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🍺 Tale of one city

Sunday Slant
🍺 Tale of one city
By Sumeru Raut • Issue #51 • View online
The urge to not open this email… Welcome to Sunday Slant.

Dear friend
I’m writing from a secluded beach town on the western coast of India. I hear a train in the distance and a faint sound of crashing waves on the shore. I’m sitting amidst palm and bamboo trees that are lush and green. The coconut trees are towering over everything. It is 7:35am and a lovely morning.
I drove here with my wife in a shiny old car—our new car. It is the furthest I’ve ever driven. 12 hours. We left at a groggy 5am. An hour into the drive, I found myself sitting upright in my seat, leaning towards the steering wheel, eyes peeled for potholes and zipping lorries, asking my wife to verify our route every now and then despite having it up on my phone. At a quiet stretch she asked me, “Are you stressed?”. I didn’t realise I was. “Yeah, I’m nervous”, I said. “You’re doing a good job”, she said. I didn’t like knowing that I needed that encouragement. So I felt both better and worse at the same time. It was a smooth ride thereafter.
I’ve been in India for nearly four weeks now. I didn’t mention this in my previous newsletters because… I didn’t want to. It is challenging to reveal only what I want to, when I want to, and how I want to. Despite the fact that these weekly emails make me seem like a very open person, I’m not. I want to be open and vulnerable in my writing, which has very little to do with minutiae of where I am and what I ate for dinner.
I spent most of the past four weeks in Bangalore, and a majority of the time quarantining; first, a self-imposed quarantine after international travel, then a week-long quarantine after contracting Covid. It was expensive and not fun. I was in B’lore primarily to meet my grandmother. I hadn’t seen her in two years. Through the pandemic, we lived in different cities. I had to make the difficult choice of not seeing her before I left the country in May 2021, because flying domestically right after the delta wave meant jeopardising an international trip. So I was very keen to see her. She has been a huge influence on me and I have had a very strong relationship with her for all my life, 35 years.
It was difficult to see her. She has deteriorated. She is a different person from who she was when I saw her last in 2020. Old age has caught up with her and I didn’t get to witness it closely, like other family members did. So I was mostly in shock when I first saw her. From having seen her be the life of any party, any function, any get-together, I had to watch her forget what she was saying midway and repeat herself every ten minutes.
In my desperate attempt to reach out to her, I started singing (songs that she would ask me to sing through my teenage years and my twenties, often in front of guests and family friends). And magically, she settled back and seemed to enjoy it calmly, while looking into the distance, as if she were listening to it on the radio. I fought tears and restarted many times. Seeing her in this condition was an intense experience. I never imagined that my grandmother would have any sort of mental deterioration, in part because I believed her every time she took pride in ‘how healthy she still was at 80’ and in part because I love her so much and you don’t think bad things happen to people you love. Old age is coming and it is going to get every single one of us. One must try to be graceful when one can. The joy on her face every time she saw me and mentioned my name as if she were seeing me for the first time, every ten minutes, will be etched permanently in my memory.
***
Bangalore was my abode off and on from 2005 to 2018. I left in 2019. I had a rush of feelings as I returned to the city after two years. As we turned to Infantry road from Raj Bhavan road, my wife—whom I met in Bangalore, five years ago—was the first to say it, “Bangalore has such a charm man.” As someone who had chosen Bangalore over and over for years, I agreed wholeheartedly. I love the city.
We both had a moment where we looked at each other quizzically, eyebrows raised, as if we were asking one another—are we thinking of moving back here? But the moment was short lived. By the end of our three weeks I remembered why we had not only moved out of the city, but also moved on from it. Barring a few people and a few quintessential Bangalore things—that could be counted on one hand—the city had nothing new to offer. Same old prejudices, same old topics, same old conversations. Same old same old. I observed how some of my relationships had blossomed and grown deeper despite the distance and time, while some others had stagnated and hit a dead end.
The only thing ‘new’ the city had to offer seemed to be its burgeoning metro construction, its infrastructure, its upmteenth startup and ‘Indiranagarification’ of the entire city, which the localite seems to be very proud of—“now our area also has pubs and a branch of xyz eatery, just like Indiranagar. Sakkat aagbitide nam area.” The middle-class getting affluent in an Indian city means we want to replicate New York in our backyard, starting with some tacky version of it. I never missed any of that in the first place. I took my cynicism as a sign that I was getting older, and kept my judgements to myself (…up until now). We cut our trip short from a week to four days and dashed out of the city, fearing among other things, a ‘weekend curfew’ that could possibly lock us in.
As I drove onto NICE road and out of the city, I bid my final goodbye. I wonder if I truly miss Bangalore, or if I miss the idea of myself in the city. Maybe I will be back. Maybe I’ll have it, in small doses. For now, it’s a closed chapter. My love for Bangalore as a child hinged on the fact that my grandmother promoted it endlessly, and that I visited it every summer creating some of my most beautiful childhood memories. With her health on the decline, it seems fitting that the city, too, doesn’t hold the charm for me it once did.
Chatnipudi on prawns may be nice.
Chatnipudi on prawns may be nice.
We’ll be living in India for now. We are excited to start this new chapter of our life. Hopefully we settle in this coastal town. I hope to find my tribe here. I don’t know where I belong. I (almost) grew up in two cities, in a bilingual home speaking Kannada and Marathi. I never chose to belong to any one place, even when everyone around me—often unknowingly—forced me to pick an identity. I reveled in the fluidity of it all. I still do.
I don’t know if I want to belong anywhere other than to myself. (That sounds like 100% woo-woo). Wanting to ‘belong to myself’ and also ‘wanting to find my tribe’ sounds contradictory. This place draws a lot of people like me. People who are independent-minded and want to live life on their own terms. People who are not motivated by a rat race to an imaginary finish line. People who are very humble and amazi—you get the idea.
It has been a difficult two years without being part of a community. I spent the last three years learning to close myself off to everything I didn’t want in my life. I learnt to say no. After a lot of effort, I am finally accepting myself for who I am. I am now ready to welcome others into my life.
🇮🇳 Happy Republic Day.
I’ll see you soon,
-Sumeru
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Sumeru Raut

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