By Tara Kalra
The past year has made me unlearn the absolute linearity of time. Processing one’s surroundings and emotions comes with difficulties. Floating through a time lived in retrospect comes more naturally.
The year has given me a fondness for company, the kind that is indicative of both quality and quantity. My bildungsroman coincided with the pandemic and, as I set out to write it, I discovered a love for the ordinary and a glimpse of the extraordinary incessantly shared with other people. A perfect blend of anxiety and a flickering sense of relief, I discovered there’s comfort in going out, taking the same route, but without accounting for any of my steps. Turning eighteen, nineteen and then twenty, one slowly transcends into this deluded state. It feels like I have the reins of time voluntarily traversing out of my hands. Yet I never stop to notice how the commotion is steady, never frenzied. Be it a drive or two till I reach my local Harvest Gold bhaiya or a walk around the colony that has nestled my whole existence, I’ve learned to notice, if not cherish, the minute intervals of time spent wandering and discovering spaces both familiar and unfamiliar.
I’ve taken the place where I grew up for granted. My love for my neighbourhood — or even for Delhi — was entirely dependent on the freedom to move out by myself. Evenings are no longer a time of quietude, brushed past while I am bent over my laptop basking in the eyesight-ruining warmth of the corner lamp. While those evenings are significant in their own way, I’ve started to enjoy slow walks around my colony — walks that aren’t part of a fitness regime, but tender nurturance, replete with matched steps and fleeting shoulder rubs. I sit on the bench, in the company of a friend, previously lost because of the solipsistic tendencies of teenage life. We talk steadily, with less excitement and more familiarity, updating each other on the occurrences of the previous week.
I ask her about her hot chocolate recipe and whether she heats the milk in the pan or in the microwave. We go on to discuss the multiple uses of an electric kettle and how our mothers taught us how to make tea only to trick us into brewing it for them all the time. We don’t talk over each other; we ask very specific questions about odd and exceedingly routine tasks. By asking her what she’ll have for dinner or how she manages to get up early every day, I try to borrow aspects of her habits. I imagine her cooking a warm plate full of nourishment and eating it in her ruffled bed. The same bed she very bravely leaves the next morning to start her day five hours before I do.
She makes me realise how distance in any friendship can sometimes be a nurturing nudge. Slowly, we form our rituals. The bench by the basketball court does not seem as inviting as the one under the banyan tree veiling the footpath. A walk isn’t complete without us visiting our favourite houses in the neighbourhood. Mine, a corner house situated at a quaint turn. Resembling, in all its shaded propensities and strings of yellow bulbs, a hill house, replete with intellectuals or people immensely fond of baking. Hers, a house situated strategically at a dead-end, transforming into a retreat of utter bliss and awe. With its arched entryway, big bay windows and textured facade, it’s what a lot of people would call a ‘dream house’.
I look forward to our rituals; I know they aren’t embedded in sacred legalities, but in a genuine inclination to spend part of our time together, just before life takes on its true form. There is an unspoken understanding that we do not walk together every day, but when we do, we pay close attention to every song or book recommended, every detail provided, every epiphany expressed.
Time nestles itself amidst relationships — relationships with people and materiality. Time calls my name through the red brick house at the corner, adorned with lanterns made of crimson-hued paper, alerting me to the onset of winter and Diwali. The lady of that house walks her Siberian husky — also named ‘Husky’ — every other day. Unapproachable, until my mother decided to talk to her and tell her how I look forward every year to her unique, personalised adornments.
“You’ve turned twenty, shed your ego and smile,” Time never fails to remind me, as I take another round of my colony. I am compelled to smile at inquisitive aunties, stopping and saying hello to the ones who have seen me since the time I was a shy kid with an unadmirable attitude.
Time irritably pokes a finger at my arm and orders me to imagine a life away from home. A life away from my parents, siblings, childhood friends, and the acquaintances one comes to like or detest through scattered scraps of neighbourhood gossip. Perhaps, as a young person, I’ve got used to a sustained imagination of how my life would look when I went away — displaced, in cities I would never want to call home.
As much as I dislike romanticising the past two years, they’ve undoubtedly curved my perception of time. I am compelled to find satisfaction in the fact that I’ll always feel like I am running out of time, not realising how Time itself has a way of unravelling, mending, and providing all that I’ve wanted or needed.
It is as if through the trifecta of being young, finding our youth in shared spaces, and realising the mundanities that escape time and age, I observe a need for a silenced progression. Time has proffered me a middle space — not for me to assess and figure out what I want, but to capture those houses in my mind’s space and hold my friend’s hand to make mine warm.
I know Time won’t stop for me. But sometimes, we both match our steps and take slow rounds around the neighbourhood.