Monday, July 28, 2014

Where Small Homes Have Large Hearts

 
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They say distance gives you perspective. It’s only when you move away from your parents, do you really start appreciating them. You discover your Mom’s quirks, your Dad’s annoying habits and start looking at everything you took for granted through a different pair of eyes – that of an outsider. Likewise, it was when I spent a summer in the serene suburbs of Chicago, that I realised how chaotic and crazy my life was back in India. Sounds of hawkers selling their wares, kids playing noisily in the neighbourhood, cars honking, ladies gossiping, and Mathur Aunty trying to buy veggies from the 3rd floor of her kothi. These were de rigueur till I encountered the silence of the suburbs. It took me some time to recalibrate myself when I came back to Delhi.

I lived in Delhi almost all my life, discovering the city through its many neighbourhoods we lived in. Each had its distinct charm, confused architecture, a Shambhu bhaiya (the much in demand MTLNL linesman) and a dusty kirana store – the favourite haunt of local kids for lozenges, nimbu soda and potato crisps.

In Delhi, you can calculate the middle class factor of each locality simply by observing its residents. The posher the locality, the rarer the sighting of their inhabitants who are either too busy or bored to be seen outside mixing with the hoi polloi. Hoi polloi are usually the ayahs huddled together at parks while the kids in their care scream like banshees. On their way back they will stop at Super Max grocers to pick up Quinoa for memsahib who’s always on a diet, unlike her middle class counterpart, a queer combination of fed-up and well-fed.

The avenues are wide yet empty. Each house grand and impeccably decorated and maintained by the many servants. Yet its occupants preferring to spend time outside its comforts either earning money or spending it.

The cattle class of Delhi doesn’t let its cramped accommodation deter it from enjoying life to the fullest and loves spreading itself out in the lanes and by-lanes outside their houses. It’s here you get to witness the true spirit of Delhi in its thriving gali culture. As you meander through narrow passages, hopping adroitly over puddles of water and narrowly missing stepping on dog poop, you see elderly ladies sunning themselves on charpais, gossiping while shelling peas with practised ease. Their daughters-in-law keeping the house spic and span by emptying all the rubbish outside. One look at the balcony and the rows of drying clothes vying for space with huge vats of pickles and you know the colours Sharma jee prefers for his undies.

Every hour of the day has its novelty. The loud clanging of the spatula on the iron griddle announces the arrival of the chhole bhature wala. The sing-song tune of Ramu sabziwala is the cue for the ladies to come rushing out in their nightie chunnies and start haggling aggressively. Come evening and it’s time for chaat. The men stare enviously at the gol-gappe wala surrounded by a bevy of women of all shapes and sizes screaming, bhaiya, aur aur aur!

The air outside is a heady mix of whistling pressure cookers, blaring televisions and impatient hormones exchanging furtive glances as they pace up and down their verandas clutching on to their textbook for safety from Mom’s inquisitiveness.

Even though the labyrinth of lanes and by lanes have no names, you can always trust your local taxi to find its way. Why bother naming roads when they can take on the personality of their quirky residents and acquire weird titles. All you need to say is Gol Aunty wali gali (the lady famous for her weight and her fetish for cleaning her courtyard with a hosepipe twice a day) and the driver will be there honking right outside your door.


The residents get to hone their warfare skills by fighting over the limited parking spots, their sleuthing skills by investigating whose rubbish landed with a loud thwack at their doorstep and their competitive spirit by comparing their child’s exam scores with any kid who ever sat for an exam.

Yet, during festivals and occasions of joy everyone gets together to celebrate in their shiniest best, putting aside past differences.

Having lived in one such locality, I learnt to pronounce water-tank as tunkee and added oye, abbe, and jee to my vocabulary. Before I could graduate to, hore, kee haal hai, I fled to Gurgaon, the city of high-rises and higher aspirations, where everyone is distanced from everybody else’s reality. A coldness we willingly embraced for the sake of upward mobility.

It’s been over a decade now but I still recall with gratitude the compassion and warmth I got from my neighbours when my husband had to be hospitalised. Or the time when he was posted overseas for nearly a year. I had to juggle far too many responsibilities on my own, being also a working mom to a young child, yet I never felt alone or short of offers to help.

Delhi neighbourhoods may no longer be a ghetto for displaced refugees but your typical Delhi neighbour hasn’t changed much. Loud, boisterous, nosy and appallingly demonstrative of his wealth, anger and affection. You can expect a person you barely know to ask you your age, salary, income tax returns and details of your ancestral property without a hint of embarrassment because it helps them relegate you to your assigned place in their hierarchy of aukad. Your business is their business, so are your sorrows and joys. You can always depend on them to rally together in times of need, and overwhelm you with their generosity.

The south Delhi bitch continues to cock a snook at those West Delhi types and has yet to respond to Lucky from Ramesh Nagar’s friend request. The West Delhi types insist that the best market in the world is Rajouri Garden. And a newcomer to the city keeps getting lost between Tagore Garden and Tagore Park, which incidentally are at polar ends of the city.

Despite its many shortcomings, each neighbourhood is as colourful, posh, aloof, elitist and crass as its residents, unlike its western counterparts, where you can’t make out one suburb from the other. It’s in India you realize that a large heart has very little to do with the number of digits in the bank balance. You don’t need a bigger house, a more expensive car to be happier. Happiness lies in shared camaraderie among strangers who become friends and end up as bonds that last a lifetime. You learn that it’s love and understanding, not pricey artefacts, make a house a home.



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75 comments:

  1. First.
    This was incredibly visual. I could imagine the pressure cooker whistling and Chole bhature wala in the locality. True, distance provides perspective. But what I love most about apartment life in Gurgaon is the blessing of power back up and the security.

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    1. Security, power backup, a complex with a veggie shop, grocer and plumbers and electricians on call and most of all - clean surroundings. But I miss the hawkers and neighbours(who are mostly absent in Gurgaon).

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  2. Have never lived in Delhi..but yes the joy of living in a neighborhood where your next door aunty is more close to you than your mother's sister, I do know that feeling..But sadly I don't see that anymore ..My next door neighbour runs away when he sees me and wants to run away everytime my husband strikes up a conversation with him...Maybe its just us :)... Anyways, a post which somehow tells me you are missing India?

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    1. I remember reading the post of yours - I fell in love with your growing-up years.

      Naba, I always manage to miss India :-)

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  3. Loved this to the core! I missed everything about Dilli, while in UK. I even missed things I don't really like, like the nosy aunties who are more bothered about why I am not getting married than my own parents. And I sense, it is one of those days for you, hence the post :)

    But, everything you say sure rings a bell! Dilli has a heart and a soul, no doubt.

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    1. And I know I'll start cribbing about the noise, pollution, rudeness of the people within a few days of moving back :D

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  4. Satyavachan. You brought back memories of my childhood vacations. And yes, back home, the still sit on the charpai for chai and gupshup. Nostalgia, this.

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    1. Ah, the weeks we spent with our cousins doing nothing yet it felt so fulfilling :-)

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  5. This is so visual and evocative written with affection and nostalgia. Loved it :)

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    1. Thanks for reading, Sridevi :-)

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  6. You brought the sights and sounds of Delhi alive. I have always lived here and as much as I hate this city, there is a part of me passionately and irrevocably in love with it as well.

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    1. Yup. When I'm in Delhi I can't stop cursing but then there's no other city like this.

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  7. That's such a nostalgic post. i can totally relate to the picture you painted here, having lived both in Delhi and Gurgaon for many years now :) Lovely!

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  8. Have visited Delhi just a couple of times but the picture you painted was all that I have seen and a lot more. You brought the place alive with your words. And you are right, not just in Delhi, I think wherever you go, after a point you realize that happiness is not defined by how palatial the house is or how swanky the cars are... in the case of Delhi I guess the saying does make sense... Dilli hai Dilwalo ki :)

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    1. Like I love saying, in India you can be alone but not lonely.

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  9. A thoroughly enjoyable read and could almost give a pulse of the place through your brilliant use of words Purba, to portray pictures of Delhi localities and people living there:) True, the distance makes the heart grow fonder!

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    1. And familiarity breeds contempt :D

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  10. Well-drawn picture of Delhi neighborhoods! Have left Delhi some years back but this brings back fond memories.

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    1. What I like about the city is, every part is so distinctly different from the other.

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  11. "The air outside is a heady mix of whistling pressure cookers, blaring televisions and impatient hormones exchanging furtive glances as they pace up and down their verandas clutching on to their textbook for safety from Mom’s inquisitiveness. " loved this very very visual post

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    1. It's been over 10 years since we moved out from that locality but it still feels like yesterday.

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  12. Lovely little description of Saadi Dilli. :-D And yes, having been brought up here in Delhi by a working mom and a father who was on deputation for almost a decade, I can completely vouch for the helpfulness of fellow Delhites. If it was not for such large-hearted people, we wouldn't have survived here. Witty little post. :-)

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    1. Ever city has its typical set of people and you wonder what makes them so different from each other!

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  13. The subtle and stark differences between a Lajpat Nagar and a Greater Kailash, two colonies where I have lived for many years, brought out in one delightful post! Excellent read!

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    1. Two localities so close to each other, yet so different :-)

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  14. I enjoyed the read though I can hardly relate to Delhi colonies. Delhi is one place I've never lived and all my trips to the city made me dislike it for it is so different from how I am. I guess I have lived in Bombay and Bangalore for too long :). But, yes distance does make you appreciate things better. Just you wait. Once you are back in Gurgaon, the cribs will be back thick and fast as well.

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    1. Of course. Give me a few weeks, gone will be the nostalgia and I'll back to my fuming ways.

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  15. I have lived in Delhi. I've lived in Regarpura... which is the ultimate in gali culture. I've also lived in west Patel Nagar... which is just a step up from Regarpura. And I've lived in East Delhi newly constructed posh colonies.

    Your post brought it all live. I was grinning away all through the post. It was an experiential delight!

    I recently saw a movie called 'Chalo Dilli'. If you haven't seen it, you must. It drives you to the edge with annoyance... and then makes you tear up, ashamed.

    Enough Said!

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    1. West Patel Nagar and Regarpura is where you can still find the real Delhi.

      Sadly, our great cities instead of getting better are become more congested, filthier and more vicious with time.

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  16. True that, but that is Delhi where Delhi used to be. The upcoming Delhi, or rather the NCR has more semblance to the quiet, own-business-minding Gurgaon that you described. It's the heart that still beats, the what grows now is like blood to this heart, flowing, but never staying, and not minding what is in the other half.

    Such is Delhi.

    Nice, retrospection, or, should I say, preparations to land back in again?

    Cheers,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. But I won't be landing back in Delhi. And I am ashamed to say that I prefer the coldness of Gurgaon :p

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  17. This truly was an extraordinarily visual post and an extremely heartwarming one at that too. Your love for the Delhi you know and adore clearly shows through throughout the entire post.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Jairam :-)

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  18. Something similar to few extensions and streets in Bangalore. :-)
    Took me back to those times I was living in the centre of bangalore.

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    1. But you didn't like it that much, right?

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    2. yeah, I prefer peaceful life with no-nosy people around. :-)

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  19. Looks like you are missing home? Don't worry...the hustle bustle and pressure cooker sounds will be right there when you land :) Very visualizing post...I believe all the Delhiites can relate to this well. :)

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    1. No, no, Latha. Not in Gurgaon. We all lead quite lives in our apartments until we step out in the chaos outside.

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    2. Oh right...You moved to Gurgaon naa...:) btw, the second part of the story is out ...

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  20. Ah! You made Delhi absolutely alive Purba...I lived in one such locality (almost) for about six months, and before I could start appreciating life there, life moved on and so did I. Such places would be so full of stories, with people only too willing to share...

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    1. The city's traffic snarls are legendary, the weather too hot or too cold, its people rude and snobbish yet there's so much history in its lanes (especially the older parts of the city). There's always so much to discover and experience in Delhi.

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  21. Never lived in Delhi for more than a month but you know what, this made me feel like I was living the place through your words.
    Bhopal is like that for me. :) Oh nostalgia!

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    1. I believe Bhopal is much cleaner and has some beautiful lakes.

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  22. Meh! I grew up in a huge Bungalow that had a lawn around it and a parking for 5 cars inside. Don't know about the neighbourhoods you are talking about.
    Personally, I have never liked the Gallis - claustrophobic with noisy people (who I usually kill in a 100 different horrific ways within the first 10 minutes while smiling pleasantly at their questions)

    You have spoken good about the Gallis of "Rajinder Nagar" but then I have heard different stories from Tee. :D

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    1. Maybe Tee should write her version and you can sit and compare notes.

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  23. I have never lived in Delhi, but I could still relate. India has its own charm and I am learning that India cannot be taken out or away from an Indian no matter the circumstances.

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    1. It will always be part of who we are.

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  24. Purba fantastic piece you gave me a real enjoyable experience through words...

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    1. Thank you for reading, Chaitali.

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  25. I lived in Dilli (north as a student of D.U, and south as a resident) for many many years and can so relate to each and every thing you have written so vividly.Loved reading your post

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  26. The Delhi of yore is a village at heart and sometimes it can get overwhelming. The times it does not is when you are a youngster, a young working mother and running a nuclear family -- then the nosy neighbours pull together and hold the fort for you when you need their help. Having lived in several types of Delhi localities, I can vouch for every word of the post.

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    1. But you still prefer Mumbai :-)

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  27. That was a beautiful verbal painting of all the wonderful hues that make Delhi what it is.Know each of them, but you brought them alive. Awesome !

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  28. A nostalgic post, Purba. We realize the true worth of things that we took for granted only when it's taken away from us.

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    1. Indeed. Distance not only makes the heard fonder but also gives us clarity.

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  29. I had commented earlier but it did not register I guess.
    The scenes are the same everywhere in India except for the slight changes in the settings...instead of charpai we had mats where people used to sit and chat. There were this group of widows, very traditional ones with shaved heads and all who used to know which lady on that street had her periods and when! I can go on and on but not now. This is a nostalgic post. :)

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    1. Blogger has this annoying habit of eating up comments :/

      That's what I though when I was writing the post. What holds true for Delhi must hold true for other cities as well.

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  30. I liked it when there were more independent houses where we would know every person on the street because the kids in the street play together. Despite it being independent properties I remember my Grandma and Mom share a good equation with the neighbors. Come festivals and it's a gala affair. These days, despite living in adjacent flats, people tend to be indifferent and as you wonderfully worded it 'embrace coldness for upward mobility'. People think that not being seen in the company of everyone would add to their status, as they would like to socialize only with the who's who. Such a pity!

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    1. In Gurgaon, I have a lift-circle. We exchange pleasantries while going up and down the lift and then shut ourselves off from reality. Unlike my old neighbourhood, leave alone interacting, we don't even exchange smiles with our neighbours.

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  31. Totally enjoyed the trip down memory lane with similar experiences in Calcutta! And am giggling at remembering Ramesh uncle's color preference in undies!!

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    1. Kolkata'a caged balconies, towels doubling up as upholstery always leave me mesmerized.

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  32. Loved the post purba...... Though lived in Gurgoan for 18 months, loved the neighborhood from different cultures!!!

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    1. Gurgaon is part of the NCR yet so different from Delhi.

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  33. Delhi is a universe... and, yes, the tougher the living the greater the humanity.

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    1. I loved this line - tougher the living the greater the humanity!

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  34. Incredible post in a lyrical tone and poetic style to express happiness. It's an emotional post and I think with unexpected twists and turns, humans step in to help knowing deep inside we are united by a common destiny. The world is after all not such a bad place despite my anger with it, at times.

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    1. We live in a world where we feel safer to hate than love.

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  35. I couldn't agree more with every word of this post. The posher the locality, the lesser the people to be seen outside- is so true. As we go up the ladder we involuntarily insulate ourselves from the society (at least for a while) and then complain how lonely we have become!

    Your description of the gallis and the chaos is so apt and beautiful, it's almost poetic. This is what makes Delhi or any other metro in India, what they are. Who is the migrant in this soul of the city, one might wonder. Only if Vijay Goel and Thakrey jr. could understand that.

    I actually like these kind of serious posts from you more. They bring about a very sensitive side about the author who is observant and pin point accurate in her details.

    Btw, "Mathur" aunty in a kothi, mummy will be very happy! :D

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    1. This is where being a woman comes handy. We never forget faces and the memories associated with them - the good, the bad, the ugly :-) And each emotion brings out a gamut of memories associated with it.

      Thanks for reading,Prateek.

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  36. Purba you have brought alive my Delhi with this super post.Now i am crying for my homes at Irwin Road and Kirti Nagar.It will never get out of my system.I wrote this poem for the home on Irwin Road-have a look http://jeeteraho.blogspot.in/2012/11/homecoming.html

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    1. I am just thankful that the post that took days to write struck a chord with so many of you.

      Thank you, Indu.

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  37. :) reminded me of the two years I lived in delhi and so true what you have written. oh boy what a pallava it use to be .. top floor we had on rent the four of us .. the corner Kiryana store guy (Shambhu lal uncle) and Singh uncle with his chicken corner .. WE spent a lot of time at that corner , I am sure we still owe some money to both of them but they never took it when I went ot see them the first time i came back to india..

    this post brought so many memories Purba mam.. AWESOMEEEEEEee ,

    we knew everyone especially all the girlssssssssss :) he he he yes the yellow suit one and the green suit one too .. and the BHAIYA with three lovely sisters :)

    Now you made me SO HOME SICK

    Bikram's

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