They say Los Angeles is a giant mirror. It reflects the all parts of you back at you. But I wonder if the same isn’t true of any big city. Its residents scattered across miles of solid concrete landscape. I think Delhi is a giant mirror too, and I’m not sure I liked what I saw.
When I look back at this experience, what is it that I’ll remember most? The initial pairing of curiosity and slight feeling of underwhelm? The balancing of my natural fears with the very real danger of being female in this city? Or will it be something else? Something much more vulnerable. I’ve learned so much this summer, much about myself and about the world.
Here I sit, propped up against the remains of a mosque in south Delhi, surrounded by college couples. Playing guitar, smoking cigarettes, drinking sodas. Delhi is a reflection of all the cities I love and hate. This is a little Washington Square Park. The boys in tight skinny-jeans on scooters are a bit of Rome. The youthful, intellectual scruffiness is reminiscent of Ramallah.
There are art students spread across the ruins, doing rapid sketches of whatever catches their eyes. The monsoon is wrapping up but there is still a mid-day drizzle. A light sprinkle with misty drops. It makes the landscape here Auckland green, set against Irish grey skies. It is around noon, and the call to prayer echoes off the water and into the ruins. I don’t know if it’s real, or where it’s coming from, But it is a tune I have come to know so well, almost by heart.
I make eye contact with an art student. She smiles as she walks past, and settles across the room from me. She begins to draw. I smile at her silent permission, and return to my journal.
This is the vulnerable thing: I worry too much about what others think of me. It was the most painful lesson of the summer. The criticism of others this summer has been deafening. Actually, more accurately, it has been the opposite. To get the silent, cold shoulder of many people while so far from home seems excessively cruel.
But I realize that this too– this disapproving silence from others– is something that I packed with me. I brought it here myself. The still-fresh sting of former friends cutting off contact. Unanswered phone-calls and texts. The desperate search for community, for belonging. Grasping. Perhaps I brought this loneliness here, this need for approval; Delhi is just showing it back to me in the ugliest way possible.
What is it she is drawing? Who does she see? Just a foreigner by a lake? Does she see how hard this summer was for me? I feel like I’ve been broken into so many pieces– there is nothing here to draw. Delhi is a mirror, and right now, all I see are my shadow parts.
Does she see them too?