Where The City Is

Liminal Spaces are the physical spaces between one destination and the next – elevators, trains, corridors. In Anthropology, liminality is the disorientation that one experiences in the middle of a rite of passage – when you’re no longer the person you were before you took on this journey, and you’re nowhere near to being the person you would be at the conclusion of it.

For the past few years, since I started college, I’ve been feeling this liminality – in school, at work, with family. This disorientation has only become so much stronger in the last one year, while I waited, with everyone else, to start my life again. I’ve come to accept that being in your 20s, is being in the longest liminal space (time) of your life. Add to it actual travel, changing cities for study, work or hobbies – and you are always leaving.

“Self love happens in liminal spaces,” I said when my friend pointed out that I only click selfies in elevators. These liminal spaces, although not destinations on their own, offer us opportunities that destinations don’t – opportunities to indulge in self-love, in hobbies, opportunities of warranted escapism. They come with an allowance for us to be disoriented, to be carefree, to be everything we don’t really imagine being when we’re at our destination but would enjoy right here, right now.

Another liminal space I have recognised recently, especially reinforced by learnings from the pandemic, is cities. For most of us who were not born in big cities, cities are not retirement destinations. More and more people are realising this as they are forced to work from home, rendering the hustle and palpitation of the big city unnecessary. Thus, not only is my very time (age) liminal, my space (city) is too.

This explains not only the disorientation I and my peers feel at all points of time, it also explains our indulgence in escapist behaviours. For me, that would be a constant chase of art and aesthetic respite. I am not an artist. With the way I have struggled in the last one year with writing, I don’t know if I can call myself a writer either. I am just a liminal being, always leaving, indulging in theatre and literature because my time and space allows it and I enjoy it.

I have lived in three cities in my 22 years, and I’m looking forward to making my next big move soon. As I look back at my hazy days and bokeh nights in all these cities, I don’t remember the places I felt at home at. I only remember the places that told me, “You are leaving, and it is okay. Would you like to indulge a little while you’re still here?” Theatres, art galleries, cinema halls, house parties with people I will never meet again, bookstores – every place that I resolved to return to, but always knew I would not really. Not yet. I am just passing through.

“You wanna find love, then you know where the city is,” goes a lyric by the 1975, an indie/pop/rock band we absolutely adore. Although very antithetical to the theory I am sharing here today, it’s been sort of my mantra all these years, as I fell in love with Mumbai, Pune, Panjim, New York City, Delhi. Did I really expect to find love in these places? I did not. I did expect art, a lot of it, because what else do I escape into while I wait?

Art is an integral part of the urban fabric, especially in a post-industrial, media powered era. While exploring this train of thought, it is important to realise that we are not just thinking about art and cities as given objects but as dynamic processes of representation. They shape our experiences, memories and learnings. My time at the IAPAR International Theatre Festival in Pune in 2018 and the Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim in 2019 did not just further my artistic sensibilities but shaped my very memories of the years, my learnings from them, and shaped my relationships with these cities.

It is not only the experience of consuming art that produces sentiments, it is also the very existence of these festivals and physical venues, in these particular cities, that creates sentiments in the life of aesthetes like me.

The complete scope of geographic engagement with art, more particularly performing art because of its inevitable relationship with physical space, is very wide because it spans the construction of identity, memory and expectations. It also strengthens the vision of the very home we are headed towards. In a way then, we are not just waiting to get where we have to, we are waiting to know where we want to go and to learn how to get there. Chances are, I will not find love and home in the next big city I move to. These liminal spaces and times, these cities and ages, theatre venues, art galleries, cafes and even people we keep going back to because we know we can’t forever, are both an escape from the unavoidable wait and constructions of the very destinations we are waiting to reach.