Solitude- A ‘state of being’, often compared, or rather confused, with ‘loneliness’.
Though it would be a wrong thing for me to claim that I know the 101 reasons why ‘loneliness’ differs from ‘solitude’, yet I can safely say this- all I know is that they are not the same.
I have been living on my own, away from my family, for the last 8 years (and counting). The yearning to be a part of the prestigious Delhi University is what propelled my desire to travel all the way from Assam to live in the cacophonous metropolis of Delhi.
My first encounter with Delhi was nothing short of ‘overwhelming’. I had arrived in the last week of May (in 2006) and within a few weeks I helplessly witnessed my feet flaunting multi-coloured skin, the tip of my hair turning a pathetic shade of orange and my face speckled with so many sores that my mother diverted all her attention, which was initially focussed on studies, to the fateful realization of how difficult it is to find a suitable groom for an ugly daughter.
While the changes in my appearance did bother me to a certain extent in the initial months, they were soon warded off as the idea of ‘independence’ settled in. There were endless days when I would say to myself, “I am an ugly, independent and indifferent person living thousands of miles away from my loved ones. But I love it!”
Try explaining the significance of an 18-year old female living away from her home to the distant relatives of yours who have never had the courage to venture out of the city-limits in their entire lives. I tried too. And the responses I received from this interesting group of people (mostly comprising of those whose bloodline I happen to share and also those who are not ‘family’, but they claim to have changed my diapers at some point in my life) are somewhere in the lines of the shockingly outrageous and amusingly hilarious. Here’s a few of their “We-know-it-all” statements-
1)“You went to Delhi to study? I am sure you will end up doing everything but that.”
(This statement was often followed with a tantalizing grin which made me regret the fact that I did not know how to deliver a jaw-smashing punch back then.)
2)“Oh, so you are living in Delhi? How many boyfriends?”
(This one comes with a wink and never-ending giggles. Well, with a hint of guilt I confessed to having none and was drenched in the flood of unwelcome sympathy that suddenly encompassed me and I almost felt like a stray-dog, balancing my miniature self on an upturned lid of a trash-can, cruising the muddy waters of a flash flood, waiting to be rescued. )
3)“You will soon become one of ‘them’.”
(‘Them’ refers to the bunch of gorgeous Delhi girls, who are often stereotyped to be fashionistas who would happily trade their brains for a new pair of stilettos. Well, its 2014 now, and I am as ugly as ever, without a pair of prized heels and a brain which is still as befuddled as it was when I was 10.)
4)“Delhi girls only know how to smoke and drink and get laid.”
(The only problem I had, and still have, with the statement is the usage of the word ‘only’.)
Now when I sit alone and think about it, I cannot help but laugh my head off at all the statements that got lost somewhere in the turmoil I call ‘life’. In the course of 8 years, I did manage to earn the coveted degree that I so wanted, worked at some of the best organizations, and met many people whom I loved and loathed with equal fervour.
Between managing my life with the help of my ever-deprived bank account, filling my tummy with innumerous bowls of Maggi and getting lost countless times in countless places in the city, I have realised that I have become a Delhi girl in more than one way. I know now that the harmless looking ‘Uncle’ in the bus can cause more harm than all the strays that follow me when I walk back home from work. I know now that a scarf wrapped around my neck would not suffice to ward of lewd gestures. And I also know that Delhi is not a ‘dilwalo ki sheher’ in the literal sense after all.
But Delhi has given me something precious, a gift that I will probably cherish for the rest of my life. The city has taught me how to live alone, how to not be a burden on anybody else, and how to find myself in the midst of the rat race that usually governs our lives. The city has been very kind to me in terms of finding reasonably priced accommodation, companies that pay a fair salary, and people who turn out a lot nicer than what I expect them to be. And it is the sense of gratification, perhaps, that makes my solitude a thing to celebrate.
It’s true that I have missed out on most of the things that many people would consider to be the best in Delhi. I never went to clubs with my PG-mates. I never went for those dinner dates that end with a hurried breakfast and some 67 missed-calls flashing on the cell phone screen. And I could neither fathom nor get accustomed to the idea of “fraaandship” when I was in college.
But the solitude that I talk about today came from endless strolls in the green and cool paths of the India Habitat Centre, where I spent many hours watching the fish and the vibrant lotus blooms in the little ponds, occasionally nudging the wooden see-saw which has a pole with bells attached on it, and wandering carelessly inside the art galleries and bumping into pots and people. I also remember the times when I used to visit Deer Park and Lodi Garden, for the same purpose of doing nothing but gazing around like a lost soul. At times, when I felt a tad too courageous for my own good, I also used to go for night-walks in the lanes of South Extension.
There is a unique kind of pleasure in these solitary indulgences. Many things have changed in these 8 years; I have won some and lost some. But these are the moments that I feel have been the most loyal to me. The beautiful time I spend with no one but myself means a lot more to me than I would probably ever know. And therefore, when it comes to the difference in ‘solitude’ and ‘loneliness’, I can safely say that all I know is that they are not the same thing, for I am not lonely. Not yet.