Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Death of Familiarity

“Why don’t we ever learn that all changes of place are for the worse? It’s not love for the place; it’s the familiarity, like old winter clothes.”

- English, August
Upamanyu Chatterjee

How does he start?

It was like being in the presence of an old lover, there was familiarity but also the knowledge that he didn’t belong here anymore, that it belonged or was going to belong to someone else very soon. Yet, everything was there as he had left it, books and papers strewn on the table, the almirah wide open with some leftover clothes, some leftover books and CDs. Even the graffiti on the wall, and the little Mao Zedong mask, hanging rather precariously.

He had only a few hours to himself. His last few hours as the owner of this hostel room, one that he had inhabited for four long years, his territory. He had to check if anything worth of value was still left to be taken away, throw out the remaining garbage and pass on the room possession to the supervisor.

The place almost felt eerie, naked and abandoned. To think that not so long back, this place had been full with conversation, laughter, Floyd and Morrison, was unimaginable. He felt heavy with feeling, something that was hard to explain, even to himself.

How does he start?

He looked into his drawer. It was quite a melange, from everything like newspaper contacts to received rakhis on display. There were also a broken nail-cutter, some shampoo pouches , fee receipts as old as four years and keys for which he had now lost the locks.

He picked up the rakhis; they could not be thrown away like that. The shampoo pouches – they could still be used. And what about the newspaper contacts? Couldn’t they be of use later?

Suddenly, he felt tired, physically and mentally. He closed the drawer and lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Was it possible for him to take away everything? Was it even desirable? Was it correct wanting to create an exact replica of this room, with its drawers, racks and closets, wherever he was headed next? Is it right to carry memory as baggage and not leave behind things knowing that they didn’t belong to you anymore, and indeed weren’t even needed?

With some effort, he got up again and headed for the almirah. It had been wide open for the last couple of years, in the exact position as it was now, owing to his lethargy and near aversion to cleanliness. There were cobwebs and dust all around, and retrieving things felt like digging up stuff from debris. There was not much to take really; the few t-shirts, socks and handkerchiefs littered weren’t fit for public consumption anymore, and he let them remain where they were. There were a few assorted CDs too, perhaps the only thing worth taking away, and he pulled them up.

He felt rather exhausted. There was dust on his hands and his whole body was soaked in sweat. Why, he thought to himself. What’s all this for?

It was over. Whatever remained would be thrown away. He walked to the door and looked at the room one last time. He tried to sum everything up – the room and him, but his thoughts failed him, or his intelligence did. Irritated, he switched off the power, walked out and locked the room.

Ready to walk away, all of a sudden, he felt the urge to see the place once more, now for the last, last time. He opened the door again, switched on the lights and had another look. Unanticipated, a wild surge of emotion ran through him.

Why, why does he even have to leave this place? Why can’t he live here forever? Why do we ever move away? Why do we ever leave our homes?

He felt angry, repulsed – whether by himself or the room, it was hard for him to say. He walked out finally, locked the door and walked away, without looking back, with as much confidence as he could possibly fake.