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Kanpur, my Stockholm Syndrome by Adeeba Lari

Poem on Kanpur

I was fifteen when I first read about Stockholm syndrome an act where the hostage falls in love with the captor, and suddenly it all made sense.  The feeling that bubbled inside my belly whenever someone said your name,  the way my hands went cold when I thought about other places,  the shrillness of my Amma’s voice when I mumbled about leaving you, I was in love with my captor; the place where I had lived all my ages.

I haven’t slept in different houses, I have had the same school, the same set of people, the same tea leaves for more than two decades now and the bitter aftertaste sits on my eyes like a cobweb you forget to clean. When I turned eighteen, I sat on the leather stool papa got from the city shop and looked straight into Amma’s eyes when I whispered ‘I want to go to Pune to study.’ I wanted to feel what Pune’s air would do to my hair but you, like my Amma’s tight grasp on my wrist, held me back. I sniffed yet another longing, twisting it between the braid you always tied for me. That night we had fresh paan after dinner, the city and amma’s favourite.

My amma would tell me that if one leaves their home town, bad things happened. The city will forget you but you will always remember. I would have questioned what if I hadn’t heard the tale a hundred times. About the woman who married a new man with his new town and he left her for his old town love. About Amma.

When I close my eyes, I see your march skies ever so pleasant, the way people drive on your roads so recklessly yet safe, the sweetness of malai-makhan on my tongue in cold winters, all these memories etched in my skin that I am compelled to name it love. But there is this ache inside my bones, which I can’t deny.

In another life, the answer to the question of my favourite city could have been London and its sombre face or New York and its time machine or maybe even Mumbai with no space for me, But in this life, I answer in a voice oddly similar to my Amma, Kanpur or as I call it, My Stockholm syndrome.

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