that Hyderabad, NOT Chennai, is MY city, for it is here that my adult life's many significant experiences, memories and decisions are moored.

    Thank you for this post - made me reminisce about my own experiences in five cities :)