Sunday, June 23, 2013
Figuring it out, mayte
I believe you only get a new city when you’ve used, and by used I mean really used its public transport. When I look back at the many cities I’ve been fortunate to live in for varying amounts of time, I can associate, with consummate ease, a feeling of belonging with an epiphany in some mode of public transport. There’s nothing profound in this- essentially you’ve figured out how to get along on your own and rub shoulders with the ‘true’ denizens. In Delhi, the ‘I own this city’ started with the feeling of stepping out (alive) of a DTC / Blueline, got reinforced during the rickshaw-bus-bus-Vikram-walk routine of my undergrad internship days and is a pleasant reminder every time I use my metro card in the justified pride of the city. Calcutta had its ‘kauto’ moments in the shared autos to Sakher Bazaar and Dum Dum, in the genteel voice announcing ‘Poroboti station- Robindro Shodon’ and the not-so-genteel haggling with the crooks who pass off as taxi-drivers on why they were not entitled to anything over and above the meter fare when taking you to a metro station in the middle of the day. And while anywhere north of 15 million people would sing peans in praise of those uncomfortable, unfriendly and unsafe Bombay locals, I will take the 2 a.m. occasionally inebriated return drives to Sewri / Bandra in the scrupulously honest black-and-yellow taxis any day and think ‘this is hic my town’.
Similarly, in Singapo-Lah, it was the 2 months of recharging my MRT card and seeing stations in the Circle Line get operational that made the tip of the Malay Peninsula such a familiar corner. And despite my year long Southern Sojourn, I believe I could never really get Chennai because my contributions to the ‘Hello-I-drive-an-auto-I-will-fleece-you’ society were few and far between. This, despite the efforts of the Landmark quiz and one awesome place called Devi Theatre which played host to the Sons of the Soil come alive in the Wasseypur saga and Lefty shouting ‘I love you Katrina’ (or something along similar lines) in a memorable team event.
So it was after almost a month at Brisbane that I started to get that feeling of belongingness. The momentous occasion was a weekend trip to the Gold Coast. The TransLink card was activated, the rail map familiarised and a journey significantly more than the 80-odd kms embarked upon. There have been other significant signposts along the way- the one sensible waitress at the Starbucks opposite the office asks ‘Caramel Machiato?’ when I walk in (she even gets Abhijit’s exacting-by-Australian-standards order right- skimmed milk, no sugar, no foam). I like to think the people at the French bakery which has been serving as my Sunday lunch haunt for consecutive weeks now, reserve their ‘See yous’ (perhaps a literal translation of Au Revior) for me because I always attempt a smattering of ‘Bon Jour’s and ‘Comment ca va’s when there. To top it all, the bouncer at the Drinking Consultants did not ask me for id on my last visit, even though a gregarious soul inside was later to remark- ‘but you look 12’. In fact, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve even found myself answering Queen Street or Brisbane in response to ‘Where do you stay?’
There is, of course, some way to go. The dealers at the Casino don’t go ‘Ah, my friend from India’ yet, the way their counterparts at Singapore used to. And during the aforementioned Gold Coast visit, when one of the drunks suddenly decided to slip down and sprawl himself on the ground as I walked past, it was ‘are you ok, man?’ that I enquired, the ‘mayte’ conspicuously absent.
It has been quite a ride so far though. Highlights have included a Masterchef-esque 12-course meal, which I hope to tell you about later, true realization of Javed Akhtar’s other-worldly description of the under-sea world (Pighle neelam sa behta ye sama… apne hone par mujhko yakeen aa gaya) and a glimpse of what the land of Middle-Earth might be like. Side by side have been the realisaiton that politicians and news channels are cut from very similar cloth everywhere and dogged attempts to figure out the clubs, players and histories of Aussie Rules and the Rugby League.
Overall, it’s been a journey of learning and inspiration and discovery, and as a timeless traveler with a thirst for thought, what more does one want?
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