When I returned to Delhi in June of this year, I had old memories of the city coloring my vision, just as much as the anticipation of a new life. It took me a little bit of convincing myself to learn to be objective about the city, and not let my past seep into my present or (what was going to be) the future, in any way, positive or negative. I was, after all, making a much required escape from my home town, after feelings of claustrophobia and an over familiar terrain, along with sudden estrangement from a majority of people I had held dear, had begun to take over my being, after six years in the city. I needed out, and I was getting a way out, and I needed to make the best out of it.
Cities are like people. They greet and interact with different people differently, leading to a variety of opinions being formed about them by outsiders. Some are more universally loved, like New York, others are more frequently dissed, like New Delhi. Speaking of New Delhi, most outsiders complain of the unfriendliness, primarily. They say that the men are boastful, obnoxious and lustful, and the women are loud and snobbish. The dominant popular opinion is that the city is unsafe, it is dishonest, arrogant and non-inclusive. They speak of the ridiculous amount of power held by some, who could go around making everybody else's life a living hell. Even with a nod acknowledging that some of those things are certainly true, to an extent, I say, one needs to look beyond the obvious, and acknowledge the ways in which the city is worth celebrating.
Delhi, to me, is a beautiful city. The roads are wide and clean(er than the rest of the Indian cities). There is no offence to the olfactory senses like what one has to suffer in Kolkata or Mumbai. The roads, at least in South Delhi, are clean, and the metro, is almost sparkling(despite the commuter-load). There is almost as much beauty in the chaos of the North, as the order in the South, with the resplendent lanes of Chandni Chowk, and the maddening chatter of KamlaNagar. Also, the people of Delhi look splendidly beautiful. It is not just the tall, fair version of Punjabi beauty one would normally associate with the city I speak about though. Sure, the dazzling dames and the bewitching boys are a treat to the senses, but strangely enough, even the average auto-rickshaw driver or the old man travelling in the metro- they all look beautiful, going about their life, with indomitable energy and spirit- something that Delhi seems to infuse into everyone.
Again, how can you ignore the contradictory charm the city possesses? The city is as new as the pomp and parties of Sainik Farms and the extravagance of DLF Emporio, as it is rooted and timeless in the magnificence of the Qutab Minar, or the endless lushness of Lodhi Gardens. It is as much grandeur as the bungalows of Vasant Vihar as the comfort in the close-knit community-lives of Janakpuri. There is as much power concentrated around Lutyens' Delhi, as there is hopelessness and discontent at Savda Ghevra.
The Delhi I once knew was the city of someone very close to me. The city I know today, is the city that is mine. Yes, I am an outsider, as I have been to every city I have ever been in, but if I feel at home anywhere apart from around Ballygunge in Calcutta, it is in Delhi. Not even for a day after returning did I feel even slightly out-of-place, it was almost like I was assimilated right in. From the upbeat euphoria at Safdarjung Enclave to the eventual quiet seclusion at Vasant Kunj, the city made me fall in love, over and over again.
For me Delhi has been therapeutic. It has been the auto journeys to and from college, where I see the city pass by, bustling, and indifferent to my existence - making me feel secure in being a stranger to everyone around me - the kind of security that typifies every individual, who like me, is perpetually on the run. However, the people I got to know in college, at the same time, make me feel as much at home, as a stable, sane, secure individual appreciates feeling- therein exemplifying another contraction.
Delhi for me has been the evenings at SDA Market, the lunches at JNU, the Diwali at Lajpat Nagar, the Metro rides to and from Connaught Place, the maddening crowd of Rajiv Chowk, the evening walks at Barakhamba Road, the getting drunk at Hauz Khas Village and the getting stoned at Gurgaon(not really Delhi, but you get the gist). It has been the best friend suggesting Al Bake shawarmas, it has been Aunty momos at Amar Colony with somebody very close to my heart, it has been North Campus and Mezban with the little pixie, and the evening coffees with Karol-Bagh-ki-Auntyji. It has been two jokers from Noida- one exasperating, and one entertaining, one girl who loves Emraan Hashmi too much, one unclejee from Bangalore, one girl who advised me to stop running from my past, a South Delhi bimbo, a theatre actor, a girl with who face-to-face Hi's were too mainstream, a perpetual-tourist, this Himachali who became my husband, among many, many others. I have met people from Bombay, and Lucknow, and Dubai, and Pune - representing some of the regions that influence the culture of the city- a condensation of people from all over India. In that, Delhi is to India what the USA is to the World- a colony of outsiders, with a culture formed out of links to everywhere. Delhi to me is as much the Banoffee Pies and Mississippi mudpies at the Big Chill Cafe, as the evening chai at the National Institute of Immunology, or the cheap Chinese from Hawker's at Vasant Kunj. It is as much the photography walks at Hauz Khas as the food hunting at Sarojini Nagar. It is as much the heat of June as the chill of December ,as much the Luchi Mangsho at Chittaranjan Park, as the Malleshwaram Cross Dosa at Carnatic Cafe, as much the Diwali lights at Khan Market as the creepy darkness at Lado Sarai... and I could go on and on.
It is December, it is winter - my favorite time of the year. The city is deliciously cold, and there is a poignant fog that looms over the city in the mornings. The nights are noticeably colder, and sometimes, here in Vasant Kunj, it becomes a little difficult to even venture outside of the room with just one sweater on. There is absolute joy in basking in the winter sun on the terrace, and even in lying all cosy and comfortable, underneath the blankets, cuddling up with oneself.
With a possible move to Pune on the cards, I do not know how much longer I have in this city, or how frequently I shall get to visit, either. Delhi has given me too much to treasure, too much to love, and too many fond memories to look back at. It has been integrated into my system- an even more indelible part than before. I am departing for a while, tomorrow, with a heavy heart. But, I shall be back. I do not know exactly when, but I know, it shall be soon. And no matter where I go, this city, with all its lights, and scenery, and people, and color, and love and madness, shall travel with me, a fragment of my mind, a faction of my soul, a follicle of my heart.
So, before you judge Delhi, or hate it without having been introduced to the place properly, based on what everyone says, give the city a chance. Rapes and scams might keep happening here, but from what I have seen, love and longing for more happens more often.