Isha Pungaliya‘s essay: City centre

The sun sets late and allows for aimless wandering a little longer. A little longer is always better because there is an alley that you hadn’t noticed or a Sushi place or a pub with warm lights and happy faces. And they create impressions; personal, subtle yet intense; resembling none of the general categories of pleasure or pain. Perhaps they resemble only the texture of general emotion; sensory remembrances to attach to emotion whenever required. Yet they are fascinatingly unfixed. A large avenue, leading up to the sea may form as freedom in the head or it may re-form as loneliness.

Something that ties freedom with loneliness, something that is shared by both, is the core texture of that memory. However, that texture takes a complete form only in a real situation, actual life events that we would live through in the future. And in those moments of wandering it only registers in subliminal ways as an impression.

For, when you walk through an unknown city, it is anyway not entirely real. Your being there makes no difference to the city or its people, and so you exist only as an observer, you experience from without, walking within its limits. You are here, but you live there, there where you came from. Still, you are not fragmented; you are whole, watching yourself watching this new world, from a distant reality of home.

You approach with expectation. People have told you about Canada Place downtown, near the city centre, the harbour where cruise ships wait endlessly like artefacts in museums, historical and without a future. Yet we anticipate their movement, to show us, that ships float and sail and can go in intended directions despite the chaos of water, the fickleness of oceans and their own weights.

But when they told you, you had forgotten what was to come, that you would not be alone, leaning on the railing, pondering life as you look upon the sea. You painted a picture but when you stand there in actuality, tourists and lovers and homeless men stand beside you, reminding you of your insignificance, edging you to stray from thought. There is no magnificence in the experience even if it is unique. And thus the sight fails you, because it was never the sight that you were after but the emotional movement the sight was supposed to birth. Your disappointment washes over your expectation. Often tourist spots hurt you in these ways, leaving you with tokens in the form of pictures.

You walk away into the busy streets. Unlike the spot that you left, where mass-watching of the sea and the ships overpowered all other exclusive agendas, the city streets move and in their movements offer you freedom to choose your own; watch what you like, walk where you will. You walk of course, now out of your emotions, out of yourself, in search of something special, something that will last you your entire life as the memory of this place, something to settle upon, to say, “this, here is Vancouver; this is what Vancouver means.”

You are spoilt by images of tourism, by history and revolutions in art. You want something grand and beautiful, something that smells of ancient culture or solid, meaningful modern art. You see shops, malls, a Tim Hortons at every corner.

To be honest, there is grandness and a sense of well-being. The buildings are tall, the stores tastefully decorated, the street signs work, the roads are clean. There is nothing wanting.

It slowly dawns upon you that the colonization is only 400 years old; traces of first nations are in pockets, museums and select sights. Culture is still in the making.

You keep walking, a takeaway cup of coffee warming your hand, a chill in the air, in your hair. You keep walking.

A filmmaker, actor, director, writer and trainer, Isha is passionately involved with a variety of film and theatre projects. With a Masters in Media and Cultural Studies from TISS, Mumbai, and a Diploma in Film Direction from LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai, she is interested in exploring formal, narrative and thematic factors and strategies that challenge conventional, formulaic and normative practices in cinema as well as theatre.

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