Monday, April 26, 2010


Sleepless in Singapore

Dusk brings to mind many memories. Dusk was the first Saki story that I read, one that is also synonymous with a bar of soap. Srishti would prefer to call the time Twilight but that is another story, one that does not deserve to share wordspace with Saki. It is usually dusk by the time I leave office, and start the 1.7 km walk to my place. A couple of roads crossed and then the wait for the pedestrian sign to go green. There are people around me, a different set each day, and usually of many nationalities. Generally, I have my earphones plugged in by this time, and curious stares pointed at me indicate that I’ve either started singing too loudly or am too off-key, more often that not, both. The green walking man flashes and we begin the walk, crossing an equally diverse set in the middle.

There’s an uspoken rule that the office is pretty relaxed as far as dress codes go. Even jeans topped with a T-shirt is fine as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence. Yet, despite my hatred of formals and a positive venom for leather shoes, I find myself donning the same everyday. By now, I’m used to it, to the point of being comfortable. I think it’s because the sight of myself decked in business casuals makes me take myself far more seriously than I otherwise would. And so it is in those goody-two-shoes that I continue my walk. There’s the Plaza Singapura on my left- one of the street’s n-malls, and the very convenient MRT station on my right. Lefty the employee gives the two a friendly nod and carries on three blocks away where the current home is.

Entering the building is a different story altogether. As the glass doors slide open and the cool air provides a pleasant change from the generally humid evenings, there is that renewed sense of disbelief that these plush surroundings are where I stay. The same gives way almost mechanically to that of heartfelt gratitude to my very good kind and benevolent employers. Inane activities follow, and its time to plan for dinner.

My 3 weeks in Singapore have been the story of a new citizen and an old tourist- 2 tracks running sometimes parallelly and sometimes interwoven so intricately that it’s impossible to tell one from the other. The guy making a futile attempt to get the creases on the shirt is definitely the citizen. The guy preparing to take the luge ride down the little hills of Sentosa is without doubt the tourist. But what do you call the guy looking with wonder at the manicured lawns, the spotless streets and the buildings, which he doesn’t know will pass Tejo’s high standards of architectural perfection or not? The leather shoes might be replaced by the familiar floaters, the unbecoming trousers by the comfy shorts, but the open mouthed wonder is the same. The new citizen takes the bus to office every morning and feels a sense of belonging to the city every time he uses his MRT card when availing of public transport. The old tourist emerges from the formal attire every afternoon, when the time comes to sample a new cuisine. Mental notes are taken to start a Singapore Food Series on the blog soon, but the new citizen has not succeeded in teaching the old tourist not to procrastinate. The tourist becomes the citizen after a sojourn to any new location, when on returning home, there’s a mental check done to ensure that everything is ready for office the next day. Each day brings greater familiarity with the city that I’m growing to love with each passing moment. There are bus routes that are memorized now, and the people at the food-courts that I frequent give me the kind of smile usually reserved for acquaintances.

The best description that I can give of Singapore after 3 weeks is that it’s a game of Second Life. Everything is just too organized, to the point of being unreal. In an animated discussion, someone said that you don’t even see mosquitoes here, let alone birds of the feathered kind. Clockwork precision is the order of the day, and one wonders who is at the controls. There are no raised voices, no roadside quarrels, not even screaming kids. And if you take the personal experiences out of the equation, everyday is the same. Only the weather seems to relent sometimes, and there are unexpected showers, which cause joy and rancour in equal amount, depending on whether or not the day in question is a weekend.

More than anything else, these 3 weeks have been a tentative foray into the real world. Monica got it right when she said- “It sucks. You’re going to love it.” There was the unforgettable evening when I received my first salary- and the excited pictures taken thereof. There was the delirious call home after I’d walked into the apartment for the first time. There have been hours sitting on the laptop, crunching data and pruning templates, only to be followed by leisurely minutes at the pantry, sampling the latest flavour of ice-cream whlist enjoying the breath-taking view.

And to sum it all up, one thing that these 21 days have done, has been to remind me that perhaps I can no longer put off growing up. Maybe this was the heartbeat that Fred Savage talked about. The day I turned 18, the day I left home for Roorkee, the day Tanvee took her boards, the day some kid called me Uncle, the day I turned 21, the day I got my first job offer, the day we threw Mamma her surprise party and someone said, “ab bachche bade ho gaye”, the day I left Roorkee, the day people started taking my gyaan seriously, the day I got my degree, the day I realized Srishti would soon be off to hostel as well… the indicators had been growing less subtle and more in-your-face by the day but the ostrich in me had refused to take its head out of the familiar sand of my own oasis. But in the end, you realize that you just have to let go sometime, and maybe it took a new citizen and an old tourist to tell me that the time is now. There will always be vestiges that I will hold on to though- I’ve always maintained that I will truly accept growing up only the day Sachin retires and the chocolate brown of my room back home in Noida will always be the sepia of my carefree days. And when nothing else suffices, there will always be albums on the bottom shelf in my room back home and the archives of this blog- my own chronicles of my Wonder Years.

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