August 8, 2009

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now
My house in Bombay is in the centre of action with a children’s garden, wedding hall and some popular south Indian restaurants in the neighbourhood. Unsurprisingly, for a city that never sleeps, there is never any time when there is no traffic and no noise. Even at 1 am I could walk down 20 steps to find the road side pau bhaji wala and juice centres; all doing roaring business and buzzing with people, energy and activity. Dadar station is the closest “fast” station on the western line to my house. There would be very few places in the world as crowded and chaotic as Dadar station. People visiting Bombay for the first time tend to get overwhelmed at the sight of the crowds running like their life depends on the last local; particularly at the big stations like Churchgate, VT, Dadar, etc. For Bombaites it’s a way of life – we know it no other way. Most of us have taken the last train home and also spent times painting the town red till 6 am such that we reach home when the doodhwala arrives.
So when I got to Shanghai and realized I could live on either side of the river – Puxi, which in energy and spirit reminds me of Bombay or Pudong, which is the quieter commercial and residential area; i surprised myself by choosing to live in Pudong. Not because I wanted to be close to work (as I travel 45 mins to work one way) but because I wanted to experience what one rarely gets in Bombay – SOLITUDE! I live in an area called Jinqiao which seems completely surreal to me – my building apartment stands in the middle of long alleys with trees on both sides; shops are so in descript one would barely notice them and though there are lot of people who live here, one never gets to see them. There is a Carrefour and community centre at a 10 minute walking distance – this place is frequented by people of so many different nationalities – it seems like a complete melting pot where the world has come together. It’s a congregation of a different kind and seems quite unreal.
A friend from Puxi recently visited me and she was so shocked at the tranquillity and stillness of the surroundings. She asked me how come I don’t feel scared living alone in such a quiet area. That’s when I realized that though initially the solitude had seemed very new to me; I had come to embrace it and like it in more ways than one. There are no screeching, honking, music blasting cars here. I have neighbours but never feel their presence. Of course there is no shaadi ka band bajaa which I am so used to (since I have a marriage hall right next to my house back home). The only time I remember hearing sound in my surroundings was when the Chinese New Year was being celebrated with fireworks. Otherwise the serenity and calmness is lovely – it’s quite something to be able to hear the sound of rain with no other sounds to dilute the effect. I wish I could walk into my balcony and have a sea or beach view – what I have instead is an artificial lake and villas for a view. This quietude has had amazing effect on me; making me reflect, introspect and even change a lot. I am getting so used to this that today when I speak to family and friends back home and can hear the loud traffic in the back ground, I find that disturbing enough for me to tell them to speak to me when they are in a quieter place. Truly such peace and quiet is difficult (and expensive) to get in Bombay – and that makes me value this even more!