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I form attachments with places very quickly. Maybe it’s because I am not really an avid traveller, have never had a bucket list, so when I do travel, I tend to feel at one with the concerned place very quickly, and begin to ask myself, “So, why can’t I stay on here for good?” It happens with the oddest of places: it doesn’t need to be a high-profile London, New York, Paris type to get me started. I remember going on an Oxfam trip to Jammu a decade and a half ago, a two-day-long trip, with serious undertones: visiting a camp to speak with refugees, so definitely not a ‘fun’, touristy outing. But halfway through one day, I started experiencing a sense of belonging, and I even checked out a local newspaper office, made friends with the woman editor and toyed with the idea of applying for a job.
Of course, I didn’t, and that tugging of heartstrings lasted for no more than 48 hours. I will come back again, I promised myself, but I didn’t — probably because, like I mentioned earlier, I’m not fond of travelling.
Many encores happened after Jammu — and, of course, there were many precedents before that — but a red-letter one was when I went to Bhopal a couple of years ago, in pre-pandemic times. On an assignment. It was a hurried trip: I got in early morning, and was supposed to leave late evening.
I had been told by a friend who had lived there briefly that I’d get mostly vegetarian food, and that I should dress ‘conservatively. “People have a small-town mentality, not a nice place,” she said.
By the time I was through with the first pre-noon meeting, I could feel a familiar flutter of yearning. I was loving it in Bhopal. My second meeting was in an area that overlooked the lake, pretty as a picture, and my gaze strayed away from the bunch of youthful ‘eco warriors’ I was talking to and zeroed in on a cluster of bungalows perched nearby. The end of the meeting saw me asking them about real estate costs in that area. “I think I really like Bhopal,” I sighed. “Wouldn’t mind living here.”
When I returned to Delhi, I actually went to a property site (99acres.com) and checked out Bhopal house prices. When the friend — the one who asked me to dress conservatively in Bhopal — heard about my online search, she burst out laughing: “Bhopal? Seriously? Have you lost it? How can first impressions matter so much to you?”
Speaking about first impressions, I visited Dubai for the first time in my life in 2004. On a press trip. Glum-faced. My best friend — and colleague — had been dispatched from Delhi to Santiago… the Chilean capital held out the promise of being Hispanic, exotic and far-flung (literally halfway across the world), while here I was getting into an emirate a mere three hours away from Delhi.
A few hours after landing, I was soaking in the sun and sea vibe and falling in love with the city. Dubai was almost unrecognisable back then vis-à-vis 2021, much more laidback, and there was something about it that immediately drew you in. One of the women (from another newspaper) who had accompanied me from Delhi had informed me shyly on the flight that she this was her first trip ‘abroad’; on the ground, she told me she’s surprised she feels so much at home here, despite it being a ‘foreign’ city.
Strangely enough, I didn’t want to stay back in Dubai back then. Mostly because I wanted to tell my friend (who I loved dearly but was very competitive with) Dubai is perhaps much nicer than Santiago.
My second impression of Dubai was when I moved here in 2008. Temporarily, I thought. A year, tops. I was determined to hate it in a build-up to prospective departure: wouldn’t be difficult, I thought, it’s a different city from four years ago when I fell in love with it.
Easier said than done. Second impressions of love — slower, more measured than first ones — can last for a lifetime.
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