The Lonely City(?) or lonely in a city?

“Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as desired.” Olivia Laing made me reminisce my most lonely times in a city bustling with people through these lines on the very first page of her book. Mumbai- the city of dreams (?) as it is so famously called. But also, the city of people, people who buzz like bees in this hive trying to find hope in an opportunity. I was one of them, who first came here looking for an opportunity after my graduation. Hopeful as I was, scared too. It felt like being “out there” on my own, even though I had immense support from my family. If I flashback and imagine myself in the city, I visualize it as a timelapse video of people passing me by with me, standing numb as if pinned to the earth.

Amidst a sea of people, I found myself lonely. On phone calls with friends, I found myself vacant. With the relatives I stayed with, I experienced the concept of masking that Olivia Laing writes about convincingly in the book. Because I wanted to keep myself concealed, pulling my guards up. I did meet a few new people during my stint in Mumbai- a balm that tried to soothe down the seclusion eliminating the paucity of connection for a while that Olivia talks about. They came and passed like a local train moves ahead covering a pit-stop. Surrounded by the family members one would rather contemplate this situation in all oddity. But, for a person who thought she had nothing in life which her peers do, this kinship proved to be a momentary relief in all its gratitude. Laing speaks of how objectification breeds loneliness by building up anxieties around gender, appearance, etc. For me, here I place objectification of independent financial living and parental expectations in the same box of reasons that entice anxiety- a rather measured success in the life of a person who is desperately trying to find her position in the rat race. The atmosphere was of 2008- when the world was hit by one of the biggest recession waves.

“… loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need.”

The realization of me being lonely dawned when I reflected on those times and moments years later after I had left the city. Because I couldn’t continue to mask, the guards came up and have since remained for some of the things in life-giving a new facet to my personality. The Lonely city made me face this chapter of my life again, one which I do not like recalling much. Like a box with worn-out items, it is always kept closed with a lock on, the key to which I wish I had lost. Olivia Laing with her profound writing infuses relatability in pint-sized emotions as she simultaneously knocks us off with a larger than life scope of artwork tracing the origin of its creator’s loneliness. Although mine here is just a subtle sliver of emotion that she writes about in the book, it brought them to the surface again and this time my way to confront it inclined towards acceptance. Now that I am a mother, I crave solitude moments much more than before. And as I keep adding a number to my age, the stoicism towards some things in life only alleviates making the option of choosing my own company easier. Putting it in Laing’s perfect words- “There are kinds of solitude that provide a respite from loneliness, a holiday if not a cure.” As for the bout of loneliness that makes one feel hollow, it ebbs and flows.

I have always maintained that up until now I have been a reader in phases- its intensity high in some stages of life, and bleak in many others. As for the segment I just penned down, I wasn’t much of a reader and if I could change something back in time would be to magically introduce books and reading in them. Like I said before, this is the most guarded phase and I never fathomed wording it out someday. But some books are powerful potions to change that for us. With The Lonely City, I felt the guards come down.


Amruta Patidar
29 November 2020 at 3:59 am

I am not much of a reader, but when it comes to reading something you’ve written… bang! I am excited and always ready to read immediately. Love your writing!

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