Busier is the city, lonelier it gets

By – Kuntala Sarkar

6th April 2022

In my lifetime, I have been in 3 different cities – a small town from West Bengal called Alipuduar, Kolkata and Bangalore; each with its own culture, crowd, and essence. As I shifted from one city to another, I observed isolation from society, and people increased.

Alipurduar, my hometown, is a small city in the foothills of the Himalayas where everyone knows everybody. My parents live there; their society consists of people from that tiny, close-knit community – friends and relatives who don’t stay that far apart, even the nearby shopkeepers or our milkman. These people are an integral part of my parent’s life; their quotidian life revolves around these people. It was the same for me when I was a kid; I was used to the fact if I was up to any mischief while I was out in my hometown or did anything that would not fit the norms set by my moderately conservative hometown society, there would always be some acquaintance or friend of my parents who would inform them about my actions.

After high school, I moved to Kolkata to pursue my graduate degree. The first thing that struck me while walking on the roads of Kolkata was that nobody notices anybody on the streets until you are wearing something revealing or smoking a cigarette. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, be it early in the morning or late at night. I felt a sense of freedom; now, I could go out with my friends, stay out as long as I wanted, and have nobody to check on me as I lived in a paying guest house. Lying to my mother about my whereabouts seemed easy and became habitual. Here I had my PG roommates, who eventually became family, college friends, and some relatives who visited from time to time, yet as time passed, I missed home; missed my mother telling me what to do, what to wear, and how much to spend, missed the taste of her food. My hometown isn’t very far from Kolkata, so on every vacation, I visited Alipurduar; Maa and Baba used to lather me with extra affection and food.

Kolkata was way bigger than Alipurduar; the density of people was scary sometimes. In small towns, life is slower because you didn’t have to travel 30mins every day to reach your workplace like in big cities; people from small-town could quickly grab a couple of hours of their day to spend some time with their friends and family. In Kolkata, we had to wait till the weekend to meet our friends. Kolkata was indeed the city of joy; I was happy and contented.

I started working, and I moved to Bengaluru, the city where I always wanted to be. Bengaluru was very unique in terms of its diversity of people from different states coming to this city to make their careers. In this city, various cultures, languages, clothing, and mentality coexisted. More than anything, Bangalore was the land of work opportunities, with 67000 registered IT companies making it the most prominent IT hub in India. Hence everyone in this city had a 9 to 5 job which immediately made this city 5 times busier than Kolkata. Work-life balance hardly existed in this city, slow-moving traffic culture made everyday office travel even more time-consuming.

Urban loneliness is a virtual pandemic. Even though there have never been as many cities across the world as there are right now with such high populations, urban loneliness carries with it huge social, medical and financial consequences. Ideas contributor Tom Jokinen believes the design of urban centres may actually be the cause of urban isolation. Yet they may also contain the ingredients for a more integrated social landscape. It’s hard to believe that anyone could be lonely in the city, surrounded by millions of people. But urban loneliness is real, and it’s at the centre of a health epidemic.

Initially, making friends seemed more difficult as everyone was either busy going to the office or coming back from the office, too busy to exchange a good morning smile or drop a ‘hello’; everyone seemed like they always had their guards on in this dynamic city. I had this sinking feeling; I kept trying to make friends, which always turned into a very superficial set of interactions. After a year or so I started meeting people who were interested in deeper connections, made few solid girlfriends for life. The number of friends were less yet I was again content in their company, always used to snatch sometime for them to have our little girl chats.

In between all of these, the frequency of visiting home was reduced. It became twice a year only for ten days. Each time I visited home, my mother looked a little different every time; after a few years, I lost count of what I was missing out on.

During my last year in Bangalore, I was going through a rough patch in my life; I was all by myself. Over time due to the geographical distance, I had lost the ability to share my inner turmoils with my family; after so many years of self-parenting, I have forgotten how to tell that ‘I was not ok; I was scared and anxious’. Urban lifestyle do this to you; they make you so self-sufficient that you forget to trust and rely on people; without trust, no human dynamic is deep enough. I missed the sense of belonging; end of the day, even if I had friends, I realized the necessity of family, my home. All I wanted was to go back to my home and hug my mother. So I did; I stayed at my home for two years only to realize that I had so many good and bad experiences because I went out of my comfort zone. I allowed myself to have those experiences that have made me wiser and stronger. The crowded urban lifestyle have made me self-sufficient; it has taught me how to find family in complete strangers, and I have learned how to let go and move on. So I decided to go out again to enable myself to have new experiences.

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