Rosalyn D'Mello: What are you waiting for?
Whether you've had to wait for hours, days or years to get somewhere, what's important is that we are here, at long last
The wait to get to Berlin has felt so enormous that this delay in baggage claim feels inconsequential. Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
I'm mired in three different time zones. My body is still being ruled by the one I was accustomed to, that marked the early morning hour of my departure out of Delhi. Then there was the re-calibration as I entered Gulf territory around 6am, when the Arabs had already begun their Ramadan fast, and my Fitbit is still counting those hours, even though I am, as we speak, hovering over Berlin. I can see spools of water, large suburban clusters, and vast expanses of intervening fields. At some point, in my dreams, my attempt to catch up with time through sleep, I think I fell out of it completely. I was geographically suspended over either Iran or Iraq or perhaps Turkey, so the pilot announced, suggesting our westward movement, though, subconsciously I was still tethered to the fixity of home. As I inch closer to Berlin, the buildings become larger, I can see the steeples of churches, tree-lined pathways, and sinuous roads edged by long, solid buildings capped by extensive red-tiled roofs. The wheels of the aircraft are drawn out, we are about to, no, wait… Touchdown.
The passengers, sensing the aircraft has come to a halt in its allotted zone, have risen to claim baggage, to reconnect their cell phones, search for network. Everyone is recalibrating. Me? I'm sitting in my seat, thankful for the slight delay caused by missing stairs from which we were meant to alight, it must be past 5 pm in India, which means I've passed my deadline to send in my column. I clear immigration surprisingly swiftly. It's never been so easy before. A simple stamp, zero questions. Now I'm waiting for my baggage to emerge, and I've decided to squat on the floor, rest my back against the wall, and finish writing while I wait.
In between intervals of in-flight sleep, I found myself re-reading Geoff Dyer's delicious essay from the signed compilation I chose to carry with me, 'White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World'. In 'Where? What? Where?', his lead essay, he speaks about his time in the Polynesian islands, in search of the painter, Gauguin. "Where do you come from? "Where are you going?" the immigration official at Papeete asks him. "Had he been briefed to ask these questions — the questions posed by Gauguin in his epic painting of 1897, the questions I had come to Tahiti to answer — as part of the centenary celebrations?" Dyer muses.
Later, he speaks about the difference between religious and secular pilgrimage, how the latter always has the potential to disappoint. Much of this month-long trip I've embarked upon has been the consequence of a kind of secular pilgrimage; it's a journey first and foremost to expose myself to as much art as I possibly can, first in Berlin, then at Documenta in Kassel, followed by the brave, though controversial Athens edition, and of course in Paris, and finally in Istanbul, where I am, in fact, staying with an artist. The wait to get to here has felt so enormous that this delay in baggage claim feels inconsequential. "Much geographical time travel is actually a form of time travel," Dyer writes elsewhere, in one of many little passages that I found myself underlining with pencil, because of the deep insight they communicated. The essential questions: 'Why one is here and where one is going' preoccupies Dyer through the essay, until its penultimate conclusion: "We are here to make sure our seatbelts are securely fastened, our tray tables stowed and our seats are in the upright position before takeoff and landing. We are here to go somewhere else."
Being a writer compels you to question the things you would otherwise be persuaded to take for granted. Had I not this pressure of sending this piece of text across, I would have been standing like everyone else, waiting impatiently as I try to spot my suitcase, hoping that it didn't get lost somewhere in transit. I know that it has mainly my clothes. Everything else that I need for my art is with me: my books, my diaries, my Kindle, my laptop.
My friend Mona and I used to envy people who travelled the world for leisure and work. But a few years ago, we became those very people. Now, as I'm on the cusp of 32, I'm grateful for the delay, for all those hierarchies of waiting, because my writerly eye had the opportunity to evolve itself. Because perhaps now, more than ever before, I can persuade you, my reader, to time travel with me. We may or not be here to go somewhere else, as Dyer suggests, but what's more significant, right now, is that we are here, at long last.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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