Like everyone else out there, I’d always wanted to get out of the house and live by myself. Until last year it was one of my most vivid fantasies. I constantly dreamt about living alone in a big city, away from home, and having the time of my life! The city in the background constantly changed according to my moods – bustling New York, royal London, industrious Munich, and the list goes on. One thing that stayed constant however, was what I would do. New York, London or Munich, I would stare at the glorious cars passing by, indulge in the variety offered by little cafes in the city, explore the streets looking for a place for each of my moods and last but not the least shop in thrift stores. And then reality came calling – no busy streets of New York, no Buckingham Palace, not even unique buildings.
Goodbye big and loud Bangalore and Hallo! quiet little Aachen. Never in all my fantasies had I imagined living alone in a little town. Perched on the border of Germany, Netherlands and Belgium lies the university town of Aachen. The city has a long and rich history to boast of and looks as perfect as a postcard picture in the Fall, with the orange and brown hues of the falling leaves, pebbled roads and old homes. The students attending the prestigious RWTH and FH Aachen Universities form the majority of the residents and the sole contributors to the noise on Ponttor every week night during the Semester. But come the weekend or exams, the town’s as alive as a person who’s been told they have 10 seconds left on earth.
It’s been a year now since I’ve kissed my fanciful thoughts goodbye. There’s a lot that I’ve learnt over the year, and not one reaffirmed my fantasy. Reality can be such a downer! Living alone involves cooking, cleaning the dishes, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, paying the bills, cleaning the house,… I thought myself all grown up – Searching online for recipes, collecting the bank statements, making the grocery list, I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. It was fun, the first week. And then I realised that I would have to do ALL THIS, EVERYDAY, BY MYSELF! Not so fun now, is it? So much for telling Ma that I’d be “living it up” when I was by myself.
When we live at home, we live such sheltered lives. Mum cooks, pays the bills, cleans the house, does the laundry and even cleans your room when you don’t do it after her yelling at you all week. Someone’s there to take care of you when you’re sick, worry about what you’re eating, check if you’re home on time and buy you stuff you want. All you have to do is study, and some chores. But then life is such a bore! There’s no fun, no adventure! Who would want such a life? Who would want such luxury and care? All I did was complain and yell. About how I didn’t feel like eating dal today or that the servant had ruined my white top. I didn’t realise how easy I had it. Until now. Coming to Aachen has made me oh-so-wise and mature! I now know about the duty and responsibility that accompanies a life alone. I know the effort that goes into a home cooked meal. Not a day goes by without speaking to Mum over the phone or Skype. My sister calls me a sissy but I’ve learnt to ignore that. My mum can’t stop tearing up over how grown up her daughter has become and I can’t help but groan as I think of home and all it’s comforts.
I’ve always thought of home as a place where my family is. But we’ve moved now to a different city. And the 3 weeks there was enough to show me that, it’s not home. Home’s just not the place where family is. Home is where your heart is. Cheesy, I know! But let me explain. Every day I spend here, away from home brings me one step closer to understanding the word. It’s not just the people that I think about and miss, but the place too. I think about Sankey tank and the walks with my sister and friends, about Coffee day and the Thursdays spent with friends over just one up of coffee in the first year of pre-university, of the evenings with my sister talking about everything from school to Harry Potter and movies to how to take over the world, about MG Road and the entire holidays after 10th spent watching every movie that came out because the tickets cost only Rs.60 when Garuda Mall had just opened, about Radio Indigo and the nights spent waiting for my request to be played, about Blossom and the smell of old books, about Nandi Hills and the trip there that happened out of the blue, about the airport and the time I drove there in Shiro Chan with my Older cousin scared for his life and the list is endless!
The city is woven so intricately with my memories that it’s hard to tell where my love for people ends and that for the city begins. It gave me everything I asked for and more. Cheered me up when I was down, helped me think when I was confused, brightened my day when I was looking for something to be happy about. It took me in and embraced me and I didn’t realise when it was, that I fell in love with it. That it’s as important to me as all the people I love. That home would never be home without it.
Aachen has made me appreciate home so much more than I ever would have otherwise. Yes, I have my own little world here. I have my room with my pictures of friends and family, my Panda, even Harry Potter when I’m thoroughly miserable. It’s what I come to after my daily battle with the world. It’s the place I study, eat, watch movies, talk to friends and fall asleep. A room full of reminders of the memories of home. But try as I might, that’s all it always remains, a room in the student dormitories. Not a home away from home.