A Paradox Called Delhi

This is a post from my my ex-roomie, colleague and one of my best friends Deepika Sahu. Deepika said she had written something on Delhi. I always loved her flair for writing and asked for it. Without a second thought, she mailed me and here I am putting it up. Told her on and on to set up a blog but she refuses to be caught in this blogosphere, for now at least.

I was 19 when I first arrived in Delhi. The magnificient setting sun against the backdrop of imposing buildings in India's capital city certainly looked inviting. But it was a heady a feeling in the mind of a young girl leaving home for the first time; unsure, a little bit scared, too, with the baggage of a different world from a sleepy town called Bhubaneswar. In the beginning, Delhi meant JNU, my university campus. In a city like Delhi, it was an island (I really don't know what it's like now), but then to feel life, one needs to get out of the island and test the water.

It has been long journey now. Some memories are now deep buried within myself, some are too hazy to be given an image even with the help of words. But some of them are too clear like a photograph even today. The first step outside the cocooned world of JNU and its brick-walled sturucture was Sarojini Nagar market alongwith my friend and roommate Lopa. The firsrt step was taken out of sheer challenge and frustration. A friend who knew Delhi had promised to take us but didn't turn up at the last minute. And that pushed us to move on our own. A small step indeed but at that time it meant a lot to both of us. The feeling of discovering the market, haggling with the vendors and finding the bus back to the hostel on a sultry August evening still means a lot to me.

But I tasted the real Delhi only after I moved out of my third floor hostel room in JNU. It was a whole different world outside Delhi which knew only one ruthless way -- to crush women who live on their own in this city. Tuglak's Delhi, Luyten's Delhi can sap you of your mental energy. It's not easy to find a house if you are a woman, working and moreover if you are a journalist having odd working hours extending well past midnight. That was the time when I first got a feeling of what it means to be single in a country like India. Integrity, educational qualification, intensity just don't matter in the lanes and bylanes of Delhi when you drag yourself looking for a roof for yourself. There were times when I doubted the very existence of my background and my comfortable house. There were times when I used to walk on the neon-lit streets after finishing an evening shift at my office. I wonderered is this the place where I am living. With my heart in my palm, my fear in my shoes, I did manage to carry on, but today I feel in the absence of it all, I could have done much more. Am I being cynical? Am I being pessimistic?

But then what do you do when at 7 in the evening you are molested by two men in the so called posh South Delhi residential locality? The trauma of the shocking incident was so deep that for almost two weeks, I stayed with a friend of mine and refused to come to my own house. It's a trauma few men from Delhi would understand. In fact, I still remember a very close male friend laughed like a maniac when I told him about this incident. He found it too funny, definitely. I was too shocked to fathom his laughter but then sensitivity always come in small doses in a big city.

Nine years of my adult life in Delhi has given me a mixed buffet. The waft of that dish called memories still take me to a different world where ecstasty rubs its shoulders with pain and agony. Delhi's the place where I discoverd the soft texture of cottons (a tragedy indeed as I am from Orissa famous for its ikkat) in the emporiums on the Baba Kharak Singh road. Gurjari became my favourite hunting ground for getting lost in the wonderful world of colours, fabrics and designs. Delhi is the place where I discovered irrestible first flush Darjeeling Tea in the Cottage Emporium in a delicately designed cloth bag from San Cha.

On a lonely Sunday afternoon, Max Muller Bhavan opened the world of documentray films to me as I watched three documentaries in a row without spending a single penny. When unfulfilled love ached my heart, Korean films at Siri Fort auditorium soothed my nerves. And of course Nirula's and its 21 Love ice-cream will always leave a sweet taste in my mouth even after so many years. Delhi also taught me the value of money. It took great self-control to save for that skirt from Dastkar and a Chinese meal at Osaka in Green Park.

And amidst all this, probably nothing will ever match the magical winter of Delhi. Just to soak in the sun and spending hours in rummaging through piles of T shirts, books, junk jewellery at CP on a winter afternoon elevated the soul. And most importantly, Delhi gave me the most important thing in my life: the experience of intense love. I would not have been what I am today as an individual (I am not talking about success, bank balance and the like) if I wouldn't have lived through that experience in a city far away from my parents and my sisters. And yes, that's why even today I get a lump in my throat when I read Vikram Seth's poem 'All you who sleep tonight..."

It's almost a decade since I left Delhi....Today when I go back, I find it difficult to identify with a place which was once home to me, a place where I got my first job and my first pay slip and a place where where I first cooked a meal for myself, a place where I first hosted a party for my friends. Flyovers, Metro, shopping malls, speciality resturants all have changed the landscpe of the place. But then, as they say, big cities always go for big changes. Anyway, I was just another inconsequential dot on the map of the city.

In all these 10 years, a common question I face from friends and acquiantances is: Would not I like to go back to Delhi? A tough question indeed for me. To be honest, a part of me wants to go back. Once again, I would love to rough it out and find a place for myself there and walk the way I can. But a part of me doesn't want . After all, Delhi is the place which gave me a broken heart. A decade later, it still hurts. And the wound is still deep. Till it heals, I will chase something else. In another city. With another set of dreams in my heart.
(DEEPIKA SAHU works with The Times Of India in Ahmedabad)
A Paradox Called Delhi A Paradox Called Delhi Reviewed by Indira on November 17, 2007 Rating: 5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice , i am too new in delhi, loved your post.

Thank you for it !

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