When I was a young girl I had several pen pals. We would write snail mail letters back and forth across the country and live vicariously through each other. Unfortunately, letter writing appears to be a dying artform. Today, we have "cyber pals" on the Internet. As part of my Publishing Masters at PACE University in New York, I took an online course this summer and corresponded every day via a cyber blackboard with some neat people from vaious walks of life. Now, I have new pen pals. One of them was Shweta Johri. She is a journalist from Mumbai, India, currently living in Manhattan with her husband and working towards her Masters in Publishing at PACE.
She had some great and wonderful insight on our class topics, so I thought having her as a guest blogger would be interesting. She chose to comment on our previous post regarding "Go Away".
I come from Mumbai, the second most populous city in the world, wherethe magic words "go away" have no power. We're surrounded by people all the time, everywhere we go. Even at home, the doorbell rings constantly, people show up unannounced, and when the phone rings, we always answer it – Mumbaiites don't believe in answering-machines or 'Do Not Disturb' signs or keeping to oneself, or the concept of personal boundaries or "me-time".
All my life, I felt suffocated by the constant stream of people imposing upon my time – be it my immediate family or the first cousin of the friend of a friend, a well-meaning but inquisitive neighbor or a persistent street vendor. I longed for what Virginia Woolf describes in her powerful essay as "A Room of One's Own." Then I moved here, and spent a few years oscillating between enjoying the wide open spaces this country has to offer, and suffering horrible withdrawal symptoms from my years of never having been by myself. Currently I'm living in NYC, and it has been a pleasant surprise to discover that it's possible to feel "alonely" in a big city. I use the word "alonely" to distinguish it from the negative connotations of "lonely".
I have begun to appreciate the company of people more, now that I can balance that with the opportunity to enjoy my own company. And I find myself hardly ever saying "go away". But that's probably because this country gives me few reasons to do so – whenever I go back to Mumbai I find myself chanting them more and more. Of course, they still have no power there.