Logging a big-city move

How eating at impersonal food chains becomes this author’s personal coping mechanism


Text and Photographs: Sobia Abdin
Illustration: Anne Milan

A New Beginning: August 5th, Chaayos

It’s been a month since I moved to this city.

In Delhi, I feel alone. Really alone at times, when no one cares if I am tired or if I am sick, or if I have eaten or if I want to eat.

 

If I call this ‘New Girl in the City’, will it be too Wake Up Sid-esque? Because I’m not Ayesha-in-the-film sort of new— she’d never been to Mumbai, the city she had moved to, before. I have been to Delhi several times.

Those times, I have both hated it and loved it. I have been afraid that it will collapse—that the trains, the tiredness and the people will all come crashing down. I have been fascinated by its wide roads, its tall buildings and all those ‘big city’ embellishments which people consistently curse but still never consider leaving behind. It is addictive isn’t it, the traffic lights and the ‘no seatbelt’ fine?

I’m the kind of new-girl-in-the-city that found herself here. The kind who has lived in a small town all her life, but landed up in the big metropolis to earn a penny, and maybe live a little. The kind who is tired of her unforgiving life and her unyielding dreams.

I moved to the city to become a writer, and I swear this has nothing to do with Wake Up Sid. (Speaking of which, it’s been a decade since the film released. A decade!) The city we moved to isn’t the only difference between Ayesha’s and my new-girl-status. There’s the difference of our day jobs too: while Ayesha gets her own column in the magazine whose editor she works as an assistant for, I write for other people.

Despite the very nature of my job, I’ve largely been invisible in this city. This past one month has been longer than what it looks like on my calendar. I am but a speck amidst the large crowds that wander between its walls and its metros.

Illustration by Anne Milan

Illustration by Anne Milan

 

I feel alone when no one adds more salan to the chicken, the way it needs to be, in order to be eaten with rice, my preferred carb.

But I never tell my mother that I miss her chicken and that I miss her, because I can’t go back to the house I should ideally call home.

So I make new traditions with the food of here, in lieu of the food of my mother.

As I write this, I find myself finding some company and comfort through Chaayos, at Connaught Place.

The Little Tricks: 29th September, Subway

I go to Subway. I ask for a sub. those five minutes—when they want to know my choice of bread and vegetables and sauces—I am visible in this big, unforgiving city.

For those five minutes, no one passes by me like I’m just another pod of memories, an unimportant soul from an insignificant city with an uninteresting backstory desperately trying to make her personal into the political.

I go to Subway. I ask for a sub when I feel inconsequential.

I’ve practiced what I need to do when I feel this way. It’s a mantra I chant: “Chicken tikka sub, six inches, parmesan oregano bread, only lettuce, capsicum and onion, all sauces except red chilli and sweet onion,” I say, to whoever is listening in this busy little Sushant Lok outlet in Gurgaon.

Misery loves company a donut: 23rd November, Dunkin Donuts

Depending on the intensity of the week’s “I’m fat” sentiment, I walk into the Dunkin Donuts at Huda City Centre, and order a value- or regular-donut. I add a cappuccino to the order, and find a table at which to write.

Sometimes, I notice other little-people-in-a-big-city like me, sitting, writing, reading, or merely giving in to a donut craving, no other activity attached.

I want to ask them: Are you feeling lonely too? How about invisible? Do you feel that too?

I want to ask them, whether if for the two minutes that they are asked what donut they want, they feel that their choice, their voice matters.

The rewriting of Sensibilities (among other things): 5th August, Chaayos

Busy doing nothing of consequence, trying to write while keeping an entry-level job to pay the rent. That’s the story of a new girl from a small town in a big city, trying to make it.

At this Connaught Place Chaayos, I start over. I didn’t even realise when I switched to this  ameero ki chochle baazi of paying 70 rupees for a cup of tea I can do better with sasti Motwani chai. But I need to get out of the house, and to feel the energy of others hustling the hustle, so that I can feel less alone in it.

Plus, their egg white chaat is decent (even if overpriced).

 
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Sobia Abdin describes herself as a "feminist, a poet, a storyteller, a reader, a woman of colour trying to make sense of my life and identity, and of the on-going devastation in the world around me."
She documents her writing on her blog.

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