Growing Up With Delhi

Even though I am a true blue Bong, I hardly had any relatives in Kolkata, till I got married. My Dad is from Lucknow, Maa from Kanpur and I was born and brought up in Delhi.

For someone who has spent a little over four decades in the city, I have seen Delhi metamorphose from a laid-back Punjabi by nature city to a bustling, chaotic Punjabi at heart metropolis. Oh, what a transformation it has been- whether for better or for worse, is matter for another long debate.

As a child, recreation would mean boating in boat club, followed by ice cream at India Gate and watching performances at the city’s many cultural spots. And we watched movies in large, single screen cinema halls. Chanakya was meant for English movie buffs. I remember the time, when my parents had gone to watch The Exorcist at Priya. Their ride back home, well past midnight, on that lonely stretch in Vasant Vihar, was way more scary than the movie. And now Vasant Vihar is a constant cacophony of blaring horns and frayed tempers.

Karol Bagh was THE place to shop and South Delhi had yet to acquire its glamorous avatar. I had my first taste of butter chicken, Delhi’s national bird at a restaurant in Daryaganj. I hated it – found it too sour for my taste. Delhi was all about Mughlai and Punjabi Khana and if you wanted to try something exotic, it was the posh 5 star hotels you headed to. Does anyone remember Akbar hotel, one of Delhi’s earliest five star establishments? it shut shop long time ago. All I can recollect is the colourful chains of bangles that would hang from its ceiling. I would watch in fascination at the light dancing off those colourful pieces with my head craned up, my fingers dug deep inside the sofa. Eating was not a priority then.

The capital was uncluttered, traffic jams were unheard of and the ridge was a scary, badly lit, eerie stretch which we avoided at night. Buddha Jayanti park had yet to acquire its current seedy avatar. It was where families went for picnics and perhaps later in the evening, a haunt for lovers desperate to coochie coo. Haryana was where we went for day trips during the winter break. I remember busloads of us heading to Surajkund / Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary/Sohna/Badkhal Lake. The halwai would prepare an elaborate lunch for us, while we kids would get busy trying to lose our Frisbee and getting our knees scraped.

A few might think that I am no longer qualified to write about Delhi. After all I have been living in Gurgaon for over six years now. But hey! am still part of the NCR. Yes, Delhi is no longer just Old and New Delhi, but now spreads over the satellite towns of Noida, Gurgaon Faridabad, Ghaziabad and other surrounding areas. And I have been witness to the slow but bumpy transformation of this caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, courtesy the multi-crore CWG makeover. Innumerable flyovers crisscross the city, one can often hear the metro’s rumble overhead, the roads are wider and yet all we need is an hour of heavy downpour, to bring this aspiring world class city down on its knees. People whizz around in their Lexus, only to stop at signals and see that child in rags, covered with grime, folding his hands, his eyes pleading.
We shop in swanky malls in our Calvin Klein’s, check out the latest accessories at the DKNY store, yet uninterrupted supply of electricity and water remains a dream for us. We have learnt to survive on jugaad- 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 apathy. We Delhites always manage to find a way out of misery.

If you ask me for a single word that defines Delhi, I won’t be able to come up with it. It is a city of startling contrasts - it is loud, boisterous, snooty, brash, rude and it’s kitne ka liya culture gets on my nerves. But it is enterprising with a never die spirit, large hearted, vibrant and majestic. I love it when it glams up during the festive season and comes to life in winters. Strolling on Janpath sipping cold coffee at Deepauls, the air resonating with loud cries of hawkers selling export rejects, driving through Lutyens Delhi-a mute reminder of Delhi’s it’s past, discovering nuggets from history in an unassuming corner of the city and pointing out 100 year old havelis to my daughter, as we meander through the bye lanes of Chandni Chowk.....this is Delhi for me.
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  1. I too love Delhi though have been in Faridabad for two decades, Bur for me Delhi is just like an extension of Faridabad. Recently had the wonderful opportunity to showcase Delhi's rich history to my daughters by taking the HoHo trip arranged by Delhi Tourism.

    A good post :)

  2. great post. it is an amusing experience to view a city metamorphising over a period of time. :-)

  3. U have had 40 years to see the changes and I had half that time to experience Bangalore & I can relate to what you have written!
    My earliest memories of my city is the quaint, silent neighbourhood with friendly people and no traffic at all!!
    Very nice post :)

  4. As a Delhiwallah...I salute thee for this enterprising piece...and for a bong born and bought up in Delhi in the period of its metamorphosis-tic is the City..not of my dream..but he place where I which I call my home...

  5. Abha...I want to take a HoHo trip too for the sake of my daughter. All she sees is Malls!

    Harish...Like they say, change is the only constant in life.

    Girish...Bangalore, I believe has changed a lot. My last visit was when I was in school. All I remember is the yummy dosas we had :)

    Tarun..You learn to love it with time :))

  6. @ Purba..... that was exactly the case of my daughters. They just could not have enough of malls. Now i can rest in peace!

  7. i [email protected] never visited delhi ..but [email protected] 2 very good frien from there .. i [email protected] @lmost seen delhi through him ... i [email protected]@ come to this city :-)

  8. Purba,
    Come down to Bangalore, just like Delhi, bangalore has gone through metamorphosis.

    You could as well become a common man ambassador of Delhi :)

  9. Abha...She is not exactly Mall crazy, but in Gurgaon you don't have too many options.

    vicious...AM sure you'll love it

    Muddassir...Gosh, so many of you are from Bangalore :))

  10. a beautiful tribute to the city you grew up in!

  11. Amazing how familiar it all sounds, your narration of Delhi of yore and today. I remain a mere visitor to the capital region but agree every bit with your post. Good work.

  12. So this is it! I have to see Delhi.

    I've been to Delhi before and done the "sight seeing", which everyone does. This, what you mention in the post about the culture and boisterous people, makes me want to actually stick around and observe.


  13. magiceye...Yes, a much needed hug to this much maligned city.

    umashankar...You get tired of Mumbaikars deriding Delhi and it's people. Agree most Delhites are boorish and love throwing attitude, but the city has character.

    Priyanka...Try The newly launched HoHo...and next time when you come to Delhi, call me :))

  14. I want to visit Delhi. Been thinking for a long time. I have heard people loving it, hating it but as the old adage says, you cant ignore it!

  15. I think I have read this one before :P

  16. You have managed to capture the essence of the city -- as it had been and as it is now. I remember the ride as you described it in the 'then' part. Driving used to be a pleasure despite the single road, but today the charm has gone.

    Delhi does have character, even if it abrasive at times, right? :)

  17. I only have to say Haha! The HoHo looks interesting, I must say.

    I will be on a shopathon! :)

  18. Aditya...Yea... it sort of grows on you :) And come only during winters, summers you might perish (it's so hot).

    Prateek...Yes jee... on your blog!

    Zephyr...LOL...abrasive is right! But the city toughens you up.

    mazingout...Some day I'll write a shopping guide! I so love to shop.

  19. the Deepaul's cold coffee!...OOOHHH have rocked my very foundation!...and the export rejects on the streets of Janpath! the cheapest one I found and wore with pride during the perceptual cash-over days of collage was for Rs.TWO AND HALF!
    Every city is like every other now a days...but still it has a character! Delhi I believe has the partition mentality of grabbing for just about anything...a set of homeless people who learnt that nobody will recognize them when they misbehave...a sort of release syndrome just like a protected teenager feels on joining a hostel for the first time away from watchful parents!

  20. Delhi will never lose it's PUNJABIAT.It is a great city.Ghalib called it "rajaon ka shehar"

  21. Nalini...The Deepaul's Coffee is not what it used to be. Spent most of my college days lolling in Janpath and picked up some priceless pieces from there.

    Misbehaviour stems from the mistaken feeling of self-importance. Just need to ignore them!

    Shahid...Delhi tourism better employ me ASAP!

    BK...And it's doesn't make you feel claustrophobic unlike many cities.

  22. Last year i visited delhi for the first time....and ur last para reminded me of the rudeness and "kidhar ko ja rahe ho madam" (oh god that guard was so rude ...attitude, for which i hated the place...Since living in bnglore from past three years..i had been treated as the most respctful creature of world :-0 !!! But still i loved the food thr and inspite of all the behavioural problms i faced...i loved delhi for smthing and istill wonder WHAT ..???
    But i really got the feel " YEH DILLI HAI MERI JAAN "... :-)

  23. born in delhi...had a house there too..then had one in noida...n yet never really got 2 stay there for more than 2 yrs at a stretch...

    and yet though iv been brought up across the continent....i somehow can't detach myself from the sucks in terms of security n well the people rnt exactly saints there...

    but pulling a delhite out ...u wudnt find them referring to another place as home....

    gud write up btw :)

  24. Raisa...That North Indian mentality drives you up the wall. But like any metropolis it has the good, the bad and the ugly.

    Aashi...You just can't take Delhi out of a Delhite, can you?

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  26. Amazing! Not to mention I can't believe I've been following your blog for such a long time. chowringhee karolbagh


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