Each morning I wake up on my 39th floor perch above the city and pinch myself. It’s a dream come true. As I pound the treadmill, gulp my cereal and plunge headlong into the Q train, I revel in the moments. My New York City moments. But my social life in this highly recreational city is always questioned. Not that I don’t go out. Au contraire, people on my Facebook page need to surface after drowning in a deluge of posts highlighting my outgoing side. But most of it revolves around India folks and therein lies the issue.E
“Why don’t you abandon your friends from India and start building a life in the city?” ask the few New Yorker friends I count on my fingertips. “Because I can’t and I won’t,” is my common refrain. “I have priorities; my heart takes precedence over my brain.”
New York is a thoroughfare. Most visitors from India, inevitably brush past my city. There are days I double and triple book with drinks, dinner and coffee. And in between is me time with my boyfriend; New York City. I am wooed by shows, parks, museums, movies, dive bars, neighbourhood gems and walks in the city. And wowed by the art, the buildings, the oodles of creativity. New York enfolds me in a loving embrace, refusing to let me go. Tough but sensual, filthy and stunning, it’s a city of dichotomies. We co-exist in a confused jumble of love, hate and everything in between.
I enjoy sharing my boyfriend with my friends from India. True most of them come with an agenda of their own. They come with lists of must eat at restaurants, must see shows and must go to shops. Most of them scream HIGH END. My New York friends are amused at my elitist behavior. With them I go to little known restaurants. No frills. Not fancy. And certainly easier on the pocket. With them I prowl Prospect Park and walk the Highline. I attend book readings and jam sessions. I discover an underbelly that teases me to let go my la di da notions of the city and embrace a whole different side.
Like the Chihuly night exhibit. Just a 45-minute subway ride away, the New York Botanical garden is not on the must visit list of my friends from India. I had seen the exhibit in the day and coaxed friends from India to see it with me at night. Luckily, they did not need much convincing. The garden is busier at night than during the day. Salsa, hip hop, classical, live bands; every corner alive, pulsating with music. Champagne, wine, beer, even margarita on sale, though for an extravagantly high price. Men on stilts entertained visitors AND above all the Chihuly works. Glowing in the dark. Twinkling. Enticing. Mind boggling. A full moon above and lit up works below. Magical New York moments.
Recently I rode the Staten Island ferry. It was with friends from India and we just went on a lark.
“Why Staten Island?” asked a New Yorker friend. “It’s the Pimpri of New York!” Yes, here too they have hang-ups about where you live.
The posh side, the seedy parts. The trendy hoods and the kid-friendly ones. But the city has changed dramatically from what it was when I was a student at university. It was a dangerous place at the time. Today it’s safe. I’ve taken the subway at 2am. Sure there are unseemly people, and it’s not something I do frequently but the city never sleeps. There are always people around. New York is gentrifying. Where I live was a run-down neighbourhood. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it now. It’s like Lower Parel. All high rises, glass and steel.
As a single woman in Pune, there wasn’t much on offer. And I’m not talking about the two-legged kind of offerings. Those are non-existent. I mean museums. Shows. Comedy clubs. Jazz bars. Somewhere a woman can go. Alone. And be entertained. I remember going on a date with an ex-pat in Pune and as I walked into the restaurant, I counted five tables with friends who assiduously avoided my eyes. The man caressing my wrist and trying to woo me embarrassed them more than it did me.
In New York no one cares. Anonymity wraps itself around me. I can take a book, choose a sun bench on the Highline and lie there the whole day without any one disturbing me. New Yorkers are a busy lot. Impromptu plans are not too easy to come by. My single friends keep themselves as busy as me. I’m told, “Try Bumble? Or Hinge? Maybe Picke? How about Tinder? E-harmony is excellent.” Even if I wanted to, try telling a prospective date, ok I can fit you in three weeks from now, for a drink before dinner. Not quite. Having said that, sometimes going out gets tedious. And though solitude can potentially turn into loneliness, I do enjoy the days when I don’t need to go out. Days I can kick off my shoes, curl up on the couch, pour a glass of wine and open my book.
And when I have no visitors from India. No plans with my boyfriend. On a dreary New York day, when rain lashes the city or snow dump turns the ground slushy;I pick up my phone and dial a number. Thanks to WhatsApp video, Facetime and Skype, Pune is just a touch away.
I’m always home.