“If aliens made contact with you asking for the best place to land, what would you tell them?”
Switzerland! Screamed my head.
Portland, said my heart that likes to think it’s well-travelled.
Somewhere in the mountains, quipped my analytical brain.
The more I thought about it, however, the less I wanted to recommend a place at all. Yes, of course, Portland is one of my favourite places. I spent five days exploring the city and I’d move there in a heart beat.
I felt rather the same way about Austin. It was hot and I got tanned on the first afternoon there, but I still enjoyed the greenery that filled my eyes and the breeze that kissed my freckled cheeks.
Seattle was nice too, with Pick Place Market being a great place for an afternoon walk and Alki Beach, a necessary reminder of human history.
Then there’s the place I call home—Trichy—with the Rockfort Temple, a massive rock that people claim to be half as old as our world itself. I had no idea—I just love scaling the mountain to look down at the city and feel ecstatic.
Or Chennai. Or Banaglore. Or Mumbai or Delhi—all the grand metropolitan cities in India.
Times Square perhaps, if the aliens don’t mind getting squashed in the thronging crowds. I can’t help but smile at the thought.
But, no. I would recommend none of these places to an alien visiting Earth. I would instead ask, why come in the first place?
As I tried to identify the best place for a foreigner to visit, I found myself thinking about the least polluted, least ugly, and least offensive place. And that’s when I realised that although there’re plenty of places that fit the description, there’re also countless undesirable places—polluted, ugly, and so offensive that I wouldn’t wish it upon even my vilest enemy.
Our world’s hurting. It’s tearing at the seams and bleeding from within, and that’s only the physical damage. Aside from the tsunamis, the volcanic eruptions, and the random calamities we label “natural,” we’ve also become the termites that gnaw at the Earth bit by bit.
Just look around—children on a shooting rampage within the school campus, familial relationships crushing under the weight of egotistical self-worth, vulnerable people becoming targets of physical and emotional abuse—there’s no place on Earth left that an alien would feel welcome.
All the world’s travelogues, vlogs, and holiday destination businesses sell a Utopian dream of what the world should be. None of it’s true. I loved Chicago for its grandeur, but I also saw homelessness on every other corner. I cherish New York City’s cultural diversity, but there’re alleyways I couldn’t go past without fearing for my life.
That’s the reality of the world—it’s not a walk on roses. It’s a bleeding, sweating, rotting mess of human flesh.
And if aliens still want to visit, it doesn’t matter where they land because everywhere on Earth has a beautiful spread that’s also spreading thin. Alas, there’s a bitter pill to swallow as we look forward to closing another year on this Earth.
For the first time in my life I was at a live concert. I had no idea what to expect as I treaded my way on the grass that led to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Millennium Park—heck I wasn’t even sure I could walk on the grass.
But it was the middle of summer, and every night the city of Chicago lit up as people gathered around the iconic open pavilion to enjoy free concerts. And there I was looking around, a lone traveller, stumbling upon a music extravaganza of a lifetime.
Saying it was the greatest show on earth takes an extraneous effort to lie. However, it was a good concert that showed me a new lifestyle altogether.
We don’t have free city-organised concerts where I’m from. Not only was the music new, but so was the idea of gathering people together for such a social evening.
It was unfamiliar, but unlike most unfamiliar experiences, this one didn’t leave an uncomfortable aftertaste in my mouth. Instead, it left me at peace. I felt so calm and relaxed as I listened to the expert player caressing the strings of her violin.
All around me couples and families had set up picnics. They’d brought dinner, candles and wine, beer and snacks, and desert with kombucha. It was as they’d come for a day at the beach. I sensed a hum of satisfaction hovering in the air—as if everyone there knew they’d spent an entire day on hard work, and so deserved the complementary break time the state offered them. They kicked back, laughing away, sipping a glass of their favourite drink, happy.
It was nice being a part of that atmosphere—where nothing was wrong with the world, where utopia was achievable. Of course, when the concert ended and I exited the ground the entire reality of life came down on me, but the calm during the concert was one to always cherish.
I loved Chicago for that.
Although I later understood a lot of western cities have similar public events, Chicago holds a special place in my heart.