On my way to Jamia one day, Delhi was on my mind. The city I had lived in for about four years. Of course, that’s no match to people who had been born here and spent their whole life in the capital.
The last time I set some time aside to think of this city was perhaps in 2007. The time when I had moved to Delhi from Gurgaon. Not much distance between the two cities, though.
I had spent the first nine years of my life in Banaras, UP, and then moved to Gurgaon because my dad had a transfer. I remember my dad’s colleagues would ask me: “What would you choose if you had a choice between Gurgaon and Banaras?” And my sister and I had very cordially planned to answer “Banaras” because that was our first city. The first city we had ever lived in. How could any place ever match that?
But Gurgaon became a great chapter in my story. It wasn’t a blockbuster story though.
Moving to Delhi was perhaps one of the saddest things my family had to do. Leaving Gurgaon behind was like abandoning a part of your body, but it lacked a soul. Delhi gave it a soul.
I remember during the first few days in the city my dad’s colleague, who was my guardian for a few weeks, said to me: “Give it some time and you’ll fall in love with Delhi.” I had vaguely smiled at her, silently betting it would take me a lifetime to fall in love with a nightmare.
And there were two nightmares — seniors ragging you in DU and, of course, “eve teasing”! And I had experienced both in my very first week in Delhi. But soon I realized that the seniors turned out to be pretty friendly and all that “eve teasing” made me pretty tough.
People talk about Bombay – the city of dreams – and its aura. I’ve never been to Bombay so that light never sparkled through me. But the city of Delhi – this is my Disneyland. The city where I’ve made life-long friends on the very DU campus I was once scared of, where I learned to snap at people, where I learned to set aside my invisible tiara and step into the DTC buses. The city where tragedy struck my family at times and pulled us closer, where my family apparently got richer by the day but money still remained on the list of things I value most.
This is the city where I celebrated my eighteenth birthday and became a responsible adult. The city where everybody talks about everybody else, where I put all my theories of self confidence and self esteem into practice, where I slapped an “eve teaser” for the very first time. (Bring it on!)
If four years ago, my biggest fear was surviving in this city, today it is letting go of it. Where else could I have ever found a place that would give me the very guts to be the girl I had always dreamed of as a kid? Where else could I have found a place that was made for me? It’s not the people who have captured my mind because I’ve also found a whole bunch of people I wish I’d never come across. So it’s not the people. It’s the soul of the city.
I love the Ring Road; love the history, the malls, and the campus, and how the DTC makes quick arrangements for its passengers when the buses break down. I love the aura of it being the capital city, the parliament street, and the Delhi metro. Talking of which, once I had to board the Gurgaon local train to Delhi and I felt stranded on a crowded train and in an altogether different Gurgaon I’d never known.
And with all the “nightmare” men traveling alongside. It seemed like a lifetime before I reached the outskirts of Delhi and before I hired a rickshaw and reached the Dwarka Sector-9 metro station. And as I rushed in before the metro doors closed shut, and occupied that shiny, silver seat, and as the familiar announcements tickled my ears once again, I remember saying to myself: “I am going home.”
As a kid I often feared getting lost in the crowd when I was out with my parents but today there is not a place in this city from where I can’t find my way back home.
I remember my family’s exhausting trip back from Jaipur. I had slept half way through the journey back home and when I opened my eyes, it was midnight. We had finally reached Delhi and were at Shadipur. I saw the familiar metro pillars pass me by through my car’s window. The streetlights still on. Girls going back home in auto rickshaws after a long day. Families going back home after an outing perhaps just like us. And there it was — the familiarity of the city. Perhaps, everything that seems familiar is a console to the heart. This is exactly what Delhi was to me on that very night.
With Delhi, it was never love at first sight. How could it be? It’s got loads of attitude! And, of course, over the years, Delhi has hurt me often but it has never broken my heart. And that is why no matter the broken roads, no matter the streetlight outside my house that doesn’t light up half the time, no matter the Delhi traffic, the rush in the metros and buses, the Delhi ego, the corruption, the polluted air or the pretense; no matter what, I will give this city a second chance any day.
Of course, they say it’s the people that make a place or a city. But to me it’s not totally about the people. It’s about Delhi. It’s about what New York is to some people and Bombay is to some others. It’s about finding and accepting myself. It’s about Delhi and me.
Though I don’t want to leave Delhi ever, but because the future is uncertain, I can’t bet that this is the city I am going to settle down in. After all, if your dad’s job can take you places, if being dependent on your parents can take you through three cities, wonder where independence can take you.
No matter where I go or what I become, I will always owe that independence to my family, my friends, Oprah Winfrey and every other great show I’d ever watched, and of course, the city I presently and profoundly breathe in — Delhi.