In a State of Flux
By Kamal Sunavala

Just like homing pigeons there are people who fly around the world and then return to a particular place without fear, without ennui and without fatigue. I have returned to Prague after a year and a half and it felt like I had never left. Winding my way around Vinohrady was like effortlessly slipping into my old life here until I stopped occasionally to note some changes.

Heraclitus said that the only permanent thing about life was change and Prague is no exception to that philosophy. The first thing I noticed was that people stare less on the trams and the metros. In 2002 I remember thinking it to be strange that people would stare at me on the trams and metros- not in an unfriendly manner but simply out of the curiosity of seeing a brown skinned person who was clearly not a tourist and surprisingly spoke in a British accent. Three years later on a crisp September morning on tram no 4, I got nothing. Not a single stare. Either this country is filling up with Indians or Czech people are learning the valuable lesson of integration. I did notice that there were now a lot more brown skinned non tourists than I had seen a couple of years ago and I suddenly began noticing them almost everywhere. In the two days that I have been back, suddenly I was the one staring.

I never thought I would write this but it seems to me that Czech people have let their guard down a little bit. Dare I say that they have become almost friendly? Change is upon them and it’s evident that they are moving towards it. I only hope it’s not begrudgingly or it will only be harder for them. I find it endearing and it reminds me of the older generation in India who curse colourfully at technology but will be seen everywhere with a fancy cell phone.

Prague seems to my fresh eye, a city in a state of flux. The fluidity is evident everywhere. Where workers once stood around listlessly without repairing the windows they were hired to repair, they now tenaciously bang away at splinters at three in the afternoon. I was shocked to discover that Staropramen breaks were frowned upon and time sheets were maintained even for the window cleaner. Kundera would have laughed at the irony of it.

While I don’t feel alien here at all, I have distinctly felt that I shall have to re-introduce myself to the city and let it re-introduce itself to me. It’s been two days and no one has jostled me on the tram, I haven’t noticed any children peeing upon an unsuspecting tree and I haven’t come up against any of the infamous Czech bureaucracy. Something in the air smells different. I could argue that I am different from the person who lived a different life here before but upon consultation with some other friends who have also returned recently, it seems to be generally agreed upon that some of the bad old practices have been discontinued. While we moaned about how Prague would lose its idiosyncratic identity and become just another shiny new European metropolis a monstrous man got on to tram no 4. He had a mullet.

We burst into laughter as we realised that some things will indeed never change.