Categories
Posts

Hello New York

1994 was coming to an end in about a month. After an all-night red-eye train journey, I woke up at the first stroke of sunlight. No, I am not an early riser, but the rays were in direct sight and I couldn’t shut them out.

After a long disembarking session, we changed over to the local train platform. With many relatives and oversized bags, we were aliens amidst the weary fast-paced don’t-care crowd starting their day. And after another long train ride, followed by a longer walk of dragging the luggage, we made it to the high-rise apartment building with elevators. We went to check out the city. A walk to the station, hopping two connecting trains later, we were there.

We walked out of the Churchgate Station.

My eyes lit up trying to catch the end of the high rising concrete structures, trying to capture the faces of the fast walkers, trying to figure out if anyone was even remotely interested in watching us, trying to take in all the flavours of the street side food stalls, trying to snapshot as many sights into memory…

That was my first, and still the only memorable, visit to the City of Seven Islands – Bombay.

My love of a metropolitan city had begun. A place where I could be myself. I knew I was gay (not the term but the truth) and, in 1994, Bombay was the only place in India, I had been to, that made me feel welcome, safe, happy, content, elated, and most importantly, understood.

A city with no interfering eyes. No one asked me to not laugh. No one stopped me from looking in awe. No one made me feel like a weirdo.

Probably because no one in Bombay was even slightly interested in us.

It was a city of dreamers immersed in their own dreams, not worrying about others. They were their own worlds, surrounded by the worlds of millions. Together they were a unit, synchronised to enter and exit the stations in chaotic harmony; yet individually they just cared about one single thing – live and let live.

It was love at first sight. A concrete jungle with inhuman beings. No need of hiding in the closet. Not having to wear an invisible mask. That was my kind of a city.

Once we went back to our suburban abode, I had only one and only one plan – save enough money to afford the long train ride back to the city. I decided, I would rather be a happy valet in Bombay than a sad car owner elsewhere.

* * *

Time passed by. Bombay became Mumbai. We moved from a smaller suburb to a larger suburb. With no pocket allowance and no summer jobs, my savings were nil. But my dream was still on.

Over many years it dawned on me that there are horizons beyond the Worli seaside.

* * *

2007 was already halfway through. I woke up early at the stroke of sunlight. This time the blame was on the alarm clock. A SEPTA train ride ensued. Followed by changing over to the NJ Transit platform.

We walked out of the Penn Station.

My eyes lit up trying to catch the end of the high rising concrete structures, trying to capture the faces of the fast walkers, trying to figure out if anyone was even remotely interested in watching us, trying to take in all the flavours of the street side food stalls, trying to snapshot as many sights into memory…

That was my first real visit to the Big Apple – New York.

Every year since, I stole time off my life to be part of this city that never sleeps. Each visit I found out how much I do not yet know. This city never stops amazing me.

2015 was another memorable visit. It was with my closest friends over the Memorial Day weekend. They all left to their hotels and I found a small bench at Times Square. It was 2 hours after midnight. Yet the square was full of life. People everywhere. On their own little journeys. Not hiding in the closets. Not wearing masks. This was my kind of a city.

That was my epiphany. The moment I knew, I wanted to be here. I needed to be here.

The ordeal began. Rest of 2015 I want to forget. 2016 was spent in recovery. 2017 was the start of my trials to move to this city. The dating game for jobs commenced. Sometimes they didn’t like me. Sometimes I didn’t like them. I took a break from the disappointing meetings. 2018 was a pleasurable year with film festivals. Finally, 2019 came to an end, and life changed.

Today, the dream of that ten-year-old boy – not-knowing how to live in a hostile world while trying to find his way – has come true.

He is living his dream.

Mohammed Shaik Hussain Ali