Letter from Delhi

The weeks, they start sore. A little fish bone stuck in the throat. A tiny knot belching at the center of the head. Something slowly crawling inside. A heaviness taking the place of the dance-y nothing in my stomach. Why you ask me? I would be the last person to know. I blame the heat. I blame my confused self. I blame the origin of this summer of 2023.

It starts with a crepuscular absence that radiates through my being. Pulsing through the curves of my belly, sticking down the full thighs, and oozing out through the chipped toenails. A sense of being utterly insufficient. Leaving my two-bedroom house emptier than ever before, but also full of me as I sleep through the languorous days and lacquered nights.

Today, as I opened the padlock of the house after a week in the mountains, I carried with me a heaviness, a sense of duty towards ennui. A summer of impending gloom followed its way, through to the desert plains of Delhi from the Himalayas. The mood shifts a bit as evening descends and I turn off the air conditioning. The heat continuing to serenade my bedroom windows, almost making me open them.

The words I wrote in this essay a week ago now feel as if they were written by someone with an acute, great affinity for joy. Am I the person who wrote those words or the one who is wading through the tepid waters of mid-summer melancholy? Why this specific feeling in place of all those other more encouraging emotions that rage through me at other times?

The answer lies in the pith of this summer.

A writer I look up to, Cal Flyn, shared this word on Twitter the other day: “pancalism.”. It’s the medieval belief that the entire cosmos was inherently beautiful. On other days, I would have pondered over thebeauty of this word, noted its meaning in the back of my notebook and moved on. But today I linger a little longer on it. The meaning, the presences, these set of words have come to find me at a befitting time in my year, month, day. They help me taste out the hidden lies the summer tries to tell me as it continues to strain every last iota of inspiration. The vernacular of this turn of phrase bewitches me as I puzzle over its unending charm.

I sit up alert to the cadence that the knowledge of this new word produces in me. I am a little more alive, keenly alert to the rhythm of how this would fit in that essay I had long been thinking of pitching. My brain is working now, shifting gears. I want to know more about the language of words. I am drawn towards the shifty sands of fiction again; I want to thumb through the pages of a book to arrive at a word or a phrase I did not know of before.

I pull out my copy of Calvino’s Invisible Cities from the shelf. New as a day, its pages crisp. I devour the book in a day’s time, annotations, and all. In that June day the summer has nothing on me. I am indefatigable.

The next morning, I sit with my whipped coffee, and page through my notes in the margins of the notebook and a quote jumps out.

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

It makes me wonder about the question I have been asking my city – ]Delhi. Did I come to this city just for work? Did I come here just to find love, get married and then settle down? What then about the motions of becoming myself? Did I never want the city to give me back a bit of myself? After having spent six summers this time around, what have I gained? This has been the city that I knew like the back of my hand since childhood, but getting to know it as an independent, thinking, working person has been a privilege too. Then what did I make of it?

Did I allow its ruinations to get to me then? What about the evocations that the city seemed to be binding on millions of others around? I peer at the faintest of happiness I’ve figured for myself in the last years here, and nothing seems to hold a candle to the joys that I’ve let go.

Do I keep a catalogue of all that I’ve missed? And will I now add the summer of 2023 to that list, too?

I think not. I decide not to. This summer I take back a piece of myself from this city. From its icicles I scour out a cushion to rest gently on, a nest to be gullible around, a pond to calm the inner recesses in. The reaches of this summer’s loneliness have tested me but wading through those purple waters I’ve found a way of being where I begin again.

I try, I fail, I begin again. I try over and over again, I reconfigure my ways of being.

The malaise stays. The morasses grow. The melancholy multiplies. But now, at least, I have an answer to my searching questions. Now, at least, I know why I had come here in the first place. Now each night, at the end of my days, I dance in the arms of the person who is a little too easily ruffled but is also a firefighter. I am the morass that grows, I am the malaise that contains and the melancholy that disturbs. But I am also the answer to my questions, I am also salve to the gluttonous search and I am the person who endlessly loses and finds myself through the platitudes of the great Delhi summer of 2023.

Anandi Mishra