Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Constant Stranger

Stepping out of Penn station, the skyscrapers return like memories. The sky is blue with forgetting. I arrive in a crowd, in a tributary of haste that slides effortlessly into the great river of passersby that is Manhattan. The urgency of this city can break your heart. I walk up 7th Avenue, scanning the faces of people walking past. I am not looking for anyone I know. Rather, I am searching for the perfect stranger, that one impossible person who is always with us but who cannot be known or spoken to. There is one for everyone. I am sure of it.

Yet everywhere I turn the faces are familiar. Hidden away in each glance there is something - a line of the mouth, a turn of the head - that conjures up the face of someone else. Someone I know. Someone I am trying to escape. My guilt is written clearly in these faces - my part in the great conspiracy of being human - but these are clues that only I can read.

I stand on the corner and wait for the loneliness to come, like a crosstown bus. When it finally arrives, I climb in eagerly. There is plenty of room. I sit there, eyeing my fellow-passengers from the corner of my eye, never daring to speak to them. There are many like me - impatient spirits trying to make their way over to the other side, blind to the colours of feeling that seep into everything, stain everything, even our hands - but each one of us is alone.

I have come to New York looking for the perfect stranger. But how shall I know when I have found him? I cannot recognise him, of course, that is the whole point. If I got to know him at all, even through something as negligible as a handshake (as simple and as faithless as a smile or a shake of the hand; the words come to mind unbidden) then he (or she) wouldn't be a stranger anymore, and I would have to start again. The truth is that they could all be the perfect stranger, or any one of them could be. I may have crossed him a dozen times already, and I wouldn't know.

Or perhaps it is the city itself that is the Stranger. Distant, aloof, unknowable. Perhaps it is the city who I have come looking for, perhaps it is the city who I just miss meeting, every time I turn the corner.

I stop in front of a shop window and there he is. The stranger. Staring back at me from behind the polished surface of the glass. In that instant of non-recognition, I realise I have nothing to say to him. The sky has turned gray now. It is starting to rain. I move on.

14 comments:

Heh Heh said...

several people have told me that if you are attracted to NYC, you are probably searching for something you've lost...
not directly related to your post, but there was something to this effect on my erstwhile blog..

ravi said...

Reminds me of a ghazal from "Gaban". Very well written (sir).

ph said...

Verrrry niiicce

Falstaff said...

HWSNBF: Not sure I agree with that, sounds suspiciously like propaganda from people who live in Jersey City.

If anything I think you're more likely to be attracted to NYC if you want to lose yourself.

Personally, this post notwithstanding I love NYC because of the palpable energy in the air, this vibe that hits you the minute you step out on the streets that tell you you're alive and the city is alive with you. There aren't many cities in the world that can do that to you. (Bombay being the only other example I can think of)

Ravi / ph: Thanks.

Heh Heh said...

actually jersey is worse, according to atleast one of these people.
'the waste by-product of new york'.
agree with observation about Bombay.. in fact, coming out of Penn/Grand Central has a strangely Churchgate/VT-ish feel about it.

Veena said...

Falstaff and HWSNBF:

Have you guys spent time in London? I used to think that no other city in the world could be more alive than NYC (or Bombay) until I went to London. Its like a combination of both NYC and Bombay if there could be something like that!

meditativerose said...

v cool. I think I agree more with the trying to lose yourself argument ... there's something very attractive about being in a city of 15mm (or whatever) people, each one of them alone, and rushing somewhere that doesn't matter.
And the energy ... what can I say ... if someone tells me they don't like New York because it's 'too fast' (one of those terms I don't get, like 'over'analysis), I know it just won't work ...

aahh ... I feel the senti coming on ... I know I should have bought tickets when they were cheap. Falstaff, you shouldn't do this ...

Falstaff said...

HWSNBF: Ya, I know what you mean. Some of my favourite memories of NYC are taking the subway on a Saturday night when it's really crowded and everyone's packed in there. It makes me feel so much at home...

Veena: Haven't spent that much time in London - though friends of mine who have have the same point of view. Except, of course, the weather sucks.

MR: Yes, thought you would agree - specially given how good you are getting lost in NYC (you have to walk some ten blocks before you can find a Starbucks even) and generally acting like a tourist.
:-).

The Black Mamba said...

Falstaff, one more thing. Perhaps, the stranger behind the glass, had something to say to you?! Did you wait long enough. ;)

On a different note. I have seen a lot of people comparing NY and Bombay (both cities, I have been to just once, I must confess).

But rarely do people compare San Francisco and Bangalore. They are similar in many ways too. For instance, both are big cities, that don't overwhelm you.

Maybe its just me.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Very nice, sir. If I may draw parallels, W.S. Porter meets an ex-goalie of the Algerian soccer team ...

J.A.P.

Falstaff said...

Black Mamba: Never lived in either city, so can't comment. Though I can think of at least some of my readers who should have a point of view (tdrec, are you there?)

JAP: Thanks. Took me a while to figure that one out (didn't know the bit about the goalkeeping), but thanks.

Anonymous said...

You have an outstanding good and well structured site. I enjoyed browsing through it » »

Anonymous said...

Very nice site! » » »

Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. »