I have a theory that I leave a little piece of my heart in every place I have ever lived – there is a sizable chunk which lives in Indore, a big piece resides in Pune, a couple of fragments in Goa and Nagpur, and most recently, a pretty significant portion in NYC. It makes for a pretty picture – a heart in pieces which span cities, countries, even continents … almost like non-creepy Horcruxes: neither deliberate, nor for immortality – these ensure that I am home no matter where I go.
Most often, this love is not for the city itself, but for the people and memories I have associated with those places. I love Indore, not for the Rajwada palace or chappan dukan, but because it’s where all my childhood memories are. Indore is home because of my people – my parents, my brother, my very first friends. I miss Indore for my alma mater – the school halls I walked for twelve years straight. I miss playing hide-and-seek with my friends and always, always hiding ‘out-of-boundary’. I miss Indore for the millions of evening strolls with my BFF, walking arm-in-arm, sharing gossip and secrets of the utmost importance, growing up together and finding our places in the world. She doesn’t live in Indore any more, and neither do I … but in my mind, Indore is where the Pooja-Varsha covalent bond lives and flourishes still; the ghosts of two little girls giggling and wheeling their bicycles along will forever haunt those streets. Oh yes, Indore certainly has a piece of my heart.
Pune is special to me because that was the first time I lived away from my parents, and made a new home. This is where I made friends who are now family. I miss Pune for my Biology professors, for the inedible food in the mess which unified one and all, for those late nights and early mornings, for the trips we took and the hills we climbed. I miss Pune for the long study sessions and even longer chai sessions in the garden. I miss the version of myself that I was in Pune – I look back upon her fondly sometimes, like some sort of younger sister I had. Pune for me is a picnic basket full of memories and experiences, of laughter and tears and teasing banter.
But my love for New York is a lot more intense – it’s not a warm familial feeling, but a fiercely intense sort of passion. I love my people here – an eclectic medley of people from all different walks of life I would never have met otherwise. I cherish the independence I have here, it’s a whole different level of independence than what I had in Pune. No, this is not the first time I am living away from home – but here I am completely on my own, the training wheels I had in Pune are off, and I am carving out my own niche. I love the skyscrapers and the bright lights, I adore the museums and parks, the book stores and stationery shops, and the sheer variability in weather around the year.
In spite of all that, I find myself taking NYC for granted at times – like we often do to things which have been ours for a while. I get caught up in my daily routine and chores, and find myself lulled into complacency – but existing in a three-block radius does not do justice to the city. NYC has so much more to offer, and if I ever forget, she will walk right up to me in her sparkling stilettos and remind me, raising an eyebrow at my very audacity. In the middle of wondering if I need to buy milk, I will find myself walking through glittery streets in midtown, or finding a new subway station (I can NOT stop gushing about how much I love having a stop so close!), or catching a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge – and I am hit with a swell of emotion, a kind of pride and heart-stopping awe. What a marvel, what a sight! Where else can you saunter off to buy prettier shower curtains on a whim at midnight, or grab a slice of pizza at 4 a.m. just because? At the end of a regular day, I will be trudging home from work, tired and weary, only to stop and stare because it has just rained, and the streets have been swept clean, and are reflecting the sparkly glow from the street lamps, headlights of cars and leftover Christmas decorations, and at that moment, life shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. Such a magical alignment of phenomena, atmospheric and man-made, colliding together in harmony, creating this moment in time… yes, NYC has a big, big chunk of my heart. No matter how much I miss open spaces, and the ability to see stars at night. No matter how many ambulance sirens I hear (to be honest, I don’t even register them any more – living next to three hospitals will do that to you). No matter how small my apartment is, or how unreasonably high the rent is.
The real intensity of my feelings becomes clear the moment an outsider criticizes the city. I get riled up the moment someone’s opinion of New York is less that incredible, and it’s a very primal instinctive response – New York is MINE. Mine to love, mine to hate, mine to complain about. I am happy to hear people rave about it, but the moment they say it’s too dirty, or crowded or ‘just like Bombay’ – I will fight you tooth and nail no matter how irrational it may be. True love is irrational that way… I don’t need a reason to defend my beloved city. If you are an outsider, and don’t like it, kindly stay outside and keep your criticism to yourself. My city, all mine! My love of NYC supersedes my love for the people, the buildings, the Broadway shows – somehow it’s more than the sum of its parts, something more intangible than ever.
After twenty three years of calling myself a small town girl, it didn’t even take twenty three hours to morph into someone who adores the big city, and wants to be mistaken for a local. Someday I will leave Manhattan, but this love affair will always be something special. It’s even more special because it’s transient. I’ve always rolled my eyes at the clichéd I ♥ NY T-shirts, because somehow that isn’t nearly enough to encompass how I feel, and besides, they are so very touristy! But then again, maybe there isn’t a better way to explain it. And maybe being a tourist is a good thing, because they are the ones who gawk at every new building, every street sign, live (and live-stream) every single moment in the city. There’s a balance between being a local who can swipe their subway card without breaking stride, walk super fast, and automatically hold one’s breath while walking past the garbage piles, avoiding the drip-drip-drip from the air conditioners and jaywalking expertly… there’s a balance between that and the wide-eyed tourist who stops to appreciate all the sights. Maybe the only way to explain that, explain this whole ramble of a blog post is a simple heartfelt phrase: I ♥ NY.