Find it in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One exceptionally hot afternoon, The Delhi Walla was walking down an empty street in Lajpat Nagar. No one dared venture into the heat.
The sweat formed on my head, trickled down under my T-shirt, and soaked my jeans. I walked and walked and walked and walked. The whole Lajpat Nagar seemed to be a room of my own.
However, who needs a heat wave to discover one’s aloneness in this city where everyone looks at you but no, nobody actually looks at you. Here we have crowd, but no people; noise, but no conversation.
I like it this way. Big, big cities let you be You. Unknown and anonymous. We are reduced to a single-digit number in a statistic of thirteen million.
Pity those who flee the city to seek seclusion. These honest, hardworking Delhiwallas patiently wait for the weekend, brave a Friday evening jam to Delhi railway station, and spend a night rattling in Ranikhet Express.
In Kathgodam, they hire a cab to Nainital where they flee from fellow Delhiwallas (there are many of them during weekends) by clambering higher towards the mountaintops. Once there —jungle, stream, cold wind et al, they try spotting a bird called solitude.
By Sunday night, our solitude seekers are back in their suburban apartments in Dwarka and Vasundhra. By Monday morning, the poor dears are back struggling with office politics in the high-rises of Nehru Place or Connaught Place, Gurgaon or Greater Noida.
My quest for privacy in a crowded world, however, does not pass through hill-stations like Nainital, Mussoorie or Simla. Neither do I go to Lodhi Garden to have an urban communion with the trimmed and pruned nature. I instead wade deep into the heart of crowded, smoggy Delhi.
I board a Delhi Transport Corporation bus, claim a window seat, switch off the mobile, open a book, sit back and relax.
The bus could be passing through any locality in Delhi but after a point, the book, the views outside, the people inside, the heat, the noise, nothing matters. The ride lifts me to a state of emotional isolation.
Professional rivalries, Facebook messages, car loans, romantic disappointments, mobile phone bills, familial commitments grow distant.
There are other ways of finding solitude, too. American writer Sue Halpern in her book Migrations to Solitude wrote: Place is of consequence only to the extent that it encourages or demands the confrontation of the self by the self, which is solitude’s true vocation.
A few days ago, in my office, I walked past a small conference room. No one was in. The afternoon sunrays slanted through the thick curtains down onto the tiled floor. I quietly sneaked in, sat on the revolving chair, closed my eyes and, once again, spotted that bird called solitude.
Solitude in the city