“I am going to Chicago for a city fix…” I told my colleague just before the Memorial Day long weekend kicked in. It took a while for reality to sink in that I do not think of Columbus as a city. My definition of a city is tall buildings with only bits of sky visible, loads of people milling about, streets filled with cafes and food shops that change every six months to a year, and police sirens going on somewhere or other all the time. 

But, most important is how I feel. I feel safe in the concrete jungle, with towers of steel all around me, with just a sliver of sky visible, surrounded by people. None of them care whether I exist or not. I grew up in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and London, so the idea of being able to see so much sky (as in Columbus) makes me feel uncomfortable. I have no problem dealing with pickpockets, getting into crowded trains, crossing the stop lights efficiently, and knowing how to get through crowds most speedily – but cicadas, mowing grass, garden snakes… I don’t know what to do with that.

Photo of my cup of cutting chai with biscuit

Every city has its rhythm—Mumbai has an ‘I don’t care’ vibe, Delhi has a snobbish vibe, and London has a ‘Each to his own’ vibe. But one common thing is the beat of the rhythm—it is faster. How easy it is for me to march to that beat amazes me. For example, crossing stoplights took me less than a few minutes when the other side turned Red when we reached Chicago. I instinctively knew how to sidestep crowds or make my way through them. In some ways, my body relaxes in the city – the tall towers and crowds are very reassuring, as that’s what I grew up with. I have lived in Columbus for almost a decade – and even now, it feels foreign – not at home; that’s why gateways to cities are like a breath of fresh air. 

We were having a freshly brewed chai at Chiya Chai cafe – when a homeless person tapped on the glass beside me. I shook my head, smiled and carried on drinking with my chai. He waited for a bit and then took off. He saw a lady about to put out a cigarette stub and asked her if he could have it. The lady shook her head vigorously, looked in her purse, dug out a brand new cigarette, and gave it to him, who was as happy as a clam. That gesture was spontaneous, sweet and human – no judgment was involved. It was one human responding to another human – how nice is that! Many such moments exist in a city because you must interact with other humans. That is what I love and miss about being in a city. This kind of human connection does not require an established knowing of who the other person is; it is a need to know each other at an intuitive level. It is in the moment because you are strangers until you are not, and then you revert to being strangers. How freeing and fulfilling is that, even if it is fleeting?

What is your preferred style of connecting?

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