The past week has been an overwhelming one. Never had I imagined that a piece written as a form of emotional release would go viral and be read by thousands of people. I’ve received hundreds of letters from strangers in UAE and around the world who have thanked me, shared their own stories, sent me virtual hugs, given me advice and wished me luck. As someone who is generally cynical of people and their intentions, these messages resonate deep within me as a reminder of the goodness that exists out there.
I am also humbled by the power of storytelling – how it connects us with each other by drawing out our most vulnerable selves from the hard shells we build to survive. This life-skill called ‘being strong’ can sometimes be a solid pain in the butt and it feels good to let go and say- ‘Hey you know what? I’m really sad and I’m feeling all this pain that I know nothing much can be done about it so I’m just going to go ahead and permit myself to feel lost in it.’
Apart from being honest about this pain, the second hardest part about writing is finding the balance between having all of yourself in the words you churn and making it relatable to others. I sat down to write ‘Goodbye Dubai’ almost two months ago. Surrounded by a clutter of boxes and toys in the living room at some ungodly hour, I typed two sentences and then stared at the screen for a long time. After another forced sentence I gave up, shut shop and went to sleep. Clearly I wasn’t ready.
The barely-written draft loomed over my head constantly; every time one box got sealed and weighed, every good-bye I said to a friend or family member, every ‘Oh this is the last time I’m doing this’ moment. In the end I boarded the flight back to India with an unfinished draft.
A fortnight ago someone I met randomly asked me how long I’d been in Dubai before moving back. “Almost all of my life.”, I replied. In that moment my mind got a solid whack of inspiration. It was that definition of ‘all of my life’ that I sat down to pour out in a single night and ‘Goodbye Dubai’ got written, posted and subsequently shared.
For everyone who has read the piece and been moved, you have made it all worth it. By shedding a tear or feeling a heaviness in your heart, you have created magic with me. Together we have built our own little world, a clan of expatriates and ex-expatriates who feel the common thread of nostalgia and are contemplating some big questions in our lives right now.
There is, however, something I wish to make clear.
In some of the letters I received, there was a sense of, “We’re so sorry this happened to you but we wish you luck for your future.” I want to re-iterate that leaving Dubai has been a decision we made not out of desperation stemming from lack of choices, but as a conscious effort to begin designing a different future for our family. After laying out all the pros and cons of continuing life the way it was or moving back to India, we went through some very rough months of debating, half-baked planning, having nasty arguments, spending sleepless nights and feeling completely muddled by the prospect of starting over. Several friends and family members were brutally honest in letting us know that we were making the biggest mistake of our lives and would soon regret it and return.
The process has been far from easy and having a child in the middle of the equation has only added to the mental chaos. But the few supportive friends in our lives have been enough to help us stay afloat and assure us that we have both the smarts and courage to achieve anything, anywhere we want to. (I love you guys to the moon and back.)
To those of you who have written to me and confessed that you continue to live in a city only because you are too scared to leave, I want to tell you that this fear is normal. In fact, it’s a starting point for greater things. I’ve been hugging mine for the past three years, feeding it slowly every night, waiting for it to grow big enough to push me to the brink of my comfort zone.
I wish things were as easy as watching Salma Hayek and Denzel Washington talk about failing and how it is essential to living a spectacular life and feeling all fluffed up by their words. They made it, what if we don’t? What if our attempt to break away from conventional expectations of a ‘secure life’ winds up being one gigantic regret? There are so many questions and not a glimmer of an answer.
Even as I type this, I’m getting chewed by mosquitoes, the husband is complaining about the heat and missing his creamy Swiss chocolates, the little one is chasing ants in the backyard and despite all our warnings, is waving to strangers walking by. There are routines to be established, jobs to be found, finances to be sorted, friends to be made. So much to figure out, so much to do. No more Hakuna-Matata-ing. Rafiki is whispering “It is time.” in our ears. (Yes- I love Lion King way too much)
And yes indeed it is time. To look beyond roots and see the sprouting buds.