On Delhi (Part I/X)

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.

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