Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Yeh hai Dilli meri Jaan (with apologies to Rafi/Guru Dutt/Geeta Dutt etc. )

My last post mentioned people not wanting to leave Delhi inspite of their non-stop bitching about it. I, actually, am not among them: I complain, but I don't bitch. Inspite of the godawful weather for much of the year (if you're here, or have checked the temperature - it's been hovering around 45C for some weeks now - you'll know why this is uppermost in my mind) there's no other place in the world quite like this.

I guess it has a lot to do with being from here: I actually revel in many things in many things people from gentler climes (literally as well as metaphorically) find unbearable. Consider the aggression (swearing, crazy drivers, thuggish autowalas). I actually prefer the Punjabi variant of in-your-face aggressiveness to the more passive-aggressive tenor of, say, Calcutta, another city I know and love. To me, Delhi's aggression is just a facet of something that I could call drive, or chutzpah, or ambition, or just plain hustle. Sometimes (okay, often) it's crude, but it gives the place an energy that is hard to come by elsewhere.

Since I'm on the topic, I may as well finally direct you to my favourite Delhi-based blogger
  • The Compulsive Confessor
  • who recently blogged about similar matters. I think she said it all rather well (as always, as always) when she wrote about how those of us who ostensibly come from different parts of the country but have grown up in saddi Dilli feel more at home here than the places we're supposedly linked to, by language or ethnicity. In my case, aforementioned link is in any case tenuous, since we have neither ancestral homes nor relatives in the old country, and my family are older Dilliwalas than most Punjabis by at least 30 years. I guess I go through these 'senti' phases where I feel like I need to defend this city, which for all its many flaws (and here, I must confess to feeling lucky not to be a single woman here) I am fond of, as one is of a somewhat difficult friend who has lots of little habits that annoy you, but with whom you go back a long, long way.

    In the spirit of compulsive list-making, which most bloggers seem to suffer from, here are the things I love about Delhi, in no particular order.

    1. Aandhis. Nowhere else I've lived in has them. Admittedly, they're much more infrequent now than they were when I was a kid, but I guess that makes them all the more special. The clean-up afterwards is a nightmare, but the sudden whirl of dust followed by rain, then the fall in temparature ... aaaaah. Not to mention the scent of wet earth.....

    2. The non-summer part of the year. I love the monsoon here. It's probably not as impressive as other places (would love to be in Kerala for the monsoon someday) but it is wonderful, particularly coming as it does after a heat that is truly grotesque. I remember when we were kids, sometimes there'd be an unexpectedly heavy shower. Everyone would rush to the window, yelling 'it's raining! it's raining' leaving our poor class teacher to rant, ineffectually, 'Have you all never seen rain before'? But seriously, when the first monsoon rain happens, it does feel like one has never quite seen this before. Now that I'm thinking about school, I remember a lot else that's rain-related - the dash between classes, notebooks-as-umbrellas, wading through the puddles on the way home. And the smell of roasting bhutta. And this is only the monsoon. Winter's quite special in its own way. There's a certain point in the year - I wouldn't be able to say quite when - when the light suddenly mellows, and you know summer is over. Then the brief but glorious autumn, followed by the winter: razais, mellow afternoon sunshine, oranges on the terrace.

    3. Chaat. Okay, I know you get chaat everywhere, but I can still like it best here, right? Besides, have never cared all that much for the Bombay or Cal variants. Give me good old Paapri over Bhel/Jhal Muri anyday.

    4. Movies. At film festivals. I doubt anywhere else in India has the smorgasbord of foreign arthouse cinema on offer, and free at that, that Delhi does. Cinefan is probably the most fun that can be packed into ten days, and while I bemoan the absence of a regular arthouse cinema in this city, there's something special about the whole rushing-between-Habitat-and-FCC-and-IIC experience ('shall we watch the Moroccan film at Habitat at 6.30 or the Indonesian one at the FCC at 7? .. Ok, let's try the Moroccan and if it's crap we'll rush over to Augangzeb Road') is something else. Before there was Cinefan, of course, there were the various embassy-organised festivals. I think I've seen some of the best films I've ever seen at these things, and I totally love the hanging out in Habitat and catching up with people you only ever see at film festivals ('So, what is P doing now? Last Cinefan she was in publishing...') that is an integral part of the whole film festival thing.

    5. Connaught Place. Nowhere quite like it. I mean, seriously. And while I suppose that Wengers isn't that great, really, but I miss it when I'm not here. And walking around the Inner Circle, people-watching. Watching it rain through the enormous plate-glass windows of Standard Restaurant above Regal. Browsing in Cottage Industries. (When we were little, the ultimate treat, for some reason, was to be taken, after a trip to the Cottage, to eat Russian Salad and drinking cold coffee at Bankura Cafe right outside it. It's not the same anymore (for one thing, the Cottage Industries has moved), but memories are always better than the real thing anyway.) Afternoons browsing the British Council Library. Haggling at Janpath.

    6. Speaking of browsing, there are bigger and better-organised bookstores in the world, but the row of bookstores in Khan Market will always be special. Oh, and the Sunday book market in Daryaganj.

    7. Food. At Karim's. 'Nuff said? I suppose chaat is food, but Karim's deserves its own little bullet point. Actually, the nehari, sheermal and mutton 'ishtew' all deserve bullet points of their own. As, of course, does Butter Chicken, at Pandara Road and elsewhere. It's bad for you, it's not in the least 'authentic', it's laden with fat ... but it's S O G O O D!

    8. Monuments and stuff. I could go on forever, but I won't. I like the randomness of a city where a 13th-century mosque could lie around the corner from a block of flats. Or goats are tethered to the walls of a 15th-century stepwell, which abuts the busiest business district in town (anyone who guesses which one I'm referring to gets a pat on the back). I can think of nowhere else in the world, perhaps apart from Rome, where the past and the present coexist in the way that they do here.

    9. The city's unique brand of hustle, exemplified by the eternal question: 'Aapko pata hai mera baap kaun hai?' Amazingly, I've heard this being used by someone trying to get into a fashion show at Fashion Week....

    Clearly, some things never change.


    Blogger .m. said...

    Was lovely 'reliving' Delhi through your blog....
    Missing the place so much. I'd fall into the category who complained loads about it when i was there, but miss it terribly now that am far...
    keep blogging... will be here again!

    9:26 AM  
    Blogger Not Applicable said..., I've been in Delhi for a few years and couldn't agree with you more.

    Nice writing. Keep it up!


    4:54 AM  

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