Issue 14, Poco Bear Letter #4: On New Cities

To One Poco Bear,

 

I have been waking up to a new city for more than three months now. Waking up in a new room to a new view and taking a new route to a new university. That’s a lot of ‘new’s for this old city.

I’d like to say that being in a place so removed from everything you know is some sort of profound experience that has changed me completely etc, but it’s mostly just the same old me trying to figure out where to get yellow tube lights and how not to burn the phodni for my bhaji. No one really told me how much of moving to a new place is just figuring out all of this mundane stuff. Navigating a new place gives you so many insights about your old life. You realise how steeped in familiarity it was. In your old life, you knew exactly where to go to get stationery or bananas or dosa; where to go when you needed your two-wheeler fixed; whom to call when your bulb went out. And you could count on language and familiar people to tell you when you didn’t know.

All that completely disappears in a new place. Its idiosyncrasies are actual idiosyncrasies as opposed to just being how-it-is. They confuse you and leave you unsure making your social interactions difficult and leaving you with a constant unshakeable feeling that you are being conned. The smallest things seem like much bigger tasks than they are in a new city. It takes months to get close to familiar with it all.

But in the process, there is something beautiful. It’s been described by a lot of people often enough. But there is something new to it with everyone and their own personal circumstances and experiences: where they come from and where they are. It’s experiencing survival in a way most people cannot imagine in the comfort of their homes (some can, of course). It is both control and its lack, it is independence and extreme dependence. It is undoing some of your privilege (for some), it’s making meaningful connections with the people you live with, who aren’t obligated to you by relation, it is learning to ask for help—frequently and in a big way. Then there is, of course, discovering the new city and its little and big things.

Discovering little bits of a new city is something I’ve always loved doing: hungrily eating up its sights and sounds, and hearing its stories. Every time I’ve travelled to a new place, I’ve wished that I could spend more time there to really “get to know” it. And here I am spending two years in a city I’ve now grown quite fond of. I remember reading Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities at the start of the year for a presentation in class. I found this city in all of his imagined, fantastic cities. I found it in Zaira when Kublai says, “A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” Or in Maurilia, when he says, “…admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old post cards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one’s eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.” I started finding this city in a lot of other things: in my old city, in people’s mannerisms, in food, in spirit. I can feel it slowly taking shape inside me and slowly shaping me in turn. I can even think of a future where I will be looking back on my time here.

What’s truly very pocobear is that you are also discovering your own new city. You are slowly navigating what it means to live there, to learn there and to meet people there. We’re both learning in classrooms and new cities. We’re also  learning to let go of familiarity or at least to not fall back on it, simply because we don’t have the option to. As we struggle to find our place, we keep falling back to each other to provide some context for it all, and keep helping each other map and remap ourselves and everything we experience. So in all the ways it really counts, some familiar aspects never leave. They stay and make this new unfamiliarity infinitely more fun. Despite us being in radically new environments, in every other way, it’s still just us reading books and working on our issues. We just happen to be in a different place. So as usual, wishing you more power and witchy magic as a reader, student and everything else, my friend.

 

From

Another Poco Bear

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WRITTEN BY TANVI JOSHI

Illustration by Mavni

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