Caveat Lector: Neither was I born here nor have I settled here. I started living in Delhi after I found myself on the wrong side of 25. I am a country-raised treehugger who lives like a spinster, prefers productive conversations over small talks and roots for House Stark over Lannister. Views and words are my own.
Diversity, thy name is Delhi. It’s a rich tapestry and vibrant mosaic of all that is Indian. It is a city of Pandavas and Punjabis, of emperors and ex-pats, of Djinns and juxtapositions, of squatting commoners and smiling aristocrats, of Ghalib and golgappa, and of a paradoxical population with undecipherable attitude and high hopes. Delhi is a place where Indians from all walks of life converge to celebrate festivities, where immortal Mughal architecture blends into post-Modern like a dream, and where ministers are prone to dharnas and dengue. All urban sprawls in India are by and large crime-ridden, tourist-contaminated, sewerage-smelling, short-on-water and ill-conceived concrete jungles. That is the best (or worst) they offer to its people. Deal with it.
What I love about Delhi
In one word, possibilities! Name your favourite poisons and pastimes, Delhi will baffle you with options. Watching a film screening with directors, experiencing the paranormal in medieval tombs, partaking in fruitful discussions with literary giants, having dinner with demagogues in a State Bhawan, and swaying to the live classical tunes; all of this is possible in one day, without spending any money. Between rickshaw-clogged arteries of Old Delhi and tree-lined boulevards of South Delhi, the city’s colourful, well-preserved and layered history of bygone sultanates and the lingering legacy of British Raj thrives. There have been days when I have taken myself on misty mornings to walk in urban forests, in sweaty afternoons to digest art in museums, and in balmy evenings to bargain with street vendors.
Delhi is lambasted and tarnished by haters and outsiders in ways more than one; well, they should go fellate each other for all Delhi and I care. The sheer amount of culture coves in Central Delhi alone, on any given occasion, takes days to discover. The weekend line-up at venues located near the hexagons of Lutyens’ Delhi (such as Kamani Auditorium, Shri Ram Centre, and Little Theatre Group Auditorium) keeps one engrossed for a long time. Also, the city is a convenient launchpad for excursions to the soul-enriching Himalayas.
Single in the City? An Oxymoron No More
I have been asked to vacate a seat in buses or break queues for a party of two, and on the other hand, I have acquired front-row seats to many shows due to singledom. While the heritage walks through Mughal tombs and medieval edifices have made me a history buff, national museums and cultural festivals have made me a dilettante; street food and welcoming bedlam of Old Delhi has awakened an ardent explorer in me, miles of ridge forests and manicured gardens have moulded me into a lover of Mother Nature.
I’m now open to learn (and eventually enact) anything I take in from a place, festival or conversation in Delhi.The city has made me more self-reliant, punctual, efficient, unbiased, and free-spirited than I ever felt before.
Its extraordinary energy has given me an intensification of existence and a greater sense of life. There are some vibes you can enjoy only on particular occasions, I’ve seen iftar on Eid at Jama Mosque and Thursday-night qawwalis at Hazrat Nizamuddin, eaten at langars in Bangla Sahib, and been a victim of shoe-stealing from a temple. I have only been a handful of times in culturally bankrupt places like shopping malls. After 12 months, there is a gamut of unchecked places on my list. It is uplifting to not yet encounter saturation and monotony in Delhi and may that never happen.
Why Delhi, and not…?
Every city has a set of vices. Certainly many would agree that Mumbai is a worthy rival, but I have a very simple argument to present: I don’t get that why anyone would live in a city that keeps everyone wet 11 months of a year, either by insufferable heat or ungodly rain. Kolkata and Chennai have more distinctly known trademark cultures but both definitely lack diversity. Cities with a relatively younger crowd, Bengaluru and Pune, have sold their souls to globalisation years ago for good. Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Jaipur are far behind and out of the race to glory.
Let’s face it, Delhi is the most accessible city for all Indians. It is a microcosm of sizzling cuisine, budget-friendly bazaars, throbbing neighbourhoods, and colonial charm. Don’t mistake the megalopolis to be ordinary, it’s a world of its own. Yes, it is universally known for unsafe nightlife for women and unclean air for everyone, but it’s not all gloomy. The national capital has more trees, better transportation, more attractions and cheaper markets to take pride in.
What irks me about Delhi
A) The skyline, especially the lack of it. It still eludes me that why the city has no high-rises; then I dare say it’s a cluster of hundred villages and 25 million souls in search of a city. B) The sky itself. Sometimes I look at the pale midnight moon and it seems dreary without the company of stars. C) Who needs nine circles of hell when you have inner and outer circles of Connaught Place! D) The humid air in summer, not surprisingly, lights a fuse in the hard-headed humans of Delhi. There are a few places such as Paranthe Wali Gali (I prefer Ballimaran on any day) and Yamuna River-cum-Drain (I call it like it is) which lets any first-timer down.
However, all of this is easily forgotten after sharing a smile with strangers of the city.
The writer is unable to receive mails or death threats at firstname.lastname@example.org and won’t respond before you can say Jack Robinson.