I distinctly remember the day before I left Bangalore for Berlin. For months I had been extremely excited about the move, fantasising about living alone, far from everything and everyone I’d acquainted myself with over the last couple of decades in India. But on the night before I was to leave, sitting on cement steps that I’d come to know so well over the last couple years outside a Juice Junction in JP Nagar and eating a slightly too spicy mushroom roll, I broke down wholly and completely. Suddenly I was unsure of everything. I felt as if in my excitement at the prospect of moving to Europe, I’d failed to look at the picture in its entirety. It hit me that in the almost six years that I’d been living in Bangalore by then (the longest I’ve ever lived in one place), I’d unconsciously come to regard the city as some kind of a “home” figure. And now, I was suddenly very anxious about the idea of leaving home.
My instant reaction was to text a friend that I always turned to in times like these. His exact words were, “I know there’s nothing I can say to magically make this anxiety go away, so I’m not going to try to fix it. But it’s good that you’re feeling that way. Leaving “home” is an intense experience that changes who you are.”
I believe that most of us are searching for happiness. Or rather, we’re living in constant fear of missing out on happiness. And so, whenever we experience an emotion that could be described as negative, we tend to resist it or even reverse it by running back to the safety of our comfort zones. But I think there’s a lot to be gained by letting go of the resistance, accepting the feeling for what it is and pushing forward with whatever the original plan was.
The possible experience of anxiety when you’re leaving home is a good example. Having moved around India practically all my life, I guess it took the notion of moving a continent away for that feeling to hit me. But it could be different for different people. For somebody that has lived in the same house all their life, gone to school and grown up with the same set of friends since childhood, or woken up to the sound of their parents discussing the previous day’s events over coffee every morning, even the prospect of moving to a different city in the same state for work or university could seem rather overwhelming.
In the three years that I lived by myself in Bangalore, my roommates changed a lot. Every new roommate brought with them a new story and I’ve shared my living space with several people who had left home for the first time in their lives. Some of them often returned home rather quickly, probably because they weren’t comfortable enough yet with the idea of living by themselves. But many stayed on for long periods. And it was always rather extraordinary to watch these women settle down over time and transform a great deal in the process.
The first few weeks always seemed to be packed with a great deal of nervousness – in terms of understanding the way the city worked, understanding the public transport system, getting to work or college on time, coming back home only to be faced with roommates who were still absolute strangers, and then sharing kitchens, bathrooms and maybe even bedrooms with these strangers. Frequent video calls would be made to worried parents back home and there was always an underlying tone of nervous excitability in all their voices.
But within a few months, the signs of change would begin appearing. Voices would become less tremulous, opinions would become more assertive and laughter would become more comfortable. New friends would be invited over, roommates would turn into confidantes, meals would be cooked together and “Bangalore traffic jams” would be discussed with a fond annoyance, as if they’d always been a part of our lives. Calls would still be made to family and old friends, but the wishful wistful tones from the early days, reflective of an underlying desire to return to the things that they already knew well, would have suddenly vanished. Perhaps when the haze of anxiety clears, the possibilities that accompany a newfound independence are more easily visible. Whatever the case, they had managed to step out of their comfort zones, adjust to and accept new circumstances, and begun to grow further as individuals. For my part, I was always a very willing witness to their transformation, as the city of Berlin and its people currently are to mine.
I’m really liking life right now. I love my work, I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of learning a European language by actually talking to locals, I’m learning a lot from interacting with people from all over the world and my travels around Europe are almost always overwhelmingly inspiring. All that said, I do miss home. And not just when it’s minus seven degrees outside and there’s nothing to do but sit indoors and seek warmth in the mental images of a blistering Indian summer.
Even on the best days, when bright and warm weekend sunrays are streaming through my kitchen window and I can hear the energetic anticipation of spring in the voices of people outside, I sometimes think about what might be happening at that exact moment in Cubbon Park. Or I think about what my parents might be talking about over a piping hot meal of rice and rasam, or which highway out of Bangalore my friends might hit on their next bike ride and then my chest feels strangely heavy. Nostalgia might be a fitting term for the whole scene. But then I think about what my friend texted me that night when I was embarrassing myself royally outside Juice Junction and soaking a mushroom roll with my tears, and every time I think about those words, everything that’s happening seems to make just a little more sense.