When I was younger, I used to believe that Romania was the most beautiful place on earth. And why? Because someone I liked very much then, and still do but in some ways altered, lived there.
How young was I then? Not too young—seventeen, or eighteen, or nineteen, or all. I would only have to read his words to see the place where he lived unfold before my eyes. And it would appear almost unearthly to me.
He would write of moonlit bridges where someone might be waiting, of russet parks with lovers walking hand in hand, of deserted benches sprinkled with dewdrops, of snowflakes melting on lips. He would write of young love and heartaches and of things I was yet to understand or experience myself.
“Ah, but how beautiful is his world, how very beautiful and exquisite,” I would think.
It’s true that sometimes distance makes things look finer than what they really are. But not in this case, no.
He would share photographs from his world—of lone autumn leaves, rain-washed streets, women in red overcoats, green benches, frozen lakes, old castles, snow-capped roofs. And they would evoke in me a great longing to be where he was. Even the photos of muddy pools or electric lines or broken chairs or askew fences would appear perfect to me.
It wasn’t that the place where I lived was bad or in any way undesirable or lesser. Nainital is a beauty. Why, we have a lake, too, which looks like a giant emerald on days the sky is clear. And it’s a muse-able sight when the autumn-struck sycamore trees running parallel to the lake cast their reddish-brown shadow in the waters already aglitter with Diwali lights. During monsoons, many fine women can be seen walking the streets in their bright saris. And when a tiny flake of snow melts on rosy lips, it sure melts like it would in Romania. We may not have an enormous park, but we have high and fragrant cedar-draped mountains. And what we’ve lost with castles, we make up for with our many temples, mosques, churches, and gurdwaras, and some architectural pieces reminiscent of the old British Raj and the Mughal era.
But I’m not trying to draw a comparison. I’m only trying to say that despite living in a beautiful place, I believed and believed with an unwavering resolve that his was the most beautiful place on earth.
For a long time, I wished to see from my eyes the world I saw through his. To walk the lanes he walked, see the moon he saw, touch the waters he touched, breathe the air he breathed. I wanted so much to be a part of the most beautiful place on earth.
So this other day, I saw a vlog by an American couple who captured through their lens his world. They walked his streets, cycled through his park, sat on his benches, drank his water. And suddenly, the Romania I knew became just another place on earth. It lost its charisma, its bewitching influence over me because it was no longer his Romania, it was someone else’s for that moment.
Now that I understand myself better, I can reason why I believed Romania to be the most beautiful place on earth. Not because of its intrinsic, inherent beauty. For surely it is beautiful, but so are many other places. What made Romania beautiful was that someone I cared about lived there. His presence imparted to it the charm I felt. It was as though his beauty radiated outwards to beautify all that he touched, with his fingers and with his words.
Perhaps the most beautiful place on earth isn’t a place. Perhaps it is an emotion we feel in relation to that place.