In a strange notion of displacement, I have been contemplating, rather mightily, about the geographical juxtaposition I exist in, with my body here and my mind elsewhere. It could be that I yearn for a different sort of Karachi, or that as the holiday season approaches and I search failingly for festive lights, music and spirit. It could also be that the one activity, us here on this side of the planet do not get to indulge in, is simply exploring the city on foot.
On those such days, my head wanders over to the familiarity of cold concrete, the cacophony of rush-hour traffic, mostly and specifically irate taxis, the shouts and cries of adults and children alike, the throngs of pedestrians on the harangued streets, from all walks of life, making one wonder how many people remain employed in the city, New York city that is. For if they don’t, it would be understandable, no city in the world would offer a more guilt-free, activity-ridden environment to exercise and indulge one’s unemployed excesses in, a trove of treats for the senses so to speak, and yet, speaking as one who has experienced both sides of the coin, more often than not, they do, and that power-ridden, adrenaline-surged walk is in fact replete with much harrowing ambition, the mighty will to excel their pace and simply push past through the maddening crowd (both literally and figuratively), ignoring the imperative need to just slow down time, a couple of seconds, a couple of minutes, to grab a bite (whilst walking of course), but instead keep moving to meet their next appointment on time. The city is constantly in a state of flux, seldom without pulsating activity, never sedentary, never devoid of thought and movement.
Transiting from one location to another is the very nerve centre of this city. In the city of inspiration, adrenaline is rampant in the air, a quiet energy, a force you cannot explain, only experience, as uptown, midtown and downtown all convulse into one large geographical combustion of excesses and ambitions, personas and will. This maddening activity, this walk, whether through the throngs or in solitude (a rare feat unless you’re walking through the largest backyard the city has to offer, Central Park, all 840 woody acres of it) all allude to the perennial tempo of the mind, the senses and the conflicts within. On some days, it is almost a sixth sense, where when rubbing shoulders with your fellow accomplices on concrete, you almost seem to be able to discern their lives through snippets of conversation, being reminded of the shared ambitions, concerns and experiences, making the walk both visceral and poignant, and less harried reminding yourself you share the same experience essentially.
Some of my best and worst moments, whether thinking, speaking or dreaming, anguished or giddy were spent in this very activity. On days when your mind is operating at a maddening speed of light, the rest of the sights whilst walking become very much blurred. Suddenly bright yellow taxi-cabs become fuzzy little dots as they whiz past you, continuing past dusk as they render the backdrop of skyscraper lights the same quality. Conversely, the lines in the cracks on pavement are visible ever so clearly when the head is clear and the mind not conflicted.
I was not present there on 9/11, nor experienced hurricane Sandy or its aftermath, but looking at these events in retrospect and assessing from my short time there, it became abundantly clear that New Yorkers certainly do not change. As much as the hordes of tourists render them unfeeling and curt (a misnomer, as most are helpful and lovely and ever ready to guide a lost wanderer on foot), it remains clear that they still operate as one collective being, tied by the geography of the island and the grid that makes up the city. What they have in common binds them together, walking the traversed streets, visiting the same coffee bars, finding their way about through ubiquitous signs on familiar intersections. The walk taken on solely, is binding in retrospect by the very nature of these activities New Yorkers indulge in, seamlessly woven into the fabric of living in the city, its DNA, or genetic pulse, even more so than a fellow New Yorker on a sidewalk with their arm raised upright, signalling for a cab. It is whispered to them, like a secret, as they make the city their home, and on those days it’s hard not to remember Frost’s words echo through one’s head as New Yorkers really do have miles to go before they sleep.
The writer is a part of Herald’s editorial team.