Delhi- The Significant Other

Humne maana ki dakkan mein hai bahut qadre sukhan

Kaun jaaye Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar.

Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq

(We hear that poetry is greatly valued in Deccan these days but, Zauq, who could bear to leave behind the alleyways of Delhi).

People can continue fighting the battle of the best metro but as far as I’m concerned, I second Zauq. It’s the only metro that experiences winter!

It was eight years ago that I came to Delhi, Delhi University North Campus to be precise. The last eight years have been a journey along the Delhi Metro’s Yellow Line. Life started at Vishwavidyalaya. Let’s face it, Delhi and Delhi University in general and St. Stephen’s in particular, aren’t the same thing. Life at Stephen’s was comfortable, apart from the water shortage and lack of coolers in hostel. Concerns never went beyond finding a tap with running water, hoping for hot water in winter, going to Patel Chest for printouts or photo copies, going to Kamla Nagar for recreation and being back before curfew(for girls only) and monthly allowance. Problems came and problems got solved while we chilled, thanks to the annual mode setup that existed then. My interaction with Delhi was limited to the walk to Kamla Nagar, the metro ride to Connaught Place, Daryaganj Sunday book market, Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazar and India Gate. Those were the days when my love story with Delhi was in it’s nascent stages.

The Yellow Line now extended all the way to Gurgaon (used to be till Central Secretariat till my second year in college). I got off at Hauz Khaas for my post graduation. The next two years was about Mehrauli, Nizamuddin, Hauz Khaas Village, SDA market, Greater Kailash, Shahpur Jat, JNU and my favorite place in Delhi-Qila Lal Kot in Sanjay Van. The two years spent at Indian Statistical Institute were the most defining years of my life. This is where I discovered Delhi, my life and myself. I realized the importance and excitement of being single. As John Mayer very aptly summarises the feeling in his song Perfectly Lonely:

“Nothing to do, 

Nowhere to be,

A simple little kind of free.

Nothing to do,

No one but me,

And that’s all I need.”

With a lot of time to myself in the final semester of my post graduation, I spent a considerable amount sitting on the Delhi metro’s platform watching people hop on and hop off, especially at Rajiv Chowk. I would stand at the walkover bridge at Rajiv Chowk and gaze at the tidal surge and ebb that followed the arrival of a Blue Line train below or a Yellow Line train further below. Looking at those scurrying legs, moving with a sense of purpose I used to wonder what all those souls have on their mind? Do they realize the worth of this city? Do they feel as liberated in this city as I do? Don’t they feel overwhelmed by all the history surrounding them in the streets they walk, the literature they most probably aren’t aware of, the corners they ignore? Are they in love with this city for its resilience as much as I am? As Mir Taqi Mir put it:

Dil ki basti bhi shehar Dilli hai

Jo bhi guzra usee ne luta.

(Delhi alone is a city of love; all those that have passed through have looted it.)

After post graduation I moved all the way down the Yellow Line and sort of out of Delhi: Gurgaon. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? You bet. I used to miss Delhi. The corporate Gurgaon with its smartphone and app obsessed population that like bees swarmed towards offices in the morning and towards residential areas in the evening was definitely not my thing. It seemed to lack a soul. The ruins, the street food, the many fairs and festivals of Delhi saw me coming back every weekend. I have always had a lot of time to observe this city. The sight of the uber rich haggling with the vendors at Dilli Haat or Dastkaar Haat, the “tu janta nai main kaun hoon” approach to any disaster, the chasing away men from the women’s coach of the metro, the overdressed crowd at any of its many markets, the desire to lose weight with all the butter chicken in their diet: Delhi defies time, logic and any attempt to be captured in words.

The city taught me everything I know about love, life and myself. About love: it’s all about companionship. If you like someone’s company, if spending time with that soul doesn’t feel like a burden, if no matter where you go or how far you fly away, you wish to come back to that soul, then you’re definitely in love my friend. You just can’t say “Bye” to your love, it’s always a “See you soon.” What’s more, live in denial as much as you can, have a checklist as exhaustive or as minimal but when something “clicks” it just does. The soul might have all the red flags, in fact might be painted red from head to toe, will tick all the wrong check boxes and yet as a package there is nothing that you would want more. It does more in keeping you happy and sane than everything else. Look at Delhi: unsafe for women, polluted air, horrible summer and no night life, yet it’s the city I’ve been in love with for years now. Places or people: the same logic works. 

About life: That it goes on. Dynasties come, empires fall but this city stays a silent spectator to all the turmoil that affects its very character and existence. Things can get tough but all that I can do or rather should do is to stoically live through it. Time the great healer would in due course reign supreme. It’s really about getting myself through, whether sober or otherwise.

About myself: let’s just say this city saw me metamorphose from a timid nerd to who I am today (which is definitely not the former). In my love and obsession for Delhi, I’m not alone. It has enthralled writers and poets for ages. From Ghalib to William Dalrymple, a lot has been said about Delhi. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s lament at his inability to be burried in his beloved summer palace in Mehrauli, Delhi resonate:

Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar, dafn ke liye

Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein.”

That is the kind of emotion this city evokes.

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