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On Comfort and Fear

INDIA | Saturday, 23 July 2016 | Views [316]

Boat ride in Hpa-An, Kayin State, Myanmar

Boat ride in Hpa-An, Kayin State, Myanmar

“Table for one, please.”

I had Burmese style fried rice with vegetables for dinner today.

I still remember the first time I had a meal by myself at a restaurant, bereft of technological disruptions and the urge to make small talk about salt with a companion. It was a corner coffee shop called Taylor’s on Woodstock Road in Oxford, and I had a salmon and avocado sandwich with a side of salad for lunch. I followed up the meal with a cappuccino, and was on my way to a museum. It was my second day in the UK. I’ve been on the road for more than 7 months now, travelling with my work, and Saturday lunch dates with the self are still my favourite part of the weekend.

I also remember the first time I walked home by myself at night, at approximately 2 in the morning, back to my college which was towards the north of town. I was reasonably intoxicated and it was cold. I clutched my coat tighter around myself, and stopped at the Carfax Tower intersection to fasten a button that had popped, gazing absentmindedly at the cobbled streets glistening from a drizzle. And then it hit me, an anxiety that came jumping out of a tiny corner in my brain, a fear that crawled down my spine and fasted around my feet. I was alone and I was high, and all my life I’d been ruthlessly reminded of what could happen to a young woman who dares to be those things after 8PM. Or 8AM, or 12PM, or 2PM.

And yet there I was, I stood at the intersection for a few minutes. My eyes scanned the empty streets surrounding me, and there was not a soul in sight. I took my keys out of the bag, and continued walking. In 20 minutes I was back in college, the beer was coming down finally. I was safe. Between then and now, I’ve walked back home in a less than sober state on at least twenty different occasions, but none of them have been in the city that I call home.

Mushafi, an Urdu poet, wrote in praise of the women of Delhi, “Ey Mushafi! Na inse kabhi jee lagayiye, Zaalim ghazab ki hoti hain yeh dilli waliyan” (Oh Mushafi! Do not fall for them, miraculously cruel are the maidens of Delhi). Growing up in Delhi, I never quite realised how true these words are for the city itself. Miraculously cruel, perhaps in its love for its maidens. Delhi evokes a myriad of emotions in me, but comfort is no longer one of them. Strange as it sounds, despite the many comforts I am able to enjoy at my parents’ home, the city itself no longer grips me. I blame it on the continuous cycle of fear I face in the city, the numerous occasions on which I have to think twice before wearing certain kinds of clothes, drinking hard liquor, sipping nicotine in public, going for a walk, buying condoms at the pharmacy, buying any contraceptive really, talking too loudly, talking at all to strangers. No matter the distance I keep between myself and the city, parts of this cycle follow me everywhere I go.

Travelling by myself in the past months has been incredibly liberating. The sense of instability and alienation that comes from consistent movement is exactly where I have found my comfort zone. I taught myself to ride a bicycle this weekend, and in mastering the simple mechanics of pedals, I overcame one of the longest running fears of my life. I began learning how to ride a bicycle when I was very young, and when my family moved to Delhi it was too unsafe to go out on the open road with a bicycle. There were a million reasons, the traffic, the speeding cars. I went along with all the excuses, and eliminated the possibility entirely after a while. And here I am, years later, finally able to ride a bicycle in a remote town in Thailand.

I have an apartment of my own now, I wash my own clothes, I plan on getting a cat. I haven’t asked my parents for a dime in the past 7 months, and I intend to keep it that way. It makes them unhappy to see me alone and away for so long, but I am far from alone. I have built a world for myself that consists of two suitcases and a laptop bag, and in it lies everything I have ever wished for myself. Freedom, independence, good food, old and new friendships, and a passion for the work I do. I don’t earn a lot of money, but I’ve learned in the past months that comfort is all one ever needs to turn things around for themselves. Not happiness, not companionship, not even love, just comfort, the source of which can always be found within oneself.

I still need to unpack those two suitcases, but that’s the baggage I am willing to carry further into my future. I still carry with me vestiges of the fear I encounter every time I make a trip to Delhi. Comfort and fear continue to perform an elaborate act, and perhaps neither will be able to survive without the other. I know one thing for certain: we need to rid ourselves of the idea that someone out there is going to make things happen for us, and the younger we are when we do that, the better.

When you do decide to take that step for yourself, treat yourself to a meal. The fried rice was delicious.

Tags: comfort, fear, food, myanmar, solo travel, uk

 

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Nan Myaing Cafe, Pyin Oo Lwin, Shan State, Myanmar

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