I am leaving London today. Not travelling for a spell, like I usually do, but moving away. With my things in storage and no plans to return for the foreseeable future.
There are a number of things I’ll miss about the place. One is how truly multicultural it is, and multicultural in an integrated way. I live in a neighbourhood with many Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. In Cyprus they may be divided, but here they co-exist peacefully.
I will miss the famous British wit.
I will miss the window displays at Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly.
I will miss the fine quality of street art in my neighbourhood.
I will miss the BBC. Even though I rarely watch television, I’m happy that my license fee pays for quality programming with no advertisements or sponsorship.
I will not miss the weather.
When I moved back to London after several years of working in India, I had sighed with relief. Not because I didn’t love India madly – I did and still do – but because I felt safe in London. Not personally safe as such (Bombay felt safer in that regard), but safe in an abstract way. That if the banks collapsed (again), then I, as a British taxpayer, would be refunded by the government. If something calamitous happened to me, I could take it to the courts or my MP and be heard. I don’t envision a coup or regular electricity blackouts or political strikes disrupting my life.
I am moving to Dhaka, the place of my birth and residency of my mother. There is not much stability there. Certainly not politically at the moment. Anything could upset the financial sector. Even for those of us cocooned from poverty and other obvious extremes, it still feels to me like a precarious and fragile place.
There is also a lot of baggage attached. Some people call me by a name I haven’t used for 23 years. It is filled with relatives who have known me since I was a baby – and often still treat me like one. It feels regressive.
This past year and a half in London hasn’t been easy. Maybe it never was. It’s like a decent, solid man who seems worthy of commitment, but I’m just not feeling the love. It feels cold (in all senses of the word), and isolating.
While here, I got chronic neck and shoulder pain that made me rush to see several specialists. My skin broke out in a way it never has my whole life. I gained weight. There were weeks when I couldn’t get out of bed due to depression. What was I not facing? As Anaïs Nin said:
‘When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.’
And what I learnt is that I need to listen to myself. But not to the chatter in my head. Now, I was trained to be cerebral. By schools, by society, by my very expensive university. I believed intellectual reasoning and rational thought were my allies. But over-thinking is circuitous and it kept me paralysed.
I have since learnt to get out of my own way.
Now I operate more from my ‘gut’, or my core. My core doesn’t even understand that layer of rationalism my brain comes up with to justify something (i.e. staying in London because it’s ‘safe’).
‘Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.’ — David Whyte
And, all said and done about Dhaka, I do feel love there. Because that’s where my mother is. And that’s the comfort my heart needs right now.
Maybe my task is not to see the next phase as being in a place I already know. But to get to know it as I am now. Who knows, maybe it will surprise me.