“Pardes” is a Hindi word. (It is also the name of an extremely dramatic and over the top Bollywood movie but I am not going there today.) In English, it means “foreign land,” or “a land that is not one’s own.”
How do you know when something is your own? Is it when you feel comfortable getting lost in the subway line? When you know know the best ice-cream spots? Maybe when you have your own favorite Zen spots? I am not very sure.
I lived in India for about 23 years of my life. For the first 7 years, I lived in the capital, New Delhi. And then I moved into the land of dreams, Bombay (now called Mumbai, but I still call it Bombay). Bombay has been that high school best friend, the one that grows up with you and knows all your darkest secrets but still accepts you for who you are. Bombay is that friend who will constantly throw challenges at you in the form of terrible monsoons, scorching summers, non-existent winters and deathly traffic, but you will never love it less. Bombay is the city that gave me some of my best “real” friends, that introduced me to the kind of people who stay in your life forever. So when I decided to pack up and leave, it was no small transition.
I moved to upstate New York, to Syracuse to be specific, to complete a graduate program. I left the sweltering months in Bombay to be suddenly pushed into the black hole of winter. Syracuse was so cold! All of the time. I knew it would be like that–I had done my research–but knowing something and experiencing it are two different things altogether.
After completing my program in Syracuse, with occasional trips to New York City and California, I finally did what most people my age would dream of doing: I moved to the Big Apple. It was then that a journey of self-discovery and a situation of self-actualization began.
For me, New York City (and America in general) was built on ideas I had read in books and seen in movies–until I actually visited the place. My first trip to the United States was when I was 10. I did the classic tourist things: visited the Capitol, went to Disneyland, and ended with a trip up the Empire State Building. It was at that moment, when I looked down from the viewing deck of the Empire State Building, into that crazy bustling city, that I knew that I would live here someday.
I moved into New York City with the hope of pushing myself towards something big. I wanted to find a great job, meet exciting people and experience the occasional food coma. I believed I’d like New York because I was from Bombay, and wasn’t Bombay called the New York of India? It would be the same, right? The cities were so similar: both advertised as the city of dreams, crowded and bustling with excitement, great public transport, and beautiful skylines. So, ideally, I shouldn’t have a hard time carving my niche here…or so I thought.
Contrary to popular belief (and I blame my Instagram account for that), New York was not all exciting and familiar. I was pretty sure I would love Manhattan, and I probably did for a while. But it wasn’t long before I began to feel myself gravitate towards Brooklyn. Brooklyn is so much easier to be in; Manhattan is just very hard and boisterous. A little too boisterous for my liking. I hate Times Square, I hate walking through the mirage of people who walk like snails and stop to take pictures of every blinking light in that spot. I hate that people come into the city to just walk through Central Park for the millennial purposes of selfies and social media. And of all the things I hate, I especially hate that people think I am “lucky” to be living in this city.
Here’s the thing: living in New York has nothing to do with luck. It has a lot to do with hard work and perseverance. I barely see my friends over the week; our plans always consist of a weekend brunch or movie. I have often thought to myself that this situation never occurred when I was in Bombay. I always had plans, places to be, people to be with. I do not in New York. Now, if I take a step back and think logically, that would be obvious. I did live in Bombay my whole life, I do have high school friends and work friends and other kinds of friends there. So yes, Bombay had that advantage that New York does not. But even then, why was this city not welcoming me? I may never know.
I have tried to love New York. My closest friend/soul sister/peanut butter to my jelly person defines my relationship with New York as the love-hate variety. She has experienced all my moments in the city via excessive messages, Snapchat images and late night calls. She knows it all.
“You have genuinely tried to love this city. And you have tried really hard but it does not strike a chord. Some cities do and some don’t and with New York, it never did.”
So now, almost two years later, I am about to leave New York City to go back to Bombay and I am beyond excited. What I have gathered from these two years is that your love for a city has a lot to do with the people in it. New York taught me a lot of things about myself, among them how to be more independent and happy with myself.
New York, I am about to leave you, the city that taught me to be a strong and fiercely independent human being, to go back to something familiar and comfortable. I tried so hard to love you but could not, but we will still have a relationship that I will cherish for life. Bombay, I hope we can start where we left off.
I thought New York was my “pardes” when I arrived, but it hasn’t turned out to be. It is a little more home than it was when I first got here, but it has never become what I hoped it would. Maybe next time?
Ishani currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. When she is not watching or reviewing a play she can be found binging Gilmore Girls or eating sushi, preferably both at the same time. She has an extensive knowledge of Bollywood filmography and makes weekly trips to Barnes and Noble.