My friend had asked me to mark 1st January 2017 since it was her wedding that day. I laughed and said I will be like the Dutch and put it on my agenda! We had become friends while studying at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Our friendship was quite happenstance. Even though the management school is where most Indian students tend to cluster, I happened to study in the communication department, and my friend in the law school. Both of us were the only Indians in the class, and so perhaps the only Indian friends we had were those we had come across outside the university campus or met via mutual friends.
At the risk of sounding like a besotted guy, twice or thrice I would keep bumping into an Indian girl, who would always give me the most dazzling of smiles. I think many Indian students studying abroad would agree that you immediately know if someone is an Indian. So whenever my friend and I came across each other, we instinctively knew that we were from the same country, add to it her beautiful smile would result a big smile from my side too. Later walking to my class, I thought to myself, that maybe next time it should go beyond a smile and I should initiate a conversation. Next time when I spotted her from afar, and here is the slightly creepy part! I actually followed her!! She was far ahead, but I did not want to lose sight of her. For the record I do not do this with everyone, but instinctively I felt we would hit it off and she won’t mind me following her! I finally managed to catch hold of her and told her, ‘Hey we always smile at each other, thought it was time to say a hi also!’. I had another Indian friend from Bangalore at my side at the time too, who was perhaps ready to disown me for following some random girl in the university haha. However once the three of us started talking, it was a pandemonium! The girl turned out to be from Bangalore as well, and was missing talking to someone in Kannada. So after behaving like a besotted guy, I also became a matchmaker for two of my friends!! (if you are thinking the matchmaker on the lines of Fiddler on the Roof, sorry to disappoint then!)
And now her and I have graduated from Erasmus, returned to India, in our respective cities, and as we chatted, we reminisced how we missed Rotterdam and the university. Unconsciously both of us had not deleted certain apps from our mobile which are not meant for use in India! and to think my mobile has been reminding me that the storage is almost full and I need to uninstall some apps. Somehow it never came to my mind that I had not deleted apps like the weather app, which I would check every time before I would head out with my cycle, or my bank app, to keep a check on my expenses, or the 9292 travel app. And we both started wondering how some place or a city becomes such an intrinsic part of our lives, without us even realising it.
Think it has been a little over a month since I returned to Delhi from Rotterdam. And it is only now that I feel a bit stable, a bit settled. Physically though I had adjusted quickly, going for work and doing regular household chores, but mentally I felt I was in some kind of limbo. Like I was floating in some middle world, unable to decide where I really belonged to, and having a sense of have lived in some parallel world in the past two years. I had come to know Rotterdam on the back of my palms, the city had grown into me. Often when I walked or cycled around in the city, I felt like its denizen. Everyday its familiarity creating a stronghold into me, and making me more confident and sure about myself.
I am not the most confident of person’s around. Often I am nervous, hesitant, and unsure of myself. I was worse before going to the Netherlands. Extremely conscious of myself, less sure and always seeking for approval from those around me. I still am like that, but only to an extent. I don’t see the city of Rotterdam as merely a city where I happened to go and study in, but as a city which symbolises my transformation and growth as an individual. As a majorly introvert person, it was a task for me to consciously go out the first year of my studies to meet people, socialise and make friends. It took a lot of confidence building measures, to borrow from International Relations terminology! to build relations with people. Three years ago I would not have pictured myself, heck neither would my parents have, that I would go on solo trips and manage to ensure the finances for one last trip to Paris before I headed home. It sounds big and grand, but it was not. Sometimes before every trip I would panic, panic about my passport or travel details. But every time I would worry needlessly.
When you are living on your own, and when you are trying to make your own way around, you sometimes discover hidden strengths. I was home alone during winter vacations, with both my flatmates out on a family holiday, when the geyser in the kitchen burst. There was water everywhere in the kitchen. Initially flummoxed, I let the kitchen be, dried away the water and informed the housing agency. I was surprised at my own calm response to the situation. Or for instance, looking at avenues to keep myself busy, to keep learning, I started this blog and started writing intensively for other online magazines, and little by little I developed my own writing style. It took a while, but I am proud to say that even though my writing still needs a lot of work, I have finally found my voice, finally discovered my unique style of writing, something which I can call truly call my very own. I finally opened an instagram account too, where slowly but surely I am learning the ropes of the language of the visual. As a foreigner in a new country, when you see new things, you also perceive and understand them in a new light, which to an extent comes across either through writing or visuals.
I often got remarks on how beautiful my skin tone looked or how I do not need make up to look nice. Those who know me from India know I was always very conscious about my looks, my weight, my nose, everything about my physical experience! I saw myself in a new light in the Netherlands. I still want to work on my body, but not for others, but for myself, for my own health. As cliched as it may sound, I did start to like, and still trying to love myself whole heartedly. When I cycled around the city, it was a wonderful feeling, to feel free, to just be able to turn a corner if I found something interesting. The Kralingen forest in Rotterdam was my favourite spot, where I would cycle amidst the forest, surrounded by tall trees, singing loudly or just gazing, I could simply be me. I did not hold myself back. Heck, even managed to cycled 60 kms in a day!!!!
Importantly I discovered an untapped academic skill in me which I had never been able to utilise properly. This helped me to chalk out goals for myself for the coming few years, and knowing for certain that yes, maybe this is what I am good at, and I will do well in. I could write on and on and on, but I thought this was necessary, since I had been meaning to write this. Write about what exactly Rotterdam meant to me. Rotterdam is a quirky city, extremely post-modern and with wonderful architecture all around. It spoke to me since I am equally quirky, eccentric even sometimes. Sometimes people don’t get my humour, or they think I am too much of a nerd. Rotterdam appealed to my creative side, rather helped build it and sustain it. But like the city, which is slowly emerging, emerging from an unsure character and self, and landing itself up on lists like cities that are different and must be visited, the city helped me to bloom, and I am still growing and trying to capitalise on this. I feel like Rotterdam and I were partners in crime, helping each other to grow, learn and tell the world that hey, I am alive and happening. On a final note…I had once read a phrase which said travel far enough and you will discover yourself, but in my case I travelled far enough, travelled to Rotterdam, only to discover that IT IS ME.
Photo credits: Moi 😀