I am a third generation city-native on my mother’s side and a fourth generation city-native on my dad’s. All around me are people (including the better half) who are recent immigrants to this city. It bothers me when these new entrants diss my city, and when I was younger, I’d scorn (in my mind, that is, the skies would fall if I could put it into audible words !) at them (including the better half, there, private linen public wash) and tell them (in my mind) to go back to the rural outback they call home. These days I don’t mind. Note that I don’t say I don’t care, but I don’t mind. It still cuts me to the quick when my dirty, big, crowded, polluted city is bad-mouthed by these new comers – I am the only one allowed to diss my city because this polluted city runs in my veins.
I hear all kinds of reasons for people to denigrate my city – that it has no character (people have character, not inanimate places, for god’s sakes), that it is dirty (India is dirty, my friend, my city is no exception), that it is deprave (seriously? Depravity does not exist in your rural home? Wake up and smell the sewer, folks), that people are selfish (please show me a generous non-city dweller), crowded (you immigrated to here, as have countless others, for a reason – a better livelihood) and this is my favourite – city dwellers are emotionless. The last one, in particular, used to get me hopping mad (anger is an emotion too) in the past, now I am more zen about it. I had one particular gentleman tell me that the urban folk lack in finer feelings, heaven knows what that means. I gently asked him to name a single place in the south of India that patronises art the way my city does. He said that by “finer feelings”, he meant romanticism. Just yesterday, I cried at the last scene of “The Englishman who went up the hill and came down a mountain”, weep when I read a well-written sentence, and sob at music- I gave up arguing because it was not worth it.
But this is not what I had wanted to write, although, I obviously get carried away when I talk about my city and my nativeness of it. What I set off writing is that after a really long time, even years, I got to ride our city metro today. My city was the first in the south of the country to get a metro train (“Electric train” it used to be called) that ran between the northern and southern suburbs through what used to be the centre of the city. Although the electric train was widely used by the native city dwellers when I was a kid, I never got to using it too often. My mother’s cousin lived in a place that used to be “suburbs”, but is now part of the main sprawling city, and every summer, we’d make a one day trip to their house. We’d walk up to the railway station, which was a fifteen-minute walk away from my parents’ house, take the train to our destination, and take a public bus from the station to the relative’s house. I didn’t quite like the relatives – I was a bit scared of them because they seemed to fight a lot, but I would look forward to the trip just for the electric train ride.
In the past two decades, more metro trains have been added to my city, to connect other parts of it. There is one particular route that goes past where I live now to the place that I was born and spent my early childhood. Our ancestral house was sold years ago, and I have found not many reasons to visit there, except for my favourite temple there. My father, however, is honorary director of a local small bank because the directorship has run in the family – my grandfather and his father were honorary directors before him. So, I have a largely passive account in the bank, which needs activation at least once a year. Today was the day I chose to activate my account and this took me on the metro. The entire trip took three hours, but it was three hours of complete zen. Time slowed down, as I took in the sights of my city, feeling it in my bones as the crowded city passed me by in its various shades and hues, and in my childhood favourite temple, which always brings me a sense of calm. To top it off, the bank people treated me like royalty because I am the daughter of their venerable director and all that, to the point of me wanting to sink into the floor, but truth be told, I did feel happy.
Every time I take the metro, I come back feeling tranquil (finer feelings there, my friend) and decide that this must become at least a monthly routine, to take the metro around my city. As I did today. But I suspect I would take the metro again next year, to activate my account and decide again to make this a habit.