Torn between being and belonging

Updated: Dec 13, 2019, 06:46 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Even as I think of quitting staying in New Delhi, I end up having zero clarity about where to build my nest

I thought I had made the perfect decision in choosing to be away in November. I felt certain that by the first week of December the AQI levels would have decreased, but every few days there's a spike, and there's really never any promise of respite. Pic/AFP
I thought I had made the perfect decision in choosing to be away in November. I felt certain that by the first week of December the AQI levels would have decreased, but every few days there's a spike, and there's really never any promise of respite. Pic/AFP

Rosalyn D'melloTwo days into my return and my throat is already terribly sore. As we stood in front of the luggage conveyor belt at the New Delhi airport for almost an hour, fingers crossed that our bags made the journey, we were enveloped in smog. Everything felt blurry and out of focus. In the cab, I covered my mouth and nose with my thick scarf, hoping it would protect me from the sudden invasion of pollutants. I could picture my clean lungs getting steadily clogged. The next night I began to feel an ache in my throat, which persists. I tell myself that I need to hold out just another eight days before I take my 27-hour-long train journey to Goa to be reunited with my parents and my sister for Christmas. Hopefully my immune system won't give up on me before then.

As much as I love, absolutely love being back in my apartment; a most wonderful bubble I built for myself and which I share with a friend I love and, now, my partner, I have begun to loathe the culture of inconsideration that has entrenched itself in the city. You would expect a city full of people with considerable wealth to behave better with each other, to care more. It's simple economics, if you own a house and want the property rates to increase so you stand to accumulate long-term gain, you invest in the environment around your asset, you encourage its ecosystem to thrive. But I'm flabbergasted to think of what motive most people might have for owning land or property in the Indian capital when it has already become unliveable.

And those who live in other metropolitan cities in India, who are delighting in the capital's impending downfall, are unable to grasp that unless there is great political will to improve, they will follow in the same footsteps that lead to doom. I wish I were exaggerating. I wish I, too, could be in denial, like the people in power, who actually have the authority to imagine a different future and yet choose not to. What good is any city if you can no longer breathe? If there is no longer even a source of water?

I've been extremely reluctant to buy an air purifier. While I know it's a coping strategy for me, it also feels like a way of normalising the situation. I thought I had made the perfect decision in choosing to be away in November. I felt certain that by the first week of December the AQI levels would have decreased, but every few days there's a spike, and there's really never any promise of respite in the form of rain or winds. And I'm beginning to doubt if I have it in me to continue to struggle to gasp for air. Right now I hear the rumblings of thunder, but I fear we may not get rain. Everything feels somewhat apocalyptic.

I keep flitting between thoughts of calling it quits as far as living in Delhi is concerned. Maybe it's time to finally give up my apartment. Then I spend some time in my kitchen and I start to remember why and how I began to find myself within this domestic space, this apartment within whose walls I asserted my financial and emotional independence. I don't know where I would even begin the project of dissembling my life. Then I strategise moving my things to our home in Goa. I tell myself that, too, is home, and that all my 'stuff', which is so precious to me would remain as souvenirs of the last 10 years of my life. Until soon enough, and to complicate matters more intensely, I see flashes of moments from the last 66 days I spent in Tramin, and how happy I was there, how easy it was to breathe. I am torn between all these sites of being and belonging and I have zero clarity about where to build my nest.

The next few months will be superbly nomadic as I set out to do my research across India and South Asia. I think of November as some sort of cut-off date because that's when I've had to schedule my church marriage, an affair that I'm trying real hard to subvert, because I'm simply unable to see myself walking down an aisle in a white dress. I want it to be a celebration, instead, of new beginnings. In these complex times of aggressive fascism and the continued perpetuation of toxic masculinity I see my commitment to my happiness as radical.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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