These days I day-dream a lot. The reason is my decision, rather determination, to move out of Chennai by early next year. So at times, I imagine a 40-year-old me leisurely walking down Brigade Road in Bangalore, window-shopping and looking at pretty faces. Or idling away evenings in Kolkata's Citi Centre, admiring some of the most stunning women on this planet. Or wandering around Connaught Place in Delhi, one of my favourite pastimes that never bores me, running into the gorgeous women I once knew.
It is true that there is more to life than just women. But what is life without them? Life is not a stag party. But the bottomline is, I am currently weighing my options. There is no compelling reason to leave Chennai; in fact I am game for spending another decade here. After all, if anyone ever writes a book titled Madras Made Me, it has to be me. But 10 years, according to me, should be the cut-off point. Anything longer would make me lose the 'outsider' tag, which I so zealously guard.
A human being, on an average, lives for 70 years. The first 20 spent in the home town, and the remaining spent in five different cities, 10 years each. If you still think you have another decade to go, then settle down in one of these cities (better still, a small quiet town, like Aluva in Kerala) or your native town. That, according to me, is life fully lived. Or, as they say, a life well-lived. The air in your retirement home, no matter where you live, will be the sum total of India. India is such a diverse country that you get to see only one colour of the rainbow if you spend your lifetime in one particular city.
However, this is my personal opinion. Others need not agree. My opinion stems from the fact that I was born and raised in the Hindi heartland of Kanpur, which is a big city but where you can't spend your working years if you are into English journalism. If you want to make a career out of English journalism, you have to be in one of the metros.
But even if I was born in Delhi or Kolkata and had an ancestral home there and I took up English journalism as my career, I would have still contemplated changing cities after a while. I am a compulsive traveller: a vagabond. I will always be overpowered by the charms of cities I have not lived in. That's how I am. People look at me in different ways, and most often, they look down. And why not:
I am a Bengali, but I have never lived in Bengal. I was born in Uttar Pradesh, but still not a UP-wallah because my mother-tongue is Bangla. For a long time I worked in Delhi, which is no man's land anyway. And then I moved to Chennai. Whether the man who moved to Chennai was a Bengali or a 'north Indian', I still don't know. And now I have spent 10 years in Chennai, which means I am almost a Madrasi, but I am anything but one. From Chennai, I made countless trips to Kerala, where people very often mistook me for a fellow Malayali and upon discovering that I was not one, would ask where I came from. When I told them I was a Bengali, they gave me an invisible hug and made me feel like one of their own. But that does not make me a Malayali either, and at any rate, not the kind of Bengali that a Malayali in Kerala imagines me to be. So who am I?
Some of my good friends call me rootless. They all hail from Kerala but who live in Chennai to earn a living. They call me rootless because I don't conform to their idea of a Bengali, but that's hardly my fault. I mean, to be very honest, I have watched Pather Panchali as a kid and found it depressing. Since I don't aspire to be a filmmaker, there is no compelling reason for me to go hunting for a DVD or pretend to be ecstatic when someone finds one. I would any day settle for Amar Akbar Anthony or Hum Kisise Kam Nahin. These are movies that make me feel good.
The whole idea of watching a movie is to feel good: the good guys winning and the bad ones licking dust. Don't you find it difficult to change channels when you find the villains being beaten up? You know the end result, yet you want to be part of the process. Having said that, I am a fan of Satayajit Ray myself, but I don't have to like the Apu trilogy in order to be one. My favourites are Nayak, Aranya Din Ratri and Ghare Baire. Ghare Baire holds a special place in my heart because it also has an orchestra-less rendition by Kishore Kumar.
That, by the way, speaks volumes about Kishore's appeal because Ray could have settled for either Hemant Kumar or another 'Bengali' voice. Kishore, even though a Bengali by birth, was essentially a Hindi singer. And yet Ray used him for two landmark songs in two of his landmark movies. It is true that Kishore Kumar contributed to the making of Pather Panchali by chipping in with Rs 5,000, but I will never believe that Ray, a perfectionist to the hilt, would have got Kishore Kumar to sing his songs just to return the favour.
So back to my rootlessness. Who wants to be rooted? I am a wanderer who carries tales to tell. As of now, this wanderer is wondering where to go next. The choice is between Bangalore, Delhi or Kolkata. I need some more day-dreaming to arrive at a decision.