Who would I be if I lived elsewhere?
Who will we be if we live here? Who will we be if we live?
Last week I moved house. As we stood in the empty house waiting for our nice landlady, a man with a mini truck came to move the last piece of furniture in the house. The last time I had hired his services, it was to move a piece of furniture from my friend’s house to mine.
It was February. She was packing to move to Singapore. Her mother had come to Bengaluru to help. There had been a wedding in the family. I had loaned my friend a sari. Her young cousin dropped by. I ate many things. I was sent home with many more things. I scolded my friend for leaving. At some point I was even very helpful, packing my friend’s collection of bags for all of 5 minutes.
We were disorganized and slow in dismantling the furniture so this man from the mini truck app became most un-app like, had tea, hung out and cheerfully waited till we got our act together. I was struck by his looks, his dramatic Tamil name and his unflappable personality so I saved his number.
Now here we werein August. My friend has been stuck in Ranchi for months, far away from her husband, unable to get to Singapore. I was unexpectedly leaving the house I lived in. This house that I lived in, it’s the longest I have lived in any house as an adult. It’s nearly the longest I have lived anywhere. I loved my neighbourhood, my many friends and acquaintances here, the children’s book store, the fruit shop and the Malayali-owned store we are convinced is the model for Danish Sait’s Family Supermarket. And there I was, leaving without saying bye properly, or at all in some cases. In the week since I moved, I have had mild worries that someone will say, I am sending over bread or samosas or biryani and I will have to say, “Oh, I can’t believe I forgot to say I moved." (It would only be mildly better than arriving at my friend Aneela’s house last summer and then realizing I had forgotten to tell her I had had a second child.)
Who would I be, if I lived here? Who would I be, if I lived there? It’s a game I have played with myself all my life. Hyderabad looks wonderful, Chennai is so sophisticated, Kochi is so beautiful, I enthused after every short trip. At the height of absurdity, I interrogated a blond Australian giant in a Norwegian husky farm hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic circle about what it was like to live there. In that moment, I told myself I too could become someone who buys baby carrots as a bus-ride snack, carries skis in the boot of my car, jogs in the dark and has a beautiful tea light in every window. The reality, of course, is that I hate moving and in the old days would resist putting up curtains and buying new SIM cards, spiting myself for having moved.
This time I didn’t play that game. On moving day, I watched movers throw every last speck in my house into boxes, from a literal and metaphorical arm’s length. It was strange not to worry that they would break my many, many cheap and tacky dolls. I had apparently been collecting, who knew. I had lived here long enough to collect something other than books. Even curtains.
As I stood in the freshly cleaned and empty apartment, waiting to hand over the keys to my landlady, the mini-truck driver from February came in. It was like those dreams in which someone you love doesn’t recognize you. It was him. His face was as striking as I remembered but gone was the ease and the smile and the air of having all day to get your ridiculous little object to its new home. And it was at this point that the sadness about moving hit me.
I could never ask him what had happened to him in the months since February. Who or what he had lost in this time. What he had learnt about the world or himself. He swiftly took the bed I had gotten made in Amar Colony in Delhi to a friend in suburban Bengaluru who had a big enough bedroom for it. We came to our new house and looked out of its many curtainless windows. Who will we be if we live here? Who will we be if we live?
Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger. Her first book of fiction, The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook And Other Stories, released last month.