June 18, 2024

I recently shifted to a new city and have been living out of hotel rooms. I wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught of agonisingly variegated emotions I would encounter while making this crucial change. Having been a proud nomad for most of my adult life, I was under the impression that my earlier experiences of living alone would protect me from feeling unmoored and uncertain all over again. I am way too familiar with the brain fog, and a constant uneasiness in the gut a new place causes. I have done it way too many times to risk it again. And yet, somehow I manage to land in unfamiliar territories.

‘Who in their right mind would leave their cosy house?’, my well-wishers ask me often.

I don’t have a straight answer for this because I don’t know where home is. I wonder if this nomadic lifestyle I have chosen for myself was even a choice. For, there is a difference between being a nomad and being homeless. Nomads carry their culture, cavalcade, and their roots with them wherever they go. Urban shapeshifters like us who dabble in every hip thing — from yoga to social work, or politics — are essentially figuring life out.

A nomad is surefooted on the journey. We, the urban/professional travellers, are at best clueless explorers and at worst chronic escapers — in awe of how the rest of the world simply knows what needs to be done, as if every other entity on this planet came with their own manuals, and you are the only one who seems to have misplaced yours.

The toxic, broken homes we come from left us craving for belonging, validation and more importantly guidance. We obsessively seek out new places, adventures and activities. In this continuous stream of novelty, we want to drown that part of us which wants stability and familiarity.

But novelty too comes at a cost. It’s exciting, but terrifyingly so. In newness, one often experiences existential dread, severe nostalgia for some imagined homeland and an acute fear of failure.

A nomad is surefooted on the journey. We, the urban/professional travellers, are at best clueless explorers and at worst chronic escapers

Thankfully, there is a means that helps you manage these dreadful feelings and it’s called — strangers. People you meet in the new places, their company, their kindness and their going out of their way to guide you make the newness of a new place bearable and even enjoyable. Probably, I hunt for new places because I am hunting for new people.

Growing up is a messy business. When we look back, we see we too have played a major part in a spoilt equation. The journey to healing and attaining self-knowledge is fraught with brutal jolts of clarity about our own behaviour. You learn to hold yourself accountable and examine your actions under a critical and objective lens. You learn to be aware of your toxic patterns and be mindful of not unleashing the worst parts of yourself on others. And strangers somehow give you the opportunity to play out this new person you think you have been carving without any prejudice and preconceived notions about you.

They offer you a level playing ground to test out your humanity and maturity. You can be vulnerable with them the way you can’t with your old friends. You can empathise with them, the way you can’t with your family members. There’s a clean slate on which you get to write your story with these people.

In pop culture, two strangers meet and inevitably fall in love. In reality, most strangers don’t turn lovers. They become great friends, business partners, future employers, your GPS in the desert of newness. But in a way, every encounter with a stranger in a new place contains in it a romantic element. You get to start with them as a brand-new person.

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Published on: Sunday, October 03, 2021, 07:00 AM IST