arrivings

On Bourdain: This is how the world shrinks

My travels taught me how to fall in love with strangers. My backpacks are full of stories—of the stranger who saved us when we were stranded in an asleep village in Hoi An surrounded by wild dogs at midnight; the stranger who held my hand from Thessaloniki to Berlin as my anxiety shot up in the middle of the flight—and then helped pay for my U-bahn when it wouldn't accept cash; the strangers in the hostel in Kathmandu who celebrated my 25th with me (I was otherwise alone); the conductor on the Nottingham-Manchester train who, when Baba couldn't find the 4th ticket, let us go because he connected with the mark on Baba's forehead that signified his own prayer rituals; the bookshop owner in Kolkata who has been sending me love through Baba—never having met me, but suggesting books for me, always in awe of the books on my wishlist.

Over the years, in so many moments of hopelessness, these are the strangers who gave me hope. Helped me unlive the fear of otherness that's instilled in us. And I never got a chance to fully articulate what that's meant to me—until a week ago. In a cover letter for a position to work with Anthony Bourdain's team for EPU. It was one of those foolish ambitions, something I didn't really count on. Then I got a call back for the next step, and yesterday, spent most of the day writing a test for the position. Whenever I felt demotivated because of visa issues, I'd read the cover letter I wrote in the application—and a foolishly excited part of me wondered if Bourdain himself read the letter and my stories about strangers. So silly, I know! But I think that's what happens when you're finally able to share a story you've been wanting to for years, when you're finally able to bring it out of a vacuum — you begin to think in infinites.

It's almost like I can see the stories shrink back to a vacuum, become finite now. And that's how I feel about all the stories that will now remain untold. This isn't just the loss of a person, it's a loss of possibilities — like, someone who could make infinity out of a finite world, someone who had gone on to the other side of fear, when they leave, the world just shrinks.

2018.jpg

Yesterday morning I found an eyelash on my wrist. And instead of making a wish, I reminded myself all that I am thankful for, and that I am proud of myself. It takes a lot to hold yourself together while your entire body is tempted to drown, and no one tells us that enough. At the beginning of this year, I’d wished for resilience, but I didn’t realize that at the heart of resilience is our ability to endure. And that means having to brave storms you didn’t even think could exist. It’s been a year of so much laughter (so much) and losses, endings and incomplete beginnings, fractured friendships and fractured hopes - the entire spectrum of unbelongings. There were times I felt I’d touched the sky, and there were times I struggled to find home - in places as much as in people. But something about being pushed against the wall instead made me feel thankful for all that I have. I think that’s what unbelonging does: unravels you out of your comfortable sadness, and makes you remember the laughter over the losses. And I want to remember how much I laughed. The strangers who gave me home. And how it all taught me that happiness isn’t a choice, gratitude is. Belonging is.

I took this picture sometime in the summer. We came across this piano casually sitting in the middle of Morningside Park with zero fucks to give about how out-of-place it was. And that is my wish for the year ahead: to be at peace even in places and moments of unbelongings. Because if you can unbelong from places and people you once called home, you can make yourself belong in the strangest places too.

So let’s hear it, 2018. Bring me your strangers.