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Shalaka Pai
Urban Urchin

Shalaka Pai is a writer and a photographer.She doesn’t have Instagram (yet)and won’t spam your Facebook feed with badly watermarked photos

Springtime and the autumn of my Prague sojourn

Sunrise in Prague.

've been in Prague for about nine months now, so you could make a really bad pregnancy analogy here by saying that my love for this city, already a strong foetus when I got here, has now reached full term and is now a bubbling, happy infant, bringing me joy every day. Spring is springing, the trees near my house are abloom, everything seems fresh and wonderful. You really can't perceive the power of a sunny spring day until you've braved four months of grey cold. Every little thing is joyful – look! I don't have to wear two layers of tank tops under my dress anymore! Look! I can even wear shorts! Behold! The farmers' market next door with all its lush produce and delicious baked goods!

t's such a shame it may all end soon. My course here finishes at the end of next month, and I'm at a loss as to what to do next. India doesn't seem to be calling me back yet, but I've been so swamped with work that I haven't devised a plot that will let me stay in the EU for a while longer. Just the thought of it gives me the jitters. And of course, I'll be sad to leave this city that's now become my third real home. In it, I find none of the chaos and noise and atmospheric anxiety that seemed to hang over Mumbai like a storm cloud, and yet it is unlike Muscat, the desert city home of my youth, where it was doldrum-calm and there was not much for a growing teenager to do beyond the occasional bowling game, beach run or movie date. Here I feel able to travel around the city easily, with none of the aggressiveness that's a staple of the Mumbai local trains or the frustration that comes with standing in the pouring rain for half an hour yelling at cabs that pass you by without a second thought.

In leaving this city, though, I also get to introduce it to a dear friend of mine who'll be studying here for the next two years. This, as I realised, is how you know a place has become home, when you're truly excited about someone you know from your previous life moving here, and you're as eager for them to fall in love with it as you would be when introducing friends to a new lover. I hope she gets to experience Prague in the fullest, both the good and the bad. I hope she'll be warmed by mulled wine in winter, craving it every day to gain some strength. I hope she'll love all the cafes I've found here and discover more that she can show me if I come back. I'm going to explain to her how the trams between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. are invariably hellish, how it's considered REALLY rude not to greet cafe and shop owners when you enter their establishments, how to navigate the bureaucracy here and get a metro pass. I'll have to whirl her through my beloved farmers' markets, stroll her through the parks, sit by the river drinking cheap wine. All this and much more I will do, and then a little part of the city I've fallen in love with will be hers. I'm envious of her now, because she gets to stay here a year longer than I did, and maybe she'll experience more and do more than my busy film-student schedule allowed me to. I'm green with jealousy about the fact that she gets to see this place for the first time and revel in the beauty of it all.

In leaving this city, though, I also get to introduce it to a dear friend of mine who’ll be studying here for the next two years. This, as I realised, is how you know a place has become home, when you’re truly excited about someone you know from your previous life moving here, and you’re as eager for them to fall in love with it as you would be when introducing friends to a new lover.

Of course, if I do get to stay in Europe I'll be very content indeed, but that involves some very quick jugaad that I'm rather bad at, hunting for jobs, redoing my portfolio, applying for and getting a visa, all in a month. This is where I lament my Indian passport; if I had a glass of wine for the number of times I've lectured my friends on the benefits of their European or American passports... well, I'd be blackout drunk.

It's a scary time. My life as a student will finally end for good, and I'll be thrust fully into adulthood, trying to make enough money to pay rent, stay sane. I literally have NO idea where my life is going to go from here. I could be broke and waitressing in a cafe in Berlin. Or I could be working a design job in Amsterdam. Or I could be backpacking around the world with money I don't have, simply taking photos and doing whatever work comes my way. All I know is, I don't want to go back.

Shalaka Pai is a writer and a photographer. She doesn't have Instagram (yet) and won't spam your Facebook feed with badly watermarked photos of sunsets.

 
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