Sana Shah on New York City
Since leaving home for university in 2004, I have been leading a somewhat nomadic life. First I left Lahore for Toronto, then four years later I moved back to Lahore, only to move back to Toronto a year later. After living and working in Toronto for another two years I once again moved to Lahore with the intention of living there permanently â€” only to find myself on a plane once again, a year later, married and moving to New York City “for good.” Today, while writing this, I am in the middle of another big move, this time to London, and I am told it is “permanent.” I have learned to take that word with a pinch of salt.
When I was leaving Lahore two years ago, I was quite sad: sad to be leaving my family and my friends, the comforts and familiarity of home. At the same time, I was comforted by the fact that I would always have a connection with Lahore, the place where I grew up and where my entire family still lives. When I was leaving Toronto, it was with an entirely different set of feelings. As much as I loved Toronto and the glittering memories it gave me, I was ready for the next chapter in my life. Today, as I sit in my Manhattan living room, surrounded with boxes, listening to the sounds of the city, I am not quite sure if I am ready to bid New York City farewell. As excited as I am for London â€” another beautiful city with its own charm â€” New York has forever carved a special place in my heart.
I have long conversations with my Bengali grocer on the merits of a Pakistani mango versus the Indian Alfonso,
all in Urdu
I viscerally understand the fascination with New York: from Hollywood portrayals of MacCaulay Culkin running around in the Plaza, to Sarah Jessica Parker prancing about in 6-inch Manolo Blahniks, to our favorite group of “Friends” sitting around in a cafÃ© all day (That never happens, by the way. Nobody in this city has that much time for their friends). There is the glitz, glamour, and intrigue surrounding the rich and famous inhabitants of the Upper East Side as portrayed in Gossip Girl. The beauty of New York is that while some accounts may be a tad exaggerated, they all hold true in some respects. The city is that diverse. Walk down Park Avenue and you will most likely run into the Vanderbilts and Waldorfs shown on Gossip Girl. Roam around Midtown or Wall Street and you will probably find many men who resemble Patrick Bateman (the fictional anti-hero of American Psycho). There are plenty of waspy Charlotte types floating along Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side.
And this is what I love about New York: there is no quintessential “New Yorker” â€” a variety of people coexist and thrive in this unique American metropolis.
One thing must be said though. With the exception of Central Park, which is truly spectacular, some of the city sights as glorified by Hollywood are exactly the kind of places most people living here would avoid. Times Square, for example, is a nightmare, teeming with tourists and peddlers of all shapes and sizes, mediocre chain restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. There is the highly romanticized Empire State Building. I have to admit I pestered my husband to accompany me to the rooftop of this stately building. In hindsight, the crowds and the chaos are not worth the view or the experience. I would much rather experience the same views on a nice rooftop patio or bar in the summer, sipping on a cool drink, far from the madding crowd.
I will forever remember
my nephews’ first visit to New York and their
disappointment to find
the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum were “just bones”
But one of the ways in which New York stole its way into my heart was via my stomach (naturally). New York City is heaven for those who are constantly searching for their next gastronomical adventure. I can’t think of a single cuisine that does not exist here and isn’t done to perfection (even the garam-masala-rich food of Lexington Avenue is sinfully delicious). Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Turkish, Persian â€” these can all be expected to be authentic, because immigrants from these countries actually live here, have their own grocery stores, butchers and restaurants. It never ceases to amaze me how I have long conversations with my Bengali grocer on the merits of a Pakistani mango versus the Indian Alfonso, all in Urdu, of course. Or the sheer number of Indian grannies clad in saris and chappals to be found at Saravanaa Bhavan (a South Indian restaurant in Murray Hill). After living in New York City, every other city seems too homogenous, too uniform, and too vanilla.
It is with a heavy heart and grumbling tummy that I bid farewell to this crazy, beautiful, chaotic city. A city that gave me the most memorable first two years of my marriage and set the bar high in terms of the adventures I seek and expect from this world. I will miss dragging my husband for brunch every Sunday (brunch is considered serious business in New York and I wouldn’t be surprised if even the food trucks offer brunch specials). I will miss Sam my Asian hairdresser, whose sister apparently has the same hair as me and so nobody in this world knows or understands my hair the way he does. I will miss taking courses at Columbia and meeting up with my younger brother for lunch on campus. I will miss agonizing over my Gulf politics paper, with my husband having a meltdown, on the side, on my misuse of commas. I will forever remember my nephews’ first visit to New York and their disappointment to find the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum were “just bones.” And I will miss the constant chatter on the streets, overhearing languages from all over the world.
I will miss Sam my Asian hairdresser, whose sister apparently has the same hair as me and so nobody in this world knows or understands my hair the way he does
I feel privileged to have been a part of this cityâ€™s chaos, even if for a short while. But the chaos will continue: afternoon teas will replace brunches, stranger accents will echo in my ears, the calm of West London will overtake the mad rush of Bowery and Houston. And just like that the New York minute will be a happy memory.