Searching For Déjà Vu

Sid and I were sitting at Prague Airport when I was suddenly struck by a sense of déjà vu. The waiting lounge was drenched in July’s afternoon sunshine, and I was overcome by the feeling that I had been here before, across a different time and place. I turned to Sid and said, “You know, Prague looks like Mumbai”.

Sid, my Aussie partner, sputtered over his coffee. Then he looked straight into my eyes and said decisively, “No, it doesn’t. Nothing looks like your damn Mumbai”.

His sharpness may seem harsh but cut him some slack. I had said the same about most of London, parts of Paris, an alleyway in Vienna, a dozen shops, restaurants, and stores; and a particular wall in Berlin that you might know of. Sid had simply run out of patience.

You see, I had moved to Europe after 21 years in India,13 of those in Mumbai. To sharpen the contrast, I had moved to Denmark. While India is an explosion of colours, warmth, noise, smells—and tempers for good measure—Denmark is defined by a measured control. So much effort went into designing a controlled life around the freezing winters that it seeped into their conversations, relationships and mannerisms without them noticing. To a 27-year-old chatty Mumbaikar, it was all quite unsettling.

Perhaps, searching for déjà vu was my mind’s way of bridging the two contrasting worlds that I simultaneously seemed to be inhabiting: a familiar world that lived in my mind, and an unfamiliar one before my eyes. Any chance encounter that brought the worlds together would suddenly suspend me across time and place and fill me with bittersweet joy. It could be a colour, a smell, or a smile. A font, a breeze, or the vaguely familiar socialist-style architecture in the case of Prague.

Taken aback by Sid’s vehemence, I looked around again. The spell was broken. Suddenly, all I could see were the differences.

Over the last 10 years, déjà vu has become rarer and rarer as my mind has come to accept the grey skies, modern infrastructure and carefully designed social encounters as the new familiar. But every now and then, someone honks loudly on the road, and I turn to Sid and say, “You know, Melbourne is just a bit like Mumbai!”