It’s been a few days over a month since I moved into my new place. It’s a tiny flat – just enough for one, barely enough for two, and super crowded for three. But given the size of the city and the fact that 1% of the country’s population lives here, the kind of flat I live in usually houses a nuclear family with in-laws.
The kind of space utilisation I get to see here is insane – 100 storey high buildings are continued to be built upon, old structures are being disassembled to construct new ones, vehicles congest the roads in spite of having a fully functioning, efficient public transport system, and the only free open space you’re going to regularly see is the space between two railway tracks. Put your foot down and you’re probably going to step on another person’s foot.
A month in, and I’m slowly getting used to the number of people at every turn – the place is teeming with people, to the point where one becomes apathetic to the life or plight of other fellow humans. If you want to know the best way to lose all sensitivity towards something, it’s to surround yourself with so much of it at all times. And this, I’ve realised, is true of people, too.
Two drunk people were fighting at the station platform – and by fighting, I mean one person drunkenly (and violently) plummeted the other person, who was passed out drunk and not conscious enough to protect himself from the blows, let alone fight back. And people around them just… watched, with a look of familiarity and nonchalance on their faces, making it clear just how common the sight was. Finally, two older men stepped it and dragged the barely standing man off the unconscious one, but more disturbing than the fight was how casually people took it. Having lived in a city previously didn’t make me averse to violence, but having been used to a certain amount of concern and a more empathetic response from the crowds back home, this just made me… Numb.
But empathy, as I’ve come to learn, is a very precious commodity here, since opening up to people can be a certain recipe for disaster. People can be helpful and open hearted, but there is a subset, a group of people whose ‘overtly helpful’ nature, clingy attitude and general untrustworthiness can leave one with a bad aftertaste. In a previous experience I’ve had in this city, as well as in my current experiences, it’s better to neither offer nor accept unsolicited assistance, as people’s intentions are rarely innocent, if not overtly malicious. And offering help to others often leads to releasing a dam of favours being asked by the one assisted, and instead of helping out, one gets squeezed dry for all their worth.
Unfair? Not really. People rarely get offered help unsolicited, and when a willing participant shows up, it is usually to the advantage of the person to ensure maximum benefit in the shortest period of time. In the process, however, the person loses both their value as a human being, and their interest to empathise with the suffering of another.
To be fair, though, it’s hard to find another city in this world where you’ll be able to find people as helpful as those in this city. People here can be warm, resourceful, empathetic and kind, and will help out when approached. A city of predominantly immigrants allows for empathy towards those new to the city and its ways, and while not knowing can be a disadvantage, those unaware can be assured of help, even though that help can be from unexpected quarters.
My past week was consumed by a problem which revealed how helpless I truly was by myself, and how little I knew about how to get by in the world. The people I’d expected would take responsibility and do their bit to make things better disappeared, not wishing to take anything that did not directly affect them, even while knowing how much straightening out the affair would help me.
While I navigated the daily dose of sexism and harassment that I faced trying to get my affairs into order, frustrated at the realisation that I did need to rely on others to step in, help did come from people I neither knew well enough to influence, nor were they related to me enough to care about my situation. Still, the Universe sent me a person kind enough to help, a person who introduced me to more people willing to help me out.
These people didn’t have to help me. But they did, and they went above and beyond anything I could have expected or asked for. In the most unexpected place, in a very frustrating situation, I had my faith in humanity restored again.
That’s what this post, and this city, is about, eventually. It’s about the tens of millions of people, all from different places and social strata, speaking different languages and living different lives, amalgamated to form the heartbeat of the richest city in the country. The city were people throng with the dreams of making it big, the city that welcomes everyone with the same combination of warmth and cunning. The city that engulfs everyone in a blanket of smog and hope, where you need more than just brains to survive.
Surviving in this city is tough, but millions of people do it. Thriving… Now, that’s a different thing altogether.
I probably won’t stay here for long. I’ve been spoilt by the quiet and calm ways of my home city, the soft spoken people and the over abundance of nature’s beauty, all of which I miss dearly. But, for as long as I stay here, I won’t have any need for excitement and adrenaline. And, while my heart is still young, I shall enjoy it, experience it, and learn from it.
If nothing else, by the time I have to leave, I’ll be able to call this place my home away from home.