You know what’s the pro of having family around? You never have to worry about going off the deep end. There’s the security of knowing that come month end and a bleeding bank balance that prompts visits to the ATMs that can dispense notes by the hundred, you can always drop in for a friendly visit to your parents and be sufficiently taken care of. At least, that’s how it’s been for me since I left home to pursue life as a ‘young, independent woman’ at 17. There’s been more gags than laughs since then, to say the least. But, I’m a different breed. Families work slightly differently in Delhi. At the risk of generalisation, most of my close friends in their early-mid twenties here stay with their families. They eat with their families, go to Gymkhana with their families, drink with their families, shop with their families and some even do shots with their grandmothers. While, on one hand, I understand the closeness this weaves and how convenient it is to have a family and all its attendant comforts to fall back on (being young and alone isn’t everybody’s cup of tea) I also feel it takes away a huge part of growing up. The part where you have to make do with unused kitchen cabinets, cereal for dinners for days you’re broke, cleaning out dust bunnies in corners you didn’t know existed, waking up one Sunday morning with the taste of dehydration and a stranger in your mouth, the art of scurrying said stranger out without coming across as too much of a bitch – life alone can sometimes feel marooned, sometimes heady with freedom but mostly, your own. The one thing I did come to appreciate about people well past their early twenties who stay with family out of choice, after I’d navigated early morning hours in a close friend’s (that’s what we choose to call the status quo) house trying to sneak past his sleeping dog/cook/parents respectively, is that it does instil a certain sense of belonging that evades me as much as calculating the exact change on my bills does. A sense of knowing where you come from and taking pride in that fact. That being said, there is a fine line between learning how to cook your famous family recipe because you spent enough time in the kitchen giving your mother company and not knowing when to snap the proverbial apron strings off.
Everybody is doing it. With almost, everybody else. The regressive judgment, the notion that a woman has allowed herself to be owned because she’s revealed herself, the casual sexism that is a constant undertone, the repressed guilt and the sense of entitlement are its paltry attendants. Sometimes, it’s a power game, sometimes escapism, mostly self-validation, sex for its sake is what most men, contrary to popular belief, can’t wrap their heads around.
Gratification, historically speaking, has been the male domain. And, nowhere is this truer than in Delhi, the red-blooded, proudly pulsating heart of North India. A woman who dares to wear her sexuality on her sleeve, isn’t afraid to choose the men she sleeps with much like taking your pick from a brunch buffet is more often than not perceived as a threat. Sex with these women is treated as something furtive, a covert operation carried out in the dead of the night. Most men, whether they realise it or not, are brought up to believe that the proverbial ‘woman of their dreams’ wears power suits on weekdays, dresses ‘appropriately wild’ on weekends and brings out her homely upbringing every time a family member is in sight. This idealised, if misplaced notion, is shattered effectively with women in this city challenging the latent notions of patriarchy. This supposed revolution, sometimes characterised by misplaced signatures of feminism such as believing that holding your liquor after your fifth Jägerbomb is the mark of a ‘liberated woman,’ or the other end of the spectrum where you end up photographing better than you exist, aren’t exactly answers to this omnipresent entitlement we’ve gotten so accustomed to. I don’t know what the answers to a healthy, emotionally and physically thriving sex life are but I do know that sex has always been an enigma. When you’re young, wild at heart and weird on top, it’s cool to want to touch everybody a lot and want to be touched by everybody a lot. Anybody who tells you otherwise has had a questionable upbringing. That being said, search far and wide and you come to the stunning conclusion (much to the chagrin of some of my slightly misandrist counterparts), men have feelings too. Emotionally stunted, emotionally overwrought, men have an entire array of emotions ranging from fear, desire, love, lust, want, need when it comes to sex. And, it’s just equally, if not harder for them to navigate the treacherous waters of sexuality and sensuality. Many, if not all, romanticise it and are brought up under societally, pop-culture induced pressure of being “the alpha male,” the one on the constant hunt for ‘the next piece of ass.’ I’ve known men who’ve fallen in love over first night stands, men who are virgins by choice, men who didn’t text her back because they weren’t sure what to say, men who are okay dating a woman they met on Tinder, so it’s only safe to assume that most twenty-somethings are as good at knowing what sex is really about as they are at doing their taxes, with the exception of consultants. Anybody my age who’s a consultant seems to have catapulted ten years forward into their life experiences and have stock investments and therefore, can’t be taken seriously for the purpose of this discourse.
Love is a very polarising force in this city (as I imagine it would be in most cities). Some are falling in it, some are falling out of it, some are chasing it and some are running away from it and then there are those who always have an opinion about it. Attraction is a slippery slope and commitment, an even slippery one. In a city full of feelings and temperaments, love is too often a commodity. It doesn’t matter if you and I can’t have a conversation, you’re hot and you make me look good, let’s be together while this lasts? And maybe, we can pretend the sex isn’t as mechanical as after dinner coffee on the menu for the sake of keeping up appearances. We’ll colour coordinate our clothes, get a casual drug habit, do art and food on the weekends, start-ups during the week, drink enough to drown this gaping abyss between us and develop a co-dependency we can comfortably ignore long as the Instagram pictures are looking great. Soon, there’s a ring on it since you’re too worried about going off the deep end and the next thing you know, you’re thirty, drinking far too much and spending far too much on doing things you don’t want to do with people you vaguely abhor wondering where your twenties disappeared. The weight of the world is love, and nowhere is this truer than in Delhi. Love runs people as much as money does but romanticism is dead, except in retail.
Things I Learnt (and you would too, if you’re lucky)
Delhi is a city of contradictions. For every colony lined with keenly manicured lawns, there’s a slum next door. Exotic for some, reality for others, Delhi often has the bearings of slight schizophrenia.
Such is the fibre of the city that the weather can go from the searing sun to torrential rain that swathe the city in smiles and relief. And, then there’s the winter, the kind that cuts to your bone, complete with gloomy street corners lighting up with the arbitrary glow of street lamps and matchsticks.
Sometimes disguised as an urban utopian dream complete with walks down Lodhi Road, with the trees moving to the monsoon wind and shiny cars whizzing past on perfect tarmac roads, and you think you’ve come close to touching the power that is Delhi. Not quite. Two over-weight cops atop a vintage motorcycle snaking past the traffic because they can or a beggar that curses you because you’re out of change defines the entitlement that is Delhi.
Variety is also Delhi. You haven’t really experienced Delhi if you haven’t braved the Rajiv Chowk metro station at 6 pm on a weekday. The scattered and confusing fragments of this city seem to congregate at this unlikely junction. Lonely housewives, middle aged mothers working government jobs, pimply teenagers, eunuchs with lips the colour of their labia, pimply teenagers, lost hippies, 20 somethings in crop tops and the misplaced arrogance of the youth, waifish DU kids smelling of weed and yesterday’s clothes, upright elderly people smelling of starch and decay and the multitude of professional somethings. The ubiquitous middle class – Delhi’s social fabric is as layered as it’s blatant.
I’ve had evenings watching live jazz quartets flown in from Mexico and afternoons I’ve scrounged through Paharganj looking for an easy fix. I’ve seen kids with heartbreak in their eyes turn bedrooms at house parties into cocaine call centres and madmen muttering at red lights in a city with a lack of clarity or starlight.
Delhi is a city of eyes. I’ve seen hunger in the eyes of people here. Hunger for love, for money, for a different life. I’ve seen stalks of willow and wisps of morning breath in the eyes of a foreign lover, and the siren of familiarity in the eyes of another. I’ve seen eyes misted with desire, and eyes glazed with hate. Eyes follow you everywhere. Us, as Indians, have an uncanny ability to be okay with our shortcomings. Amongst all the swearing, no regard for personal space and other things we’re unapologetic for, staring is one of them.
Delhi’s a city in constant motion. At red lights, in the malls, much like acceptable social prisons, at sweaty clubs and dingy bars. I’ve smelt loneliness mixed with the smell of smack, the kind that lingers long after you’ve crossed the emaciated bodies on the streets and I’ve felt the impatience in the knuckles gripping steering wheels.
Delhi is a city of motives. Motives run people and we all move together, swerving around each other much like the bones and joints of our hip sockets circle street constructions – effortlessly.
Delhi’s a city of love. Sometimes, we fall in love. Mostly, we fall out of love. With each other, with ourselves, with strangers, with our own, sometimes driving along on an empty road at 4 am, sometimes in the middle of a passionate if misplaced protest.
Delhi’s a city of politics, where everything is keenly self-aware but equally oblivious. The classes like to keep to their respective peers. Like a post-modern utopian illusion, the rich throng the Starbucks with shiny MacBooks and order double lattes, the middle class like their fast-food happiness and the poor trudge along side.
Delhi is the artist, with its furious November skies and unapologetic summer heat painting broad, relentless strokes across its landscape, with its tall buildings and crooked huts, sheltering the hopes and dreams, the age and doubts, the love and fears of its people.
Delhi is the muse. With its crowds and their collective ambitions, their hustle and their unabashed walks, with its quiet chatters around street corners and strangers rubbing shoulders, here are a few observations I managed gathering in my three-year long torrid, if reluctant affair, with Delhi.