Coming to the Netherlands as an 18-year-old, the boy was exposed to a lot of things, a lot of new things. It was the first time that he was living alone, living alone in a country much different from the one he came from. He was surrounded by people from all over the world, which excited him, but at the same time, made him more anxious. To him, these people seemed to belong, something that he felt he lacked. Was it because he came from a land much different from this? Was it because he was much younger than everyone else? Or was it because of the colour of his skin? He was surrounded by these people, every single day, people who were almost exclusively white. He was fascinated by them and never questioned the complexion of his skin, in relation to the others. It didn’t bother him, he actually loved it, after all, he grew up on Hollywood movies and TV shows, movies, and shows that did not depict the people of his ethnicity.

Trying his best to fit in and belong in this new surrounding, he acted like a sponge, trying to soak in as much as he could. Not only to belong but to better his craft, a craft that he longed to be good at, a craft that his education was about. As a result, he changed, for better and for worse. He was humbled in a way and that made him more aware, the stuff that he had done in the past, would not work in these surroundings. To change his habits, required a lot of effort and development, rapid development in that. For that development, the boy had to let go of his masks, the masks he had acquired since his childhood, masks that protected him from society. Letting go, and exposing his vulnerabilities, led to more insecurities. The phrase “strength in vulnerability” did not make sense to him at a certain moment of time, truthfully, he felt the opposite. There are times, where the boy can not look past his own thoughts, a time that often comes back. Thoughts that only keep growing, as he does. One of these reoccurring thoughts actually started when he visited his homeland this summer, he felt that something that changed. He felt that he didn’t belong in the land that he calls his home. Did evolving in this foreign land, make him a stranger in his own country?

I remember when I first met the boy, it was quite recent actually. Even though, I am much older than him. The initial interaction drew me to him, I saw a version of myself in him, a younger version. The one who is trying to figure out his life, to get grips on the dual identity that he now possesses. He was walking the same road, I was 2 decades ago. We had a long talk, the day we met, we bonded over the similar taste in music we had. The conversation inspired me, it was comforting in a way. I realized that I wasn’t alone, alone in how I was feeling. Even though it is 2 decades later and much has changed, some things remain constant. I don’t know if that’s comforting or worrying, actually, I’d say it’s more worrying. This conversation inspired me to be something for him, something that I did not have. Someone to relate to, someone to talk to. The initial conversation was quite open, he shared all he was going through and I expressed my experiences with these situations as well. Much of what he was saying was relatable to me, I too went through similar situations and experiences. We talked about this feeling of being trapped inside your own thoughts, which made me think of a song by Kendrick Lamar. It’s called ‘Mortal Man’, from his album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, it wasn’t that much about the entire song but rather the poem in the end.

“The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city While consuming its environment the Caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive One thing it noticed is how much the World shuns him, but praises the butterfly The butterfly represents the talent, The thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar Goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him He can no longer see past his own thoughts He’s trapped When trapped inside these walls certain ideas take roots, Such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city The result? Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that The caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle Although the butterfly and caterpillar are Completely different, they are one and the same.” -Kendrick Lamar

Both of us found this quite relatable, especially when we go back home, we are reminded of the person we were, the person who is much different from us now. Being in that place, not all the time, but in general, feels suffocating. To survive is to fit in.To fit in is to belong and, to belong is to adapt. Adapt back to your previous self, the previous self, the one that is different. The ‘butterfly’ within and what it represents gets buried as a result of that, there’s no freedom anymore in a way. Being trapped, having this harsh outlook of life. “That being said”, I explained “having spent most of our lives in this situation, growing up and learning to survive in the scenario, is the reason we are, where we are. It is the reason I am who I am. It is the reason I experienced this growth, this change. We always have our demons that we carry around, here, they are less visible, back home, they arise again, the image of them becomes clearer.” I believe it helped to point this out. We had found this common thread, within our lives and maybe that was the reason we got on so well. Even though I was many years older than him. For us, to stop being reminded of our previous self, we had begun to distance ourselves from the people we call out ‘friends’, friends who hold as much importance, if not more than the place. The friends and the places, hold the memories, the memories in which our demons are present. Soon enough, we parted ways, not for long but for the time being. It was later in the night that I got a message from the boy, it was a handwritten letter that he had written, a letter to his hometown, a letter to Delhi.

The feeling of home and belonging is a strange one and is never certain. There are times where the boy feels at home, in this foreign land, being surrounded by like-minded people, people who he cares for. But then, like the constant contradictions you face in life, there are times where he feels like the biggest outsider, feeling ostracized, wanting to run away. There were moments where he wished to throw everything away, go into isolation or rather simply run away and start afresh. While there are others, where he feels like he is exactly in the place he is meant to be in. These contradictions, these contradictory feelings are always with him. Which also made him think about the notion of love, arguing against the simplicity of the idea that word holds. That thought brought him back to a lecture that he saw online, during one of his low days. It was a lecture or rather a conversation between Gregory Halpern and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa. Two photographers that he admires. It was a small part of the video that stuck with him, which was related to this idea of love. In that video, Stanley paraphrases Fred Moten (American cultural theorist and poet), who argues that love is not a wholly positive feeling it is not just about attraction and affection. Fred makes the point, that to really love someone or something is to make yourself totally and completely vulnerable to it and let yourself be rearranged by it.

“To say that you love someone or something, is to say that they fuck you up” -Stanley Wolukua Wanambwa

I hadn’t met him properly in a long time. However, I do remember the exact moment I met him again. It was a cold Friday evening in the first week of November, this was a long and hard week for the boy. He told me, that he had been distancing himself from the people, he called friends. Seeking superficial friendships instead, leaving everything on the surface level. I remember seeing him from afar that week, noticing that he was struggling, I tried approaching him but was shunned away with the “It’s all okay”. He had been pushing away this conversation with everyone, with his family back home as well. That Friday evening we embraced, he told me that he was trying to figure stuff out for himself, but the question of what was uncertain. He realized that this was unhealthy, long before we talked, but he couldn’t see beyond it. Like the caterpillar, he was trapped.

It hurt him, hurting everyone else; it hurt him, distancing; it hurt him, trying not to care for them. The reason he had been telling himself for this distance, was that he was trying to take care of himself. But was that truth? He didn’t know. Looking back, it was certain, that this wasn’t the truth. He was doing himself more damage, bottling up emotions and unwilling to express them. The bottled-up emotions, add up in a way, and come out all at once when you’re the most vulnerable, he realised. This distancing was not just a result of that long and hard week in November, but rather a cumulation of emotions, spanning months.

The boy referenced me to this song that he had come across the day before. It was a short song, rather, a poem, that he had been listening to on repeat. It resonated with him, not only as a reference of who he was that week, rather his whole stay in the foreign land.

“I read about a man getting drowned once His friends thought he was waving to them from the sea But really, he was drowning And then I thought, that in a way It is true of life too That a lot of people pretend, out of bravery really That they are very jolly and ordinary sort of chaps But really, they do not feel at all at home in the world Or able to make friends easily So then they joke a lot and laugh And people think they’re quite alright and jolly nice too But sometimes that brave pretense breaks down And then, like the poor man in this poem They are lost Not waving, but drowning” -Loyle Carner

He felt that the brave pretense that he had acquired throughout his journey had broken down. The different skins and masks that he had let go in the journey, that he had embarked in, was unrelated. This was something different, this was something bigger in a way. He was drowning. Unable to reach out, the help started to slip away. Avoiding the confrontational questions and conversations had crippled him. Even though there were people who wanted to help him, he felt like a burden, until finally, a step was made. A step closer, closer to the people, people who are his friends.

Many emotions came up from the pair of us. The long encounter, the long embrace, was confronting but comforting at the same time. As we both knew, that this moment would not come back so easily. The boy’s time in Europe was coming to a slow end, he realized that these emotions, these vulnerabilities end up linking to his roots in a way and that to carry on his life here, he first has to deal with Delhi, or the notion of what Delhi stands for. The last time we met, before he left this foreign land (not permanently, but for the time being) he shared his excitement and nervousness of going back home, of facing things. Things he had been pushing back his whole young adult life. After some time of not hearing from him, he texted me, with a quote from Kendrick Lamar no less.

“I know what i know and know it well not to ever forget Until I realized I didn’t know shit The day i came home” -Kendrick Lamar

That encounter, was not the last one, as there are many more to come with the boy, as he will always be a part of me, a part that reflects my past self in every moment.

A special thank you to Gerlov van Engelenhoven for guiding me through the writing process.