Tuesday, September 11, 2012

C/O Anybody

Find me in the bottom-right corner.
I was standing outside the NDTV corporate office in New Delhi, chewing some gum. It's an old habit of mine that my family has always strongled condemned as American. When I was in high school in Oman I was a fan of bubblegum. I liked grape-flavoured Bib Babol, and in college in America I discovered a strange new watermelon flavour. I used to enjoy blowing bubbles but I have now settled for the less effort of chewing gum. Even if you give me bubblegum now I'll probably just chew it and not put in the effort of bubbling it.
I carried this gum habit of mine to India in 2010 when I joined NDTV's year-long broadcast training programme. On that one particular day I was standing outside the building, probably on a break, with a few friends from the programme. They were talking about something, and I was chewing some gum I had bought from the dhaaba that smelled of excrement just down the very short, busted inner street the NDTV office was on. As my friends kept talking, I absent-mindedly flipped the gum pack over and glanced at the address at the back. That's another habit I've had since I was little. I always look at the address that's printed at the back of gum packs everywhere. The address is always of somewhere else, a big city far away - usually in America - that I've only ever seen on television, or a small city somewhere else in the world that had made a pack of gum for me that passed through goodness knows how many unknown hands across the world into mine. I always wondered what the building at that address looked like. Was it a skyscraper or a factory in the country? What if I wrote a letter just to say hi and mailed it out to that address? Who would receive that letter? Who would open the envelope and touch the paper I had touched? Would it be a woman called Susan or a man called Colin? Would they have straight hair or curly hair? Would they be happy? Would my letter make some difference in their lives? Would my life mean something suddenly just because they knew I existed? I would wonder. So much. In a casual glance that had become an automatic reflex by now. I don't even think about it now everytime I flip over my packs of gum. I don't look at the whole address, just the city, state, and country. I feel attached to all the people whose lives are linked to all those addresses in all those faraway cities that are on streets that have their own stories. It feels like looking at a photograph made of words. Like the pack of gum is a phantom letter that was sent to me. It's almost a lonely feeling.
 My friends kept talking. And I noticed that the address on the pack of gum I was chewing from was of New Delhi. Oh. How funny. I was in New Delhi.
I looked over the rest of the address, curious about if I had been to those areas in Delhi yet. It said 'Okhla Industrial Estate Phase III'. That's where I was at that very moment. I felt a little bit excited and a little bit sick, but I don't think anyone noticed. The floor of my stomach tightened a little bit as I moved my eyes to the building number in the address.
Wait a second.
The NDTV office, the one I was standing outside of, the one I was spending around 10 hours in everyday, was 207.
I suddenly felt weird. Frightened even. I almost felt panicky.
My friends were still talking. I lifted my head away from the pack of gum in my hands and looked at the two buildings that were on either side of the NDTV building. I saw 206.
Oh my God.
I suddenly blurted out to my friends that we were standing next to the building whose address was on my pack of gum. They smiled and thought it was cool, and then went back to their conversation. But I felt so strange, excited, frightened. I felt like I had arrived, that I had made a connection, that in all my travels to find the truth, to find life, that I had finally arrived. At an actual address. I had finally shown up at the right place. Those people at those addresses that I'd always wanted to give my life meaning, one of them ended up being me. 'Somewhere else' was finally 'here'. I could rest now.

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