A few weeks before I left New York, I found myself in a cab crossing the Williamsburg Bridge. The skyline opened up before me, the familiar jagged teeth chomping at crisp autumn sky. I felt the city tug at my heart, evoke in me the moments I had shared with her, all the special people tucked away in her buildings. I remembered the promise she had held for me as an 18-year-old, freshly independent. The view reminded me of that one time I was on a descending plane when Manhattan unfolded for me, more clear and readable than a map. I could trace my first year dorm from Union Square, the long concave stretch of Central Park. I had chased sunrise from the Arabian Sea. I caught it on the Long Island Sound.
Last week, I ended up in a similar position with a different city. From a rooftop restaurant, I saw Mumbai sprawl, lights twinkling drunkenly. They winked at me, as if we were sharing a secret. Again, I felt that same swell in my chest that can only be described as love.
I feel this love sometimes when I walk the streets of these cities. It is a sense of belonging, a sense that I am possessed and that I possess. But it happens less frequently than when the city is set at a distance. When I can take it all in at once. When New York is a whisper in the mouth of the Hudson River, when it is a cake on a pedestal that can be admired from a distance, it is easy to love. When Mumbai is something under me, when skyscrapers thrust upward as if they’re the exclamation point on PROGRESS!, it is easy to love. It is easy to love from distances. When all you have are pictures, smells, hour-long Skype conversations punctuating months without contact, it is easy to love.
The flaws fall away from our eyes. There is a reason why the Blue Marble, the picture that Apollo 17 astronauts snapped from their spaceship, is cherished as one of the most beautiful pictures of the Earth ever to be taken. The edges are smooth. The white swirls on the surface aren’t devastating cyclones, they’re God’s masterful brushstrokes. The Blue Marble doesn’t show famine or war. When the astronauts saw the Earth in the window, I can only imagine that they thought of the wicked sun coaxed to soften by our atmosphere, Thanksgiving, beaches, their babies. I am only guessing.
Tucked away, I am deafened by crows. I am blinded by sun. But pulled away, pulled back away from the rough edges of the corrugated tin that constitute the shanties, from garbage day in New York, from fights with my father and irritations with my friends, all the edges are smooth. All I can remember is love.