Friday, January 29, 2016

City Lights 5: Lonely in the City

(Cindy Sherman; Lonely woman in the city)

Cities engender lonely people. Loneliness is the reigning character of any city. Perhaps, that is why most of the cities have a lot of lights, discotheques, cinema halls, malls, shopping centers and too many distractions. Each sparkling thing in the city is meant to distract people from their loneliness. Shrouded in their aloneness and lost in the streets even within the crowds, people struggle with their left- aloneness in various ways. Some anchor themselves in chanting scriptures, some read books, most of them look at the screens of their smart phones, some people involve in empty chats, some look vacantly into the thin air, some sleep off and if you look at the hands of the loneliest people, you could see them clutching on something as if that is the last straw that would save them from the impending doom. It could be a hook that hangs from the ceiling of a bus or a metro coach. It could be a fancy clutch, it could be a computer bag or it could even be a faded umbrella- they hold on to them with that mortal fear of losing themselves into the gaping hollows of existence in the city.

Lonely people are alike everywhere that’s why most of the city people look alike. They go for the same fashion and all of a sudden all the girls in a city would wear a particular color in certain cut. All the boys without any rhyme or reason would sport the same kind of hairstyle, wear same kind of trousers and even walk and talk in the same way as the other boys in any other city. In their likeness they immerse their identity and individuality because they are so afraid of being unique and they are so frightened to let their individuality to flourish. They avoid their extreme aloneness by becoming one amongst the crowd. They in turn believe that they are the trendiest of people in the city. It happens with the office going middle class and the working class people. In one season all of them would wear the same kind of sweater in the winder, the same kind of shirt in the summer. They would wear the same kind of sari, consume the same kind of food- all in order to escape from their loneliness. They want to identify themselves with other people in the city therefore they could just disappear and be a part of the crowd and feel safe.

Recognizing one’s individuality is the fiercest form of aloneness and exercising it needs a lot of courage. Cities generally do not allow people to be alone. If people are alone, they would start thinking for themselves. Lonely people will walk alone and stand alone. The state and the corporates that rule the cities are afraid of lonely people who walk and stand alone. Religions, organizations, establishments and all those edifices where the state has a hold ideologically are afraid of the lonely people. To keep the people engage and to kill their loneliness and aloneness the state always provides distractions in the forms of entertainment and consuming. Food, travel, cinema, music, books, art and everything these days are organized as group activities. People no longer walk into a restaurant alone and eat or drink silently in a corner. Rare are those people who do so and they definitely are treated as nut cases and somehow they are kept apart and aside, and none just wouldn’t mess up with them because they are lonely people therefore dangerous people. Most of us these days do not watch movies alone, listens to songs alone; everything needs some kind of a group activity whether it is reading a book or enjoying art.

In literature you would see people or individuals exercising their right to be alone or enjoy loneliness. There is a small difference between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness is often understood as a forced thing on an individual and he/she is lonely because of certain social pressures or lack of confidence or even that person’s inability to make friends. Aloneness on the other hand is understood as some social positioning of the self and one prefers to be alone in a given situation or otherwise. Some people have a general disposition to be alone. Some people prefer to enjoy loneliness that need not necessarily be interpreted as melancholic demeanor. One could be absolutely happy in one’s loneliness and one could joyful or even blissful in one’s aloneness. Standing alone needs a lot of courage and cities often give the opportunity to be alone, walk alone, talk alone and live alone. The more it gives such opportunities the more it takes away the possibilities to enjoy or exercise such loneliness or aloneness. Through the mix match of opportunities and possibilities cities always allure a person to be alone and at the same time indulge in group activities.

Lonely people prefer to walk into a building alone. The people who want aloneness prefer to use even an elevator alone. It is not because the other is hell but because the other could intrusive. The city has its very peculiar tendency to interfere with the individual’s life. The city prepares its own citizens to do that. One cannot just sit alone on a park bench; if he/she does some people would approach either to heckle them or to peddle something. But people who prefer aloneness fiercely fight for their freedom. They choose go alone into a theatre and ask for the seat of their liking. They prefer to sit alone in a library or a cafĂ©. Neither they would poke nose into other’s matters nor would they let others do so in their lives. But somehow the society at large does not entertain the lonely people. In cities it has become increasingly difficult for single people to find accommodation though singledom of a person does not assure his or her loneliness. But mostly the single people are single because they value their aloneness and loneliness.

Cities themselves have this inherent quality to be alone. Have you ever seen a city from the outside; to see a city from outside one should live in the city for a long time, leave and then come back with some kind of affected disinterested-ness. As we approach a city we feel it like an organism trying to extricate itself from the clutches of uncouthness and the chaotic activities at the fringes. A city just does not happen all of a sudden. One has to travel along the vast tracts of farm lands and little hamlets before one reaches a proper town with buildings and activities in human scale. From there as one moves further the activities increase and the height and the glitter of the building grow in size both vertically and horizontally. The chaos slowly gives away to some kind of orderliness which would submerge into the planned lay outs and regimented movements. Even if the apparent movements and activities of people in a city look a bit chaotic and random, a deeper look would reveal that there is always a sense of order in those movements. The city slowly transforms before our eyes and becomes just a backdrop for varied human activities to take place. The city without its people is the loneliest sight in the world. That means people make a city; not the buildings and the streets. A city becomes a city in proper sense only when the people respond to the buildings and streets and also in turn create their own buildings and spaces. There is a constant stream of claiming the spaces by the people in a city which gives the final meaning to a city.

To understand the loneliness of a city, one should use imagination and erase the city away from the human activities that take place in a city both in day and night. The people would look absolutely lost in a nowhere space and suddenly all their movements and activities would lose their meanings. They would become the participants in an absurd drama of existence. That means, the physical structures of a city also give meaning to the lives of the people. Once separated, they are absolutely lonely and useless. One has to approach a city in the dead of night to know how lonely a city looks like. The same place that looked so buzzing with human activities look abandoned and eerie at night. Even if there is human presence certain places in a city look more dream like in night. Everything washed in loneliness at night in a city. The city itself is a lonely being with its tired lights refusing to sparkle and at the same refusing to die. The lights that fall through the blinds inside the hotel rooms and office halls that function at night give a special hue to the places that enhances the density of loneliness of a city. Even if there is traffic on the road in the midnight, each vehicle that moves looks like a lonely planet with one or two people trapped inside it eternally lost. One should see the people driving back home; you could touch loneliness there. One should see couple driving back home or driving around after a tiff between each other. You should see a young woman is picked by her husband, father or brother from the office in the evening and you should them driving back home. You can measure the depth of loneliness in their faces. However they try to distract themselves they remain lonely and alone. That is the loneliness of the cities.

The loneliest people eat alone. Perhaps, seeing a person eating alone in a restaurant or inside a room is the gloomiest sight in the world. It is gloomy because one could feel the depth of loneliness surrounding them in that darkness. One could watch them doing the act of eating in slow motion. Everything is focused. The head is hung. If it is held high (how one could) the eyes would be staring into something beyond. But only the sight of these people eating alone is a gloomy one. For them this must be a very enjoyable experience. One could repeat that ritual of eating in certain way for years on without getting bored. They are not bored that is why they continue with. Even if we feel pity for such lonely people, we do not understand that it is not their pathetic state that has put them into that condition but their ultimate sense of joy that is making them continue with the same ritual of eating alone. They are mysterious people as most of the lonely people are mysterious. Their mystery is depended on their aloofness. They arose some kind of curiosity or fear amongst the onlookers. And there will some moments when we also feel like becoming those people who are lonely and seem to be enjoying it to the hilt.

Lonely people also take selfies. But they take the selfies with their shadows. Sometimes they are interested in clicking their shadows alone. They are not interested in places, people, events, occasions, spectacles, beauty, excitement etc. They are simply interested in their shadows. They could look at their shadows for a long time. They could measure the size of the shadow and understand the time of the day. They hear the music of the unseen creatures. They travel in the unseen planets. They see the landscape of shadows where the memories of the loved ones whom they have never seen or would never see lurk like angels in a dream. Their effort to capture the shadow comes from the idea of capturing angels in silence. And each picture of their own shadow is framed by an unwritten poem and also by a thoughtless thought. There is a secret smile that sheds light on the shadow so that the edges of the shadow look like drawn by dews and shining snow. Lonely people would allure us with their shadow pictures but they should be let alone. Any attempt to make them your companions would end up in disaster because they are people who enjoy the company of their own selves. They love their cities because they know that the cities are also like them. 

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