|The grandeur of Sarkari Delhi : View From Rajpath|
I thought I was lucky to find a parking spot outside the small supermarket in my sector. Well, at least something was going right on that hot and humid Saturday morning. After about 30 minutes , I happily finished my shopping and came out of the store only to find a rather well-used car parked outside the parking slot , blocking my car . I was irritated but thought that may be the driver will be somewhere nearby. But no, the car was locked and there was no sign of the driver. I went inside the store and got the car number announced- several times. Finally after 15 long minutes, a 40 something gentleman wearing half pants and chappals ( Thinking he looks cool) emerged out of the store . When he saw he has actually blocked car of a woman driver, he seemed rather pleased at his doing .( For those of you who don’t know, many such alpha males of Delhi think that women drivers are some inferior species and can always be blamed for any mistake . These macho males kind of own the road, parking and well, the city) In his Haryanvi accent English ( And yes, he has to converse in English) , he started yelling at me for making him hurry up with his shopping. When I pointed that his car was parked incorrectly, he shouted (again in English) “So what? I too have suffered many times and listen, if you start arguing , I will not take the car out.” At this stage a security guard intervened and asked him to take his car out. Guess what ! Our hero shouted back at the guard (this time in Hindi ) “ Beech mein mat bol Saale . Mujhe pata hai kya karna hai.” Finally after creating a scene and telling all gathered his tale of parking woes , he removed his car and allowed me to take out my legally parked car . I won’t be surprised if he was expecting a “Thank you .So very kind of you” from me. This, and many such incidents in last 6 years, make me feel happy that it is time to say goodbye to Delhi.
Six years is a long time to know a city …to fall in love with it …to start hating it…for getting used to it. I came to Delhi full of apprehensions. Most of which turn out to be true. My discomfort with Delhi- way of living never went away and despite its many comforts and advantages , Delhi remain an odd city for me. In fact after living here I realized that it is no more one city. It is a strange amalgamation of many cities, kasbahs and villages . Perfectly cosmopolitan in some parts and equally rural and crude in most others- sometimes it looks like a city full of old-world character and at others totally bereft of it . In fact there were times when I wondered where is the Delhi about which Meer had said –
कूचे न थे देहली के अवराक़े मुसव्विर थे
जो शक्ल नज़र आई तस्वीर नज़र आई।( Delhi’s streets were not alleys but parchment of a painting, Every face that appeared seemed like a masterpiece).
All I found was people bloated with ego, intoxicated in money and muscle power and streets full of problems for common citizens. And yet, I survived. I think one big reason why I survived the city and its people, is that I stayed outside its typical circles- stubbornly unsocial and aloof . I interacted with people at work and outside only on need-to-interact basis and made very few friends here. In fact, now that I count, most of my friends, including those whom I met in Delhi were not Dilliwallahs, at least not the typical ones.
However, I would be missing the purpose of this post, if I fail to recount that in last six year s, there were also many many moments when I was glad to be here. I got some fantastic work assignments here, met some extraordinary people outside work and participated in some wonderful activities. I also saw some extraordinary things happening in front of my eyes- the civil protest at India Gate, the breaking of scams and its aftermath, the ugly scenes of unashamed arrogant power , wealth and corruption and the impressive struggle of few people who wanted to change the system.
But the thing about memories is that they never get the ‘big picture’ . They are very subjective, personal …almost irrational . They do not honour the perceived importance of events and people in any particular way. I wonder what I will remember of this Delhi tenure 10 years from now ? Here is the tentative list of memories I can think of right now:
· I will think of Delhi trees of different seasons. I will miss gawking from the car window and admiring the trees, specially in Lutyens’ Delhi . How just before Diwali , Saptaparni blooms with its exotic fragrance and how the spring is announced with numerous Semal trees lining the Delhi streets . Even in the summer months, the bright happy yellow Amaltas and red Gulmohar trees made my heart dance with joy. Even tedious office work was somewhat bearable after sighting these on my way .
· I will remember my favorite hideouts – National Gallery of Modern Arts and National Museum . They may not be in the best of conditions but still, they are an unparallel treasure trove. I wish I get to see them many more times . The memory of plays watched at National School of Drama will stay with me for long . I was mesmerized to meet Banbhatta on NSD stage (in Banbhatta Ki AtmaKatha ) and learnt so much about theatre from Indian and foreign plays performed here .
· I think I will think about the names of the streets and my (mostly failed) attempts to remember them. The strange landmarks of places which I built in my mind- the lone statue of Alexander Pushkin outside Sahitya Academy Building or the magnificent statue of Gandhiji outside Parliament house .
· I will also miss my visits to well known, less known and not-known-at-all monuments of Delhi. I thank my stars that I got to see these fascinating places as part of my job. While it fills me with rage that Red fort is in such pathetic condition, thank God, we also have Humayun’s tomb – just restored to its glory. The turquoise blue glazed tiles of this Mughal tomb filled my heart with such bliss when I first saw them after restoration.
Whatever reservations I have bout Dilliwalahs , the fact is that it was only with the kindness and generosity of many ordinary Dilliwallahs at my workplace that I survived. Ajay- my loyal man Friday, who successfully found solutions to all my big-small problems with amazing efficiency; Ashish and Sanjeev, my drivers, who somehow found ways in the lanes of Delhi for their direction challenged madam going in search of one German Bakery and one unknown grave – God, I am definitely going to miss them . The colleagues I worked with and bosses who tolerated me, many of whom I hope to cross ways again, floored me with their kindness .
There are still so many things, sights, places and people to remember…….. driving to Italian Embassy for the Italian course relishing the sights of diplomatic Delhi , shopping in Connaught Place, the India Gate circle , the official meetings at numerous stately buildings of Government of India and yes, the white pigeon who regularly visited my office window ( mostly to eat the daana left by Ajay) . Well, to quote Meer once again, I have to agree :
दिल व दिल्ली दोनो अगर है खराब;
पा कुछ लुत्फ उस उजड़े घर में भी हैं!
(Both heart and Delhi may have been worn out, But some little pleasures still remain in this ruined house).
But in the end, I am glad it is time to say goodbye to this mad mad city . I know life might bring me back in these corridors, but as of now, I go out of Delhi with a relieved look of sanity on my face. Just can’t wait to find the new chapter of life unfolding at yet another fascinating and awe-inspiring city- Mumbai . The adventure of life , after all, exists in those spaces between the known and the expected- in the unexpected and the unknown.