A Bite of the Big Apple
By Divya Murthy
The stories my New York City MetroCard could tell
On October 31, I bought my last unlimited-for-a-month MetroCard in New York City. Regardless of the people breathing down my neck and wordlessly commanding me to move faster, I spent a luxurious split second contemplating what it might be like not to spend a $121 at the end of November. Preserving a sizeable chunk of my paycheck came as a breath of fresh air, of course, but it also meant that I only had a month longer in a city that had become home far more quickly than I could have ever expected.
That last thought always amuses me; I flew into NYC from Chennai on June 2, I spent an hour ugly-crying on the phone to my best friend from back home on June 3, and I started a life-changing internship on June 4. It was a lot of emotional exercise for someone who always feels compact and pocket-sized, especially in a city that is vehemently larger than life. But I heard somewhere that the Supreme Being never gives one more than one can handle. And so it goes.
It wasn’t more than I could handle, as it turned out, because there were flashes of familiarity dotting the newness of it all — even now on my morning commutes, I see uncles with bushy mustaches and aunties in saris and cardigans that remind me of the way my mother dresses when she’s cold. During my lunchtime walks, I see power-dressing investment bankers and hedge fund managers with whom I presumably share nothing in common but my skin color.
From piping hot summer through crisp fall, New York has made my eyes water with the dazzling palettes it casts on pavements, tree leaves and glassy buildings—and perhaps most of all, with the warm, reassuring gradient of faces that look like mine, my family’s, my friends’. It’s as much the loud snatches of Hindi and Tamil moving through the air as the wail of a fire engine that helps me sleep at night. Noise has always been such an odd but pervasive factor fueling my sense of calm — things like construction drills and loud music might cause my premature deafness, but they’ve also been tools that help me make sense of my world.
Even after five months of Big Apple sunrises and sunsets, it’s hard to put my finger on one singular thing that connects my heartstrings to the rhythm of this city. It could be the 700 breeds of dogs and puppies that have shown zero to little interest in my waiting arms or the scattered fun facts about New York on a billboard next to the walk-stop sign. It could be the aloo tikki paneer kati rolls I get after buying salad dressing and croutons at Trader Joe’s. It could even be the Broadway musicals or the subway musicians or scurrying rats living in the subway that connects those two. Perhaps it is the sirens that fly by the roadside peanut stalls in Chinatown. Maybe the cell phone repair shop that has a Bengali board in Jackson Heights. It’s very possibly the clustering of the a million homes and faces, a billion identities and amalgamations, and all of the world’s havens in one river-and-ocean-side spot, bound by rotis and dim sums, graffiti and museums, dreams and struggles, failures and victories.
It’s hard to define, but exceedingly easy to describe. Walking through New York City is reason enough to employ every cliché I possess in my knowledge, and it’s usually a point of pride for me to avoid clichés altogether. It’s a careful mix of wonder, yearning and sheer exhilaration that drives the people coming to New York, already enamored by it. I was lucky that my mix worked for me — but I’d bet my last unlimited MetroCard that anyone’s odds are better here than anywhere else.
Divya Murthy, a senior at Newhouse, is a tiny bespectacled blot on the orange landscape of Syracuse University. She is under the impression that she’s the fourth PowerPuff Girl, but when she’s not using her creativity thus, she enjoys drinking filter coffee, reading Wodehouse novels and imagining life without the pumpkin spice latte.