I am a city girl. I love going on holidays to small towns, beach resorts, mountains, but I need to live in a big city. I cannot imagine myself living in a small town. And it's strange because it's not that I love the fast life or night clubs or crowded streets for that matter.
But still, I have to live in a big city. I love the feel, the vibe, the energy and the amazing variety of people one can meet. Life is never dull in a big city, there is always something at every turn which surprises you, shocks you even. I love these little surprises and the adventures they bring with them.
My favourite city is and will always be Bombay, or Mumbai as Sanil insist I call it ("because you are Indian and not British, you should use the Indian name"- as he explained sternly to me). I have written a few posts on Bombay- both in poem and prose- so I won't dwell on that here.
I remember a conversation with a friend many years ago where he explained how left a city he loved, for his girlfriend. I told him I could understand that it was a tough decision - choosing between a city and a girl, both of which you love. And then I added "The only difference is that girlfriend may leave, but the city will always be there!". He simply nodded in complete agreement.
There are some cities I knew since I was little that I would LOVE. I had only read fiction novels based in these cities, but I just KNEW. One of those cities is New York. I read 'I'll take Manhattan' by Judith Krantz when I was 15. And I fell in love with Manhattan. I did not visit it until I was in my mid-20s. And it was like I was meant to be there. I could see myself living in Manhattan and loving it.
Then there are some cities which surprise you. I never wanted to visit Hong Kong. As I felt it would be like Bombay only with Chinese people. So why bother, when I have lived and loved the original. I know! Pre-conceived biased notions are not a good thing. But unfortunately, I have a few of them.
However HK disarmed me. I forgot all about what I thought about it, and allowed it to introduce me to itself. Since my first visit I have been back a few times on both work and pleasure, and city grows more and more on me each time. I have not been to able to go over and say hello in the last few years, and need to change that soon.I believe that every city has a soul. A soul that makes it what it is. Cities breathe like you and I. They have suffered, they have cried and they have mourned. They have laughed, they have sung and they have celebrated. And it's because of all this, they have a history and they have memories.
Another city I knew I would fall in love with is Paris. I know it's a cliche, who does not love Paris? But the connection I knew I would feel, am feeling it every minute of everyday that I am here. It's simply magical!
Am sure Paris remembers its plight during the two World Wars. Like New York who still fears that the Great Depression may pay a visit with every recession. Or Bombay which has given as 'dowry' in 1661 by the King of Portugal to King Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza only to find itself now as nothing short of a Bollywood diva.
Every building, nook and cranny in every city has a story to tell. Stories of people who lived there, of cafes that were once the talk of the town, of movie theatres that have seen silent black and white films.
Paris has romance in its soul. That's why even today it's called the city of love. Ambition finds itself as an integral part of New York's soul. And Bombay is like the beautiful but ageing prostitute with a heart of gold.
When we each visit or stay in any city, we leave behind a part of our souls. Our histories and memories and those of the city become intertwined. Thats why I adore old cities. Can you imagine the number of people who have passed through these cities over the hundreds of years? The cities touched each one of their lives in different ways and the people made the history of the cities a little richer.
A city is capable of love. A city accepts you as you are. A city embraces your eccentricities and makes it it's own. That's how all big cities have a bohemian area which thrives on it's residents individualities.
There is nothing better than walking through a city that's steeped in history. There is no better way to discover its secrets and enjoys its pleasures. I urge you all the walk the trails that many before you have walked, but trust me, what you will take out of it will be unique and special to you alone.
For now, I am continuing my Paris walks, drinking in every sight (along with an occasional glass of Chablis), savouring every experience (and not just the macaroons), and thoroughly enjoying every step along this walk.
It's great I have packed my pink Hush Puppies shoes.
Written on 30 July
At Shakespeare and Company in Paris and the Paris Plages