The idea of fleeing the cacophony of the city is like pushing your tongue into the mouth of a stranger, writes Tishani Doshi.
You are either born in the city or move to the city, but eventually the city draws you to her. Things happen in the city—history and robberies, love and violence. Time happens in the city, and upon this time all kinds of megalomanias are built that will outlast and shine and degrade.
Poets move to the city to write novels. Men with outsized ambitions come to the city because to be confused by the city is still a way of having a conversation with your life that doesn’t begin and end with the curtains closing. Women with strong hands and hearts, bird women and pregnant women, come to the city because home, wherever it is, can never hold the largesse of the future the way the city can. Workers and handlers of heavy machinery and inventors and mathematicians and sex addicts and anyone who can run, they all come to the city to be lost and found.
Life happens in the city. Sound too. And because silence is impossible in the city, civilisations are created and killed there. And in the ears of everyone who lives in the city there is a tinny noise, a prescient persistent clinking and clonking. And always you think that by living in the city you are being counted. Always you are saying, Listen to me, or, I am I, or, Here is my body, or, What the Derrida?
Poets move to the city to write novels. Men with outsized ambitions come to the city because to be confused by the city is still a way of having a conversation with your life that doesn’t begin and end with the curtains closing.
And soon enough, this tinny-inside-your-ear-sound and the blood-whoosh of your veins begins to merge with the noise of the city, which steams up from sewers and hangs down from the branches of trees and swirls out from street lamps and the foundations of groaning apartment buildings and traffic lights mired in schizophrenia and it is raging—this noise of you and the city together, until you and the city couple and twin. And when you lie down the city is inside you, smoking and wolf whistling and elbowing and straining like piss against a catheter bag. It embraces you; it gathers you up in its salty sea arms; it intoxicates and pounds you with marigold and jasmine; it is even shy—Bless this city, it says, I am not really a city, I only pretend to be. Stay! Stay!
Because, of course, it has heard you too, this city. It listens to your misgivings rumble at night. It knows before you do that you will be childless and so the idea of dynasty is already pointless to you. That this kingdom of schools and rotary clubs and supermarkets and malls and swimming camps, the teem and grit and tire of living, the pointless point of it has already begun to make itself clear.
The idea of leaving is like pushing your tongue into the mouth of a stranger.
Did you just do that? Did you just have that renegade thought of leaving the city?
It embraces you; it gathers you up in its salty sea arms; it intoxicates and pounds you with marigold and jasmine; it is even shy—Bless this city, it says, I am not really a city, I only pretend to be. Stay! Stay!
Yes, and it is not easy. You are standing knee-deep in the garden of doubt because who is that person who choses not to go the evolutionary way, who can tango lightly into obscurity without looking back?
You look back. You always look back. And when you are finally away from the city, looking back on it, the whole city appears as a giant mouth, as thirst, as a waterfall of things happening where you are not.
You close your eyes at night and everything is silent. It is like the first darkness. Your dreams are so uncompetitive they shimmy like ghosts. And it is okay. At least, it’s what you tell yourself.