It is nearing two months since I’ve started staying in Delhi. Nearly three since I’ve left home and all that was familiar. There’s a saying, ‘absence makes your heart grow fonder’. I don’t know about others, but today I can say for me, this is absolutely true. Family has always been a constant for me. People who have always been there – guiding, helping and in the case of my brother, disrupting (not that it makes me love him any less). I miss them all – the lengthy discussions with Ma over everything and anything, the constant fights with bhai, and all his weird takes on everything – from population to warfare. Previously Baba’s return from his trips would be something I would look forward to; now we jointly plan on when we can both be at home. It is the small things that suddenly start mattering – from getting your medicines yourself when you are ill (Ma, see I have grown up so much) to fixing your own lampshade (Bhai, it’s not that difficult a task especially with the undue advantage you already have with your height). I even miss Dida’s constant chattering (be it while I am watching a nail-biting match-ending or while we are at the theater and people keep giving us annoyed looks). I miss my friends. Some of them are still in Kolkata, others spread all over India and some almost half-a-world away from me. In spite of all the added advantages of today’s technologically advanced world, they all still seem so very far away.
As individuals, we all have so many dreams. Often, contrasting ones. I dream of seeing the world, of travelling near and far. I also want to stay close to all the people I love. I want to experience life in rural India, and I also love the material comforts only a city-life can provide (at least some of them). It’s no wonder my poor brain is so confused nowadays (because as bhai says, “your heart is just there pumping blood, it’s your brain that feels” (and then typically rolls his eyes at how ignorant and foolish I am).
When I had finally decided to join the fellowship, there was a sense of excitement, maybe with a tinge of anxiety. It was a new beginning, in a field which I didn’t really know much about. It was with a completely new set of people. I am by nature someone who takes time to open up and be comfortable with strangers. As a result, most of my friendships till date have been with people who have come across and said, “Hi” (yes, I am that easy). So, interacting with a group of strangers is always a struggle for me. Maybe to a large extent, this journey has also subconsciously been about pushing my boundaries; about challenging myself at every step. I would like to think I have improved in this context – be it entering a random house in an unknown locality and chatting up people to consciously approaching people at office and striking up conversations. The last three months has definitely made me do things I would probably hesitate in doing. That is not to say, that I don’t hesitate now. I do, just maybe a little lesser.
Staying in a city like Delhi on a shoe-string budget is not easy. Though, the definition of a shoe-string budget differs from people to people. While I bemoan my lowly stipend for my individual sustenance, there are people staying in the same city running a family of six with the same salary (as I discovered while talking with a fellow commuter on my daily bus ride). In instances like this, you start feeling guilty for cribbing about your low stipend (and like most people, I don’t particularly relish feeling guilty). In between all these you throw in field visits to slums. Related tidbit here, before this, with the exception of a few hours at a slum in Udaipur, I’ve never been to a slum. The extremely poor sanitation facilities, the matchstick houses one-on-other, the smell and feel, families of seven to eight sharing a single room; currently, I am exploring the entire spectrum of my emotions (exploring does sound a lot fancy; usually I oscillate from one extreme to the other).
As someone once told me, ‘Life is the greatest teacher’. You learn something or the other no matter where you are and what you are doing. I am learning and unlearning and relearning now – mostly about myself and the way I view this world.