“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…”― C.S. Lewis
A month or so back, over a lovely dinner banquet, accompanied by an array of the best wines and cheeses, amidst some of the best dressed people in town – mostly all expatriates, a senior hotelier friend passionately narrated the story of her American friend, who had left a lavish and full life back home to hard it out in the Himalayas. He’d been up there for over a year, in saffron robes, hair long.
“On the journey, he would set out every morning from where he was staying, carrying over a dozen to twenty Roti’s” she added, almost every line on her face coming alive, much over her sparkling eyes at the brazenness of the thought “along with a mechanism to make tea wherever he halted…can you imagine leaving everything and just going away.”
“I think I can do that someday” I replied musingly, perhaps the smug feeling in my stomach from the exotic food she’d been recommending at every stage of my meal, along with the lightness in my head from all the wine I’d been washing it down with.
“I don’t think it is possible to just leave everything” she said and then stated “I just cannot do it.”
She moved on to talk to some other guests while I stood there at a table, even as husband chatted with others at another table. I pondered over my bold assumption and proclamation, that I could leave everything someday. Was it that I was in the midst of all this luxury, dressed in a cocktail dress, my face done up to match the dainty jewellery I wore, that I just could not perceive how it would be to give everything up and go away into the wilderness.
I had the opportunity, in the last few days, to test a wee bit of my perception of reclusion, to see at which point of the scale of this imagination, I have reached yet. Husband has been away, isn’t back yet, since the last five days on a work trip. Before he left, I had a number of things planned, these included meeting up with friends over lunch, dinner or coffee, going shopping or to the movies, all this after my regular writing dose off course. But right after he left, I changed my mind and did not call anyone or even step out of our apartment for anything at all. In the last four days, I did not see a single soul except for my maid for a few brief seconds, when I opened the door to her, to go back to my desk or to my book on the sofa or bed. The elderly lady pulled the door silently after her, in an hour or so as she did not cook. In the four days I made myself numerous cups of tea and coffee that went with bread and cheese-spread or jam. This was alternated by Maggi or Moong or Rajma sprouts. I hardly switched on the TV, logged into Face Book briefly, only to post a write up or some pictures and to acknowledge the comments from my phone. I felt good, felt free, I felt happy.
During these last days all alone, I recalled how as a child I feared the dark. If I had to step into a dark room on my own, I would dash to the switch board to get the light on immediately. I felt anxious even those brief seconds that it took to chase my mental ghosts away with the light. I was afraid to stay home alone, worse still – in boarding school I was petrified of being in any of the dormitories or infirmary on my own, or be alone on the large field after dark, as if ghosts or skeletons would jump out at me. When I started working and began to travel a lot, I was scared of hotel rooms, the quiet corridors, so even if I had to have meals alone at the restaurants – I preferred it while watching people, to spending time in my room alone. When back in the room I would promptly turn on the television and tune to a music channel, leave it on all night so that if I awoke, the silence would not scare me. Till I got ready and left the room, I had the music playing, as if a party was going on.
Home alone these few days, I pondered over everything that mattered to me and no longer does, how over the years I’ve let go off so many people, circumstances, needs. How I’ve changed, everything’s changed. I recounted those people and things that do matter a lot to me now. But I thought about how I have evolved emotionally into really needing no one, nothing particularly, happy if they were in my life, in acceptance if they would not remain. I’d been employed since I was 23 and so used to overspending, buying things in excess. Over the last year that I’m not working, after closing our family business, my material wants are so reduced, I’m so very proud of myself. I’m happy to even take the long distance train, sit amongst absolute strangers dressed in a simple Salwar kameez. I could never conceive of a lot of this earlier.
So in a decade, by the time I’m fifty perhaps, I’m hoping I’ll be able to achieve leaving everything, set out on a lone expedition, go up the mountains perhaps for long, live the life the American man whose story started this thought process, find myself truly. Then bring back to my life the new invigorated, free me.