A European Lesson

I have been trying rather tirelessly to find the right words and set of instances to describe my recent trip to Paris and Barcelona. Besides the excitement of going to Europe (my first time), of eating food that I have bucket listed for a while now and of truly discovering a culture that I have only admired from a distance, I realise that I have mostly been speechless and just been nodding my head every time someone asks me about it, because it was still sinking in. I think I finally have a lid on it. Just about..

So there were a couple of moments that will remain ingrained in my head forever. There was the sight of Parisians carrying their baguettes home and while that is quite the stereotype, its real and it is extremely endearing. There is the sight of young children left on their own to walk or cycle or ride their scooters as their parents walk close but not in persistent attendance. There was the beautiful sight of streaks of smoke across the skies left behind by jets on clear mornings. Runners spotted all day long no matter where I went and no matter how little the space to run but they were always around, with their entertaining rituals at the traffic signals trying to keep the momentum going as they waited for the traffic to clear. The smell of fresh bread, smiles and real conversations around wherever you look, nobody on their phones and everyone clearly possessed by something so alien to me that it just took a while to be able to become a part of it.

And I guess, therein, lay my real lasting emotion of the trip. I lived it vicariously on those first few days and I understand that there is a romance to a holiday and the unknown and how everyone looks content from a distance and all that jazz. But there was a sense of conformity in their abandon. But as the days went by I figured that this could be me, that all this while this was meant to be me. That I deserved a life that was free, unhinged and completely broken of ritual and consequence. Irrespective of the limitations they may suffer as a people, there was clearly something right about what was being accomplished on a daily note there. Parties in the park, kissing on the trains, music on the streets, art on the sidewalk, bonhomie between strangers, conversations that were full and uninterrupted. The word(s) really was..freedom. In its truest and fullest sense. By the time I reached Barcelona and saw a very different representation of the same, I realised that it was consistent even here. In their post-modern architecture, their heavily individual understanding of the self and possibly an energy that has’t been matched anywhere I have been till now, these historic cities seem to impose a lesson of history on me that I did not expect to be taught. The sense of freedom that these cultures had bestowed upon their people which generations have and will continue to inherit was phenomenal. And seeing it first hand was both liberating and a lesson for me. In all honesty, I did not want to return, not because it seemed like a better life bereft of troubles, but it just felt free and inspiring. Even in the masters who left an imprint on the city like, Gaudi and Picasso, I saw a sense of this very emotion come through in their work. It bounces like a wave across the people and the walls. You feel it and can touch it everyday. You feel it in the food, in the wine, in the dogs on the street, the grass in the parks and the cobbled streets.

Which left me rather broken when I had to leave and pensive on the flight back. I’m sorry that this wasn’t the travelogue you were expecting but we can do that when we meet. This for me was a much larger discovery of myself, my identity and my future. I got back five days ago and I have had much time to think and interpret these feelings and I think I got there at some point this weekend in between conversations with an old friend, the story of a great chef and strangely a moment back in Barcelona where my understanding actually resided..

While on a run in a park in Barcelona one morning, I stopped the run, paused my app and took a breath. I wanted to breath that air in one last time and as I stood there, I thought of the hours we work here in India, the conversations we have, the socialising we call socialising, the expectations we have from life, the pace at which we choose to run, the chapters of life we choose to flip through in the same order and all the frustrations we take to bed every night. For that one moment looking at the world, still, quiet, around me, I realised that I could never leave that behind, that it was a part of me and knowing this other reality would continue to eat at me and tear me apart. And that scared me. Which left me silent all these days, leaving me unprepared and disinterested in narrating any stories, scared of the reminder of the life I saw and cannot have. But when I slowly rewind that back in my head, that moment, the air, the specific thoughts in my head, the lady running with her dog, the kids chasing their father and a couple of tiny dogs running wildly; it triggers something. Something simple..

It could all be here, right now, in this moment as I sit and type this. Hell, it was always here, and it had nothing to do with this country or its people or its culture. Nothing to do with France or Spain or India or its rules or its rituals or its people. It wasn’t in the food or in the air or in the wine or in the parks and dogs and metros and smiles and conversations. It was a part of me that was just shut, closed down to a different reality. I wasn’t just ignorant, I was stubbornly against a different understanding of the world around me. And actually the entire trip wasn’t just me discovering an enchanting new world many miles away from mine, but it was also about discovering a new approach to life right here where I belong.

I may not have those restaurants and parks and street music to enjoy here, but I can be that person here. I can have a new beginning which dictates me to be that person who just felt that anything is possible in life. That ritual, of how life must be led, is pre-defined but I can leave it for the others. That while the air seems cleaner there, it is my head that really needs to think clearly here. And that at no point do I need to be indebted to the life I have been given and that I must always expect more and go in search of it. That my understanding of being alone isn’t to go in search of  solitude but in finding peace in people around me. To not run from possibly bad company, but to meet many people to find a few special ones. There may not be music on the streets here but there are stories in the everyday mad rush that I see and maybe I need to start looking at it and finding and appreciating its rhythm. The food and drink may not be as enchanting anymore but maybe  i’m completely ignoring something here and that maybe it is in making it and being a part of it, that I will re-discover it. There is just so much I had closed my eyes to, I just need to find it and bloody well find a way to be amazed again. Because that’s what this trip was all about really, it was about learning to be amazed. I think I had forgotten how to.

So I now move to a new house, a new reality in my city with changed social dynamics and running routes and most importantly a different meaning to building relationships and maintaining old ones with people and this city. In its essence, I have been set free and I intend to keep it this way and in turn while I may have returned from there, things will never be the same again.

Shit just got interesting..


A European Lesson

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