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I share a love-hate relationship with Delhi. A Bengali who has seen the capital since her nappy days, I have been witness to the slow but bumpy transformation of this outpost for displaced Punjabis to a teeming megapolis of millions. Home to some of the biggest markets in Asia, a city where multinational opulence rubs shoulders with decaying Mughal splendour, the stately Shantipath that fills you with awe, wide avenues lined with trees older than your granddad’s memory, the beautiful bungalows – it’s tough not to fall in love with Delhi. What I simply abhor is the attitude its populace never tires of flaunting.
The Delhite is a species devoid of manners, full of self-importance and lacking empathy.
Blame the extreme weather, its fast paced tempo and its law resistant neighbours: there’s that indefinable thing about Delhi that changes you. If you are genteel, soft-spoken, law-abiding – may God help you. The astounding variety of punishments good manners can fetch you in this city is astounding. Your toes will get trampled. If you are in a queue it will magically keep getting longer in the front. If you take the Metro, someone will invariably shove her well fed ass in the sliver of space next to yours and literally push you off the seat. If you are brave enough to drive, you will be honked at incessantly even at traffic lights. If you are stupid enough to walk, someone will either try to run you over or kidnap you for fun.
It’s as if your mere existence is an irritation to many.
In Delhi it’s very important to know who your Dad is. If you are driving within speed limits and it is unacceptable to the fella driving behind, he will come up to you and ask – tere baap ki sadak hai kya(is this your Dad’s road)? If he’s in a better mood, he might ask you the profoundest question of all – Pataa hai main kaun hoon? (Do you know who I am?)
It helps if your Dad is an important government official. It spares you the agony of standing in queues at 15 different counters and when you finally see light at the end of the tunnel (read the clerk), you will be turned back because your bank statements for the last 25 years were not submitted in triplicate. Either sarkari naukri makes you ugly or the sarkar is benevolent towards the looks-challenged, but the fact is, you will find some of the ugliest specimens working for the government. Coupled with an attitude to match, a visit to a government office is like a trip to hell.
Standing in a serpentine queue, with the probability of the smelliest man standing right next to you, the fan on the ceiling moving at a speed which will give a snail a complex, only to come face to face with a gormint clerk, whose main mission in life is to make you realize that life is not a bed of roses.
It certainly helps if your Dad or even an uncle related to you by satellite is a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Animal Husbandry. Chairs appear magically, files move at lightning speed and if you are lucky enough you get tea in china cups that’s only three years old.
Delhi also brings out the Olympian in you. One has to be the faster, higher and stronger to survive. Years of scarcity, rationing and reservations have conditioned us to believe that if we don’t push to get there first, things will run out. Seats, admissions, tickets, space, opportunities or even food laid out at the buffet table makes us starts jostling as if our life depends on it.
Any other vermin encroaching upon our space deserves to be pushed off from the face of Earth.
In movie halls, people refuse to switch off their phones and insist on conducting business negotiations just when the heroine’s mother is about to die. Our gestures reek of impatience and we have long deemed simple sorry and thank-you’s as unnecessary. All we need is a small trigger to burst into a string of profanities.
I’d hate to think that there’s nothing right with a Delhite. In fact a Dilliwala is all about dil - harsh but large hearted, ready to beat all odds with his never-die spirit, enterprising despite government apathy and a stifling bureaucracy – we have learnt to survive on jugaad. We shop in swanky malls in our Calvin Kleins, check out the latest accessories at the DKNY store, yet uninterrupted supply of electricity and water remain a dream for us. We buy mammoth generators to counter load shedding, install heavy duty water pumps to tide over Jal Boards’ ineptitude and bribe our way through sarakari ennui. We Delhites always manage to find a way out of misery.
Everything about us is larger than life – our over the top celebrations, our Swarovski studded handbags, Chunnu ki Mummy’s diamond necklace and his Daddy’s sedan. If Chunni ki Mummy can drive you up the wall with her “kitne ka liya” queries, she will also make sure your kid is taken care of if you are late from office. Mr Sharma may quarrel with you over parking space but will knock at your door on Diwali night with a mammoth mithai dabba in his hand.
Loathe him, love him but you simply can’t dismiss him. After all it’s the spirit of a Delhi-wala that keeps the city alive.
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