Over the past week, there have been times when I’ve been gripped by an inexplicable fear. From the solidity of the gigantic landmass that is Asia, I realise I have come to live on an island- and when I think of it as a tiny scrap of land on the enormous oceans stretching wide, I imagine it tipping over, leaving all of us to flounder in the wild waters.
This thought first occurred to me on my trip to Scotland. We had climbed quite far up the hill called Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, and I had ensconced myself upon a perch bounded by rocks. I am afraid of heights, and sitting up there, buffeted by strong winds, looking out at the vast expanses of land rolling up into hills on one side, the sea on the other, I felt vulnerable and helpless. It was the enormity and the mysterious ways of nature that scared me. It was the kind of fear that makes you jump under the covers of your bed at night at the slightest suggestion of a misplaced whisper or shadow, rational being as you are in broad daylight.
I like mountains better than oceans (I think), but the sea makes faraway lands seem closer than they are. On a clear day on Sentosa in Singapore, I’d imagine that the dark mass I espied in the sea was actually Malaysia or Indonesia. Up on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, I couldn’t take my eyes off the North Sea- such a practical name, but still so splendid! It suggested all the places that were just names in a book. I pretended that the strip of land I saw on the other side was Scandinavia, that everything belonged to a time when boundaries were still undecided and pirate ships ruled the seas.
But this is as far north as I have been able to get. Tomorrow, I’ll make my way back to the solidity of the subcontinent, home in strictly legal terms, for I’d like to belong to several places at once. I’ll have to relearn the chaos and the ostentation of a class newly come into money, to stay at peace amidst the dysfunctional systems of a country that chugs along inexplicably.
Being home again will be good, but the novelty is something I’ll have to create and preserve, to continue being awed by the Bay of Bengal or tropical rainforests. It’ll take a while to look beyond the politics and petty annoyances, to complete the process of re-acclimatisation, but I suppose I was born in such a large country for a reason.