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February 25, 2017

The Perks Of Starting Over In An Unfamiliar City

Text by Nittal Chandarana

A year of overwhelming changes beats the comfort of routine, even though one existential crisis after another may come knocking at your door

Glass or plastic?” I asked. She pondered, all the while staring at the translucent sugar containers. Such questions were to be contemplated thoroughly before making a decision, for this ‘decision’ would be sitting on the kitchen shelf for the entirety of a year.

“Plastic,” she replied finally. “It doesn’t punish you for clumsiness. Plastic understands.”

Wise words. I nodded and popped it into the overflowing basket that held pillows, kitchen rolls, fairy lights and soft board pins, among other things.One can learn much about a person by looking at their shopping list, and mine described the current situation in clear terms — new (and occasionally broke) student. Conversations that were initially centred around Zara’s latest collection had veered towards grocery lists and durable kitchenware. This was the first in a series of changes facilitated by The Move.

The choice was Leeds, a city in Yorkshire, UK, to break out of the Bombay Bubble. From the chaos of Mumbai to the hushed murmur of Leeds, it wasn’t the smoothest transition to make. Many days, the only sound I heard was the call of the ice cream truck or the chatter of my flatmates hurriedly exchanging pleasantries in Mandarin. Classes were a 20-minute walk away, after breakfast, laundry, vacuuming and a wait for the shared bathroom to be vacant. As the frequency of arriving late for lectures increased, the cleanliness standards dropped. Vacuuming became a weekly affair. Laundry, a fortnightly one. There was no point in buying anything as any new addition to the room contributed to the clutter already present. Fits of ‘Hey, that’s cute!’ were waved goodbye. Minimalism was key to survival.

Then, there were the cultural adjustments. Dreams of being surrounded by the sexy Brit accent were dashed as I realised that Yorkshire had its own sing-song variant. I also realised that the word ‘interesting’ connotated different things in different places. Anything that they found unfavourable or unaligned to what they previously knew was deemed interesting. They are also extremely polite. You can’t tell who’s going to offer you a cup of tea and who’s plotting murder. Sometimes, it could be both.

This sudden drastic change in lifestyle was overwhelming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Somewhere between trying to figure out a routine and shedding nostalgic tears at ‘36 Reasons Why Mumbai Is The Best City In The World’ write-ups, a compromise was struck. It was the best bargain, really. I got a year to try whatever I pleased — kayaking, swing dance, disco skating, Quidditch even. Whatever I earned I spent on travel. That’s another brilliant side effect of moving abroad. An entire new terrain to explore. Trips were made to Prague, Vienna, Dublin, Amsterdam and a whole lot of exciting places. I got to experience Christmas in all its glory, and a mellow Diwali with the ever-increasing Indian population that makes every effort to preserve the culture. There was never a dearth of pies, cookies and crumpets and, strangely, curry. The coastal town of Whitby (also the most English place I visited) bore testimony to this, with a huge board reading ‘Curry Available’ welcoming us to the place.

A year away forces you to embrace solitude and take ownership of your life. It allows you to come into your own, whatever that may be — wild child, traveller, overachiever or nerd. It teaches you that a 3-a.m. existential crisis can be offset by a walk and ice cream session. Delhi Dalliance, Chennai Charm, Ahmedabad Amour or whichever other terrible alliteration you belong to, get away for a year. Travel, by all means. But make an unfamiliar city your own at least once in your lifetime. There’s a special joy in getting integrated into the daily bustle of a new place. An odd appearance at the Tomatina or a fleeting selfie at the Eiffel doesn’t cut it. You belong to the city and the city to you once you are armed with a railway pass, a library card, and the knowledge of which supermarket has a two-for-one deal on Ben & Jerry’s. There’s nothing quite as challenging or gratifying.

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