And the mid-sem break is finally upon us! For two years studying in the most prestigious public university of the country (terms and conditions applied) have entailed me telling my debatably more fortunate friends in private universities that my six month long semester now squeezed into four pathetically short months, flies by without a singular mid-semester break. Back in the days of Google Meet University, it did not really matter, since 8:30 classes were about switching on your laptop and falling asleep again (God bless all the people who figured out how to record lectures) as opposed to making your way through cow-dung in Old Gupta Colony and haggling with rickshaw-drivers over twenty bucks.
At the stag end of my degree, the promise and fruition of a well earned semester break is nothing short of enticing. But even as I groan over all the pictures of my hometown decked in glorious lights, all set to don the garb of an open art gallery for ten days, I realise there are among my peers who will not go home during this break and juniors who will not be able to go home. Attendance sucks really. Having exhausted medical claims for lazy Wednesdays and hungover Fridays, people find themselves now faced with the risk of staking five full marks at the cost of returning home for festivities.
But it is moments such as these that make me wonder truly what it means to be an outstation kid in this lonely little city during festival week? We all come away from our homes with suitcases packed with dreams which can never be appropriately weighted by airport authorities. We come with hopes that are beyond the beeps of securities at transit. We look for houses, negotiate rents, put up with scheming landlords and adjust our intestines to the atrocious fare that is served in the name of daily food. In the end, we find our own corners, deck them up with fairy lights, save up for Alexa and make it our goal to purchase fresh flowers at least once a week. You know a city is unkind when the price of chrysanthemums makes you rummage your pockets to check if you have enough for dinner later, and you settle for the familiarity of white peeling tuberoses.
But soon we realise that for houses to become homes, they must pass the litmus test of establishing unconscious hierarchies with which come inevitable power dynamics. Dynamics that bring with them the quiet company of many heartbreaks and disappointments. Eventually you are left straddling the remnants of a home back where you came from – a home that grows seemingly distant with every passing day – and the burden of making peace with the home you promised to build yourself here. Oftenstance, situations arise when the need to anchor oneself leaves one feeling even more vulnerable, and we assume the hybrid identity of outliers – neither here nor there. Neither able to go back in full throttle nor able to make peace with the newness of where we are now. Festivals don’t help either.
In a search of making sense of an existence this deeply in a moment of flux, we often find ourselves longing to go back to the warm glaze of a city waking up to colours and words of joy on a festival of homecoming. We find ourselves craving the sweets that Maa would make in the kitchen – samples to be nibbled at, the actual specimen only made available when the guests arrived. At that moment the journey of coming to the big city becomes an exercise in meaning-making and fighting urges to not succumb to the comfort of familiarity in the most unfamiliar of circumstances.
To all the people who will not be returning home for your festivals this mid-sem break, because of you have heartbreaks to tell your pillow about, playlists of crushes to hear on loop, professional disappointments to cope with and peace to be made with waning family ties, I loan a few words of Vikram Seth. he writes, “All you who sleep tonight, far from the ones you love…. The whole world shares your tears, Some for two nights or one, And some for all their years.”