Leaving and Longing

I do not remember the time or the place. It might have been Bangalore, Kolkata, Shillong, Chennai, Mussoorie, Berlin, Paros, Brooklyn or Worcester. It might have been at a park, a mall, a wedding, a hospital, or even at a bar. Despite the many possibilities, there was always a time when certain places would generate an awkward reaction in me, as if something was not familiar. At some point, this innate angst would verbally blurt out: “I just want to go home.”

As I have come to realize, there was always a home to get back to, regardless of its geographical status. It did not have to be my grandparents’ house. It did not have to be my parents’ house either. As long as there was the comfort of familiarity and a cozy bed, it did not have to be a specific place. My ongoing narrative, has been one filled with many homes. Although I have always felt at home, the distorted inner self I face as I break free from familiarity towards new adaptations, my journey to a “Home” has been perplexing.

(Diary Entry 1)

Date: June 2, 2012

Event : High School Graduation

Place: Woodstock School Gymnasium, Mussoorie, India.

Time: 11:53 am

Action: Walking down the aisle towards school Principal to receive the diploma.

Thought: “Run! Run!”

It was my laziness that first compelled my diary entries to be as short as the one replicated above. Even so, I take pride in these entries’ ability to evoke the exact emotions I had experienced, enabling me to analyze the psychological traumas I was facing or lack thereof. In retrospect, this excerpt exaggerates a general emotion in my life, one generated by the fear of leaving. I loved boarding school. I was a part of it just as it had become a part of me. Even so, I was to leave. Graduation was a challenge, leaving behind everything that I knew. At that very moment, receiving a diploma meant cutting the cord, disconnecting myself from the two year old womb that had become my sanctuary.

The fight-or-flight response has been a topic of much intrigue for me. While Walter Bradford Cannon used the example of the animal kingdom to explain this reaction to traumatic situations, my High School Graduation aided me to personally and socially understand the concept. Although such an event is not as traumatic as facing a hungry predator. It was more of a predicament, which often arouses psychological trauma. I was a coward and like most members of my species, I was afraid of leaving behind familiarity, afraid of change. What I now infer is the curious ability of our primal instincts to jolt a decisive reaction within us when facing a predicament, to choose between dealing with it or evading it. We all have to either fight for familiarity or choose against it. Despite this psychological curiosity being an open-ended topic, I close my diary because I, at that moment, I had no other choice but to leave. Yet leaving behind also creates a hole in one’s inner being.

A year after high school, I decided to travel across Europe. As the nature of my journal writing changed, so did my method at introspection:


(Diary Entry 2) Saudade

I was browsing the Internet whilst sitting on a ransacked chair by the ransacked backyard of a ransacked hotel in Athens. Then I saw this woman on the yard: a mop of thick curly hair and a pashmina around her neck. This same woman had shared the same flight with me and had been reading a newspaper at a café whilst I was wandering around Piraeus. I had seen her twice that day. So I barged on, said, “Hi.” Startled, she looked at me, recognized my face and said, with a thick French accent, “You again.” Laughing at our coincidences, we exchanged a little more information. She was a Brazilian living in Paris. I told her I was a traveler of sorts, so was she. Oddly enough, there was no need to know more about each other. So we decided to try learning a few words in Greek. Ef̱charistó̱ is Thank you. I guess that was about enough for the both of us. But I had to learn a little more. So I asked her about her most favorite word in Portuguese. She said: “Oh that is very easy. Saudade!” I asked her what it meant. She said, “I don’t know. Maybe sadness. Maybe longing. Very difficult.” I immediately reach for my laptop and run a Google search. Wikipedia: “It roughly describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.” My reaction: “Man, that is something deep.” She replied, “True. But that is still inaccurate.”

Saudade. I cannot even begin to wrap myself around its definition. True, in geo-cultural terms perhaps, this word could be aligned with Portuguese tradition. A tradition bound by a history of voyages where desire for new discoveries meant an almost assured absence from loved ones. But what did it even mean to long for an absence? Why could I feel the tension of emotion that such a word portrayed, even now? As humans, the emotions we feel when we leave a certain familiarity stirs up a concoction of feelings we thought we’d understood. Only, when these feelings do come up to the surface, there is but little we can do to understand them. The emotions we feel are constantly bound by our own personal histories. They are truly unique, truly individualistic emotions.

Having left behind family and friends. Surely, Saudade would have to be overcome. I just wouldn’t understand whether I actually even went through experiencing it or not. I do not know any Portuguese. But it is true that the emotions we feel, span across an array of things that are undefined. In Worcester, college will and has triggered happiness. But it too will eventually be lost. I cannot wait to learn, experience and grow through the emotions that college charges me with. Yet, still there is assured loss, one to be safely tucked within memories. And I move on from another home to a new one, the burden of these memories within me, yet aligning myself to stagnant stability seems impossible somehow.


(Cover image by author)


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