No matter what day it was, as soon as dusk struck, I always called up Kumar, “Hey, come out!”. He would hang up the phone quickly and meet me outside. Then we would start on our blissful journey into the neighborhood which lasted until the sounds of chirping birds fainted and the appearance of the moon changed from dull white to shiny yellow- a brisk walk.
The walks started during the autumn of 2012, when I first saw a girl from my terrace; she had fair skin that glowed in the dim rays of sun under the red sky, blonde hair that tempted me to run my fingers through it and just the right amount of innocence on her face that drew me to get to know her. She was in her school dress walking down the street with a green guitar key ring suspended at the bottom of her bag. I froze.
Did she live in my neighborhood? Did she move here recently? Why had I not seen her before?
So I called up my friend Kumar and said, “Hey come out! We have to go for a walk”.
We started walking to discover where exactly this pretty girl lived in the neighborhood. After following her for a few minutes we discovered she lived right next to the shop where I usually bought my groceries. After she walked inside her house, Kumar and I walked around hoping if she would come out to get some biscuits or brownies. She did not come out that day. There was this strange feeling of ‘premature love’, often stated as ‘butterflies in stomach’ warming my heart. I wanted to keep walk around.
The next day I called him again, and we walked around hoping I could get a glance of her. The third day and the following days we walked around the same place, hoping she would come out. As we walked, I talked to Kumar about how I wanted to be friends with her. We plotted a few plans–one day while she would be returning from school I would approach her and ask her for her annual school magazine. I believed asking for her name would be a bad way to start a conversation as it would lead nowhere. I wanted to know her. I wanted to talk to her. So I approached her, “Hey I actually love reading poems and stories. Can I borrow your annual school magazine? She replied saying she does not have one. That was a disappointment. Kumar and I kept walking around her place. Some days she would come out with her sister to take short walks and seeing her around would make my evenings.
In a cold autumn evening, clenching my thin jacket, I enjoyed the tinges of happiness and excitement arising in my heart whenever she came out. We never talked but only smiled at each other. I never knew this quest to get to know her would lead us to a routine of everyday walks, which themselves led to conversations, friendships and discoveries.
It was not until I started walking I noticed the beautiful elements Sanepa (the place where I lived) was adorned with. It was full of trees, small houses and smiling faces. The parrots had built a nest on a tree right next to my house, and we heard them chirp with other little birds. A few men in the local store chatted while staring up at the bulky white clouds under the blue sky. The streets smelled of leaves. If one concentrated, they could hear the faint sound of motor bikes and cars humming amidst the sharp and sweet sounds of birds. An old woman from her terrace smiled at us and said, “Here comes the two brothers again”.
A walk after a tiring day in school was all I needed to complete my day. I dropped my bags, ate a snack and called Kumar. No matter how many historic events I had to remember for a test the next day or how tired my legs were from soccer practice, I always managed to squeeze in some time for a walk- a walk that never went in vain. Once I had fever, and I had to lie to my mom saying I would stay inside Kumar’s home but going for a walk. Without my notice, these walks were gradually helping me form strong bonds with Kumar and myself.
When I walked, I felt like I gained something. Kumar and I spoke about everything that happened throughout the day. We talked about everything that was happening in our lives. For three days we talked about the football tournament that was held in his school. He and his team had a good start on the game the first day. The second day they had tough opponents, but Kumar scored two goals in the final minute as a heavy rain of luck showered them. They disappointingly lost on the third day. We debated on what tactics and strengths should have been applied for them to win the match. Later, when medals were awarded, it turned out that he was the highest goal scorer of the tournament. We rejoiced at the news and as I looked up to the clear sky, saw smiling faces everywhere, and smelled the leaves my feet softly crunched, I felt happy. It was the kind of happiness that aroused from the energy drained during walks.
It was during these walks I learned about Kumar. Through the conversations we had I discovered the soft sides in him. “I once got a chocolate in school but I did not eat it. I brought it home and shared it with my brothers and sisters. My grandparents got impressed and they gave me another chocolate”, Kumar told me. The stories that are not brought up while joking around with people in school were a part of our conversations. While the conversations led to enormous laughs, they also led to debates and arguments that intensified to verbal fights. I recall an argument about the conveniences of iPad and iPhone that lasted for three days. In a loud, sharp voice Kumar would try to bring up everything he knew about each of these devices struggling to put his points in a coherent way. (Critical thinking and debate was never his thing.) He raised his hand, moved his wrists, and curled his fingers in a naïve way as he tried to explain his points. “I learned this technique from my grandfather, it adds intensity to what I say”, he had once told me.
The men, the old women and the passersby would smile at us, as if they were assured that we were not arguing but sharing ‘knowledge’. I too argued with much zest trying to overcome the ‘intensity’ with which he spoke. We argued freely without having anybody to judge our opinions. Words, false facts, self-righteousness, anger, and failed attempts to suppress each other flooded our arguments but they never went in vain.
We were birds set free every time we stepped out for walks. The streets beneath and the sky above formed for us an enormous space where we let out our emotions, thoughts, and jokes. His freedom to speak led him to share how much he hated the dramatic fights and quarrels in his family. I speculated on the norms and ethics of his family, compare it how I was brought up and try to find reasons for why the fights happened. This also in turn helped me realize how much freedom I had in my family.
His family came from Rajasthan, India. Thus, he always had to live in a culture where he could not enjoy the freedom to do things the way he wished. His daily routine was scheduled according to the ease of his family. A ‘No’ from his grandfather meant a ‘No’- there was no question of trying to convince him thereafter. He had restrictions to what he was supposed to eat and drink. A pure vegan had his first sip of Chicken Noodles on the streets of Sanepa. He lit his first cigarette there. He spoke with his heart out, without any fear of anybody criticizing him for what he spoke. As days passed in this fashion, we were gradually learning about our lives, our family’s lives and everything that we shared and did not share.
I was growing up. When I had a bad day or felt stressed out, I would turn up for a walk. Since, Kumar was in 10th grade now and could not come as he had extra-classes during evenings, I went for walks alone. When I walked those heavenly streets I was accompanied by an interminable chain of thoughts. Words, poems and dialogues formed in my head as I gleamed at the red evening sky, smelling a mix of dust and flowers while a dog barked and birds chirped. I tapped into my deepest concerns about life and tried to meditate on where my passions and interest lied.
During sole walks, I would try to find what my dreams were. I was flooded with many answers when I pulled out a thread- a neat thread where the answers to my questions about life were lined up. Thoughts like racism, poverty, love, religion, and life hit me. I swam in these thoughts as I was discovering the realities of life around me. This was a phase when I was struggling to know myself better. An uncle once asked me what I would want to become. (A general question every stranger asks you the first time you are introduced to them). With a certain amount of hesitation and the compulsion to utter out a profession, I said “Engineer”. Why I said engineer I never knew- but likely because my dad was one and engineering was revered by the locals around me.
With questions and answers swarming in my head, walking helped me discover myself. The simple act of taking steps forward and exercising your leg muscles led to an enormous transformation in my soul and mind. The perspectives on life I carry today were shaped as I dug on religion, life and love during walks. Every time I needed an answer I went out for a walk. My passions and desires were revealed to me because of the conversations I had with Kumar. I got an idea of the kind of person I would want to be. I wished to be as happy in my life as I would be on the streets of Sanepa. I dreamed about doing something with music, philosophy and writing.
It was through the talks I had with Kumar that I learned about my inner desires. The walks shaped the perception I have had about life. The walks would give me time to think, and time to talk. It was through thinking and talking I would be able to raise questions and try to answer them. “Why are there unfortunate people in this world?” “Maybe they are not as unfortunate as you think of them to be.” Kumar replied. I could think only when I moved and the walks helped me best. I can recall the days I walked down the same streets twice a day, because I needed ideas to write my application essay for college. They helped me write down everything from the introduction to the concluding paragraph. I had developed a certain kind of love for everything that was around me when I walked.
Not until today I had realized that while I was walking down the streets I was falling in love with everything I observed around me- the birds, the sun setting, the cold breeze, the smiling old woman, and Kumar. Just a simple act of walking led to me to open myself, and talk about my fears and my passions. It helped me connect with the environment, people and with myself. I became more positive and found joy when I was surrounded by sounds and smell of nature. Through these walks I developed the idea of ‘home’.
A month has passed now in Paris, and I can honestly say that I’ve barely went out for a walk. After four years of being together, Kumar left for India to continue his education and after a month of his departure I left for France. During the month that he left, I found myself stuck in between phases where my body demanded the physical act of walking every evening but my heart somehow resisted the urge to go out. Some days, when the resisting force of my heart overcame my desire to go out, I usually sat on my terrace – there was no way I could stay away from clouds, trees, breezes and sounds of nature. I could not understand the urge of my heart and was not brave enough to question the force of nature- change.
During the last two weeks in my hometown, I stepped out to walk, and the old woman from her terrace said, “Thirteen days remaining now and you will leave too.” I could not comprehend how much our walks had had impacts on us and the people around us. For four years, Zappy, my dog, made sharp cries of annoyance and desire to go out with me when he heard the sharp creaky sound of the main gate opening. I wonder how the old woman, watching us from the terrace must have felt as she watched over us for four years. I can barely tell if it helped her reminisce of her golden days of youth, where she too must have played in the fields or have had friendships that were now long lost due to death or distance. Nevertheless, I am assured that when she watched over us, she too felt the strength of our friendships, the happiness of our laughter, and the proximity between two who used to fall in an unrequired argument one day and meet the next day again, only to argue with more reasons and intensity. She misses us, I know.
Today as I wake up to the sound of alarm clocks beeping continuously, I rush to make my breakfast, I hurry up in the bathroom, check my bag for all the important books and folders and walk to the metro station, with no sunlight warming my body. Throughout the day I work to complete my assignments and as soon as I reach home I am burdened with the weights of cooking, washing dishes and cleaning my room. I barely find time for a walk. When I am walking to my school I see around and felt empty. I see people in rush– a suited up man skating his way through the busy footpaths while adjusting the strap of his laptop bag on his shoulders. I hear the hum of a foreign language that keeps reminding me that I am away from home.
A few days ago when I tried to go out for a walk in a park I missed home more than I ever did. No matter where I turned my head, all I could see were foreign faces, children screaming, old sculptures and a replica of an alligator with it’s mouth open- I could not walk. It did not feel natural. With every step I took I forced myself to walk for a few more minutes hoping I would get the tinge of feelings I got in Sanepa. Nothing felt like the way they used to be. I stopped and I sat down.
The journey that started with the quest to get to know the beautiful girl in the neighborhood had ultimately ended falling in love with nature and forming bonds with Kumar, myself and home. When a person asks me what I miss the most, the glimpses of streets are the first to flash before my eyes- the streets of love and freedom.