Sunday, August 7, 2011

Delhi... Lost and Found

Recently, I made a trip to Delhi, to visit Ma. I mostly stayed indoors, catching up on all the family gossip with Ma, and of course, clearing the hundreds of spam sms’s flooding her phone inbox...:-/

But even the limited time I spent out on the streets of Delhi gave me something to think about. In many ways, I started rediscovering the city I grew up in...

Delhi dehleez

On the August Kranti from Mumbai to Delhi, my immediate neighbours in the compartment were 4 men (not traveling together). They started conversing  as soon as the train started. They spoke in a coarse tongue, and their conversation consisted solely of business deals and money talk. “Haan haan, woh do lakh maang raha hai toh kal hi pahuncha de na usey paise!” sort of thing. The only time they deviated from the topic of ‘making money’ was when a couple of them waxed eloquent about the greatness of Delhi and rued the fact they had to travel to Mumbai so often for business.

Come night. One of the men clambered on to the top berth, and almost immediately, started snoring. Actually, to call it simply ‘snoring’ is an insult - the sound was roughly equivalent to 5 trains ramming simultaneously into a mountain, and then letting out a loud, anguished whistle. In the morning, one of the other men, tongue firmly in cheek, asked him, “Achchhi neend aayi?” “Haan ji, mujhe toh bahut badhiya neend aayi”, he replied. The first man shot back, “Aur aapki badhiya neend ne hum sab ko poori raat jagaye rakha!”

I could not help smiling! Simple. Direct. Unpretentious. Two years ago I would have been judgemental. But now, I found myself wondering which is better - artlessness and unsophistication, or the pretentious world where you go ‘Hey…lovely to see you!’ and ‘muah muah’ even at your worst enemies at a party…

‘Apne shahar ki toh baat hi alag hai…Dilli toh dilwalon ki’, one of them quipped, as the train chugged into Delhi.

Delhi Belle

I don’t know what made me travel by a DTC bus that day. And I definitely don’t remember when I last rode on one – definitely not in the last 15 years.

I was to visit a friend in far-flung Sarita Vihar, and I had every intention of using the universally applauded Delhi Metro. But at the last minute I changed my mind, and hopped into an AC bus on route 724…can’t think of any good reason for doing it, except the corny: ‘It was fate’. It probably was – I was destined to meet someone.

Inside the bus, I looked around for a ‘safe’ seat – having grown up in Delhi and being well aware of the noxious ‘paws’ lurking around in DTC buses. My eyes zeroed in on an empty seat next to a demure looking, smartly turned out young woman in her 20’s, and I went and sat down there.

Next, I started looking around for the conductor. A man strode purposefully towards us from the front of the bus. He came right up to where we sat and held out his hand to the young lady sitting next to me. The lady dug into her large bag. Ok, here he is, thought I, and rummaged into my bag to locate my wallet. Pulling out the cash, I turned towards the man to collect my ticket – and got a HUGE surprise.

It was the well-dressed woman next to me who was handing over the ticket – she was the conductor of bus #724!!! And even as I sat there - blushing inwardly for my presumptuousness and marveling at the whole idea of a woman conductor in a DTC bus, she hollered, in a strict school-principalish voice, “Haan bhaiya! Aage wale aa kar apne apne ticket le lo!”

I was completely fascinated, and spent the rest of my journey chatting with her. Most of what I heard was a pleasant surprise. Hired after the Commonwealth Games, these women came looking for the security of a government job – the coveted ‘sarkari naukri’. This particular lady had left a ‘desk job’ with a private company for this. Women conductors are put on day shifts, ending by 4 or so, for safety. But still, she was looking forward to being promoted to a desk job soon.

Crossing all limits of inquisitiveness, I asked her whether the crowd in AC buses behaved any better than in the others. Not really, she replied - in fact they misbehaved with more confidence!

A man came up to me (mistaking me for the conductor) and asked for a ticket… I could not decide whether to feel pleased or insulted – and ended up feeling bemused. But overall, it would be a rather adventurous job, I surmised…

Did she like this job? I asked, pushing the boundaries of politeness again. She gave me one withering look – “Would you?” Well, that put me firmly in my place!

Lost and Found

But still, the whole idea was a big and bold step forward for Delhi, I thought. And somehow, after a long, long time I started liking Delhi again during this trip…

Of course, the ubiquitous traffic snares are still very much in place, and your ears get tired trying to beep out all the ma-behn gaalis being bandied about, and no Delhi public place is quite complete without a few men standing around scratching their balls with supreme abandon…

But still, on looking inside myself, I could no longer find the active dislike for the city that I had developed some years ago.

And that brings me to the inevitable - the ‘Mumbai vs Delhi’ bit…

I have lived in Mumbai for over 5 years now. It is supremely impersonal. Everyone is immersed in themselves - nobody gives a damn for anyone else… so much so, that sometimes you start wondering if you really exist! So maybe that is why I found Delhi a welcome change – where people at least notice you, even if it is to drive too close to the pavement you are walking on - to splash muddy water from a puddle on to you (on purpose, naturally). Or lean out of their vehicle at a traffic signal to stare at you as if you were the last specimen of a female homo-sapien left on earth…

Delhi is the city of my birth... the place where I grew up, went to school and college, started my career, got married. But somewhere down the line I had distanced myself from it. It was a good place to go shopping and have fun times with friends, but that was it.

But this time, I started feeling reconnected to the city again. Of course, the DTC experience and all had something to do with it. But I think a lot of it was also due to a meeting with my school-friend Gautami. Time melted away as we spoke of the days gone by, giggled at juvenile jokes, and shared the most heartfelt joys and sorrows.

As I put on my red-and-black shoes to go out, she said Oye, 40 saal ki ho gayi hai - sharam nahi aati laal jootey pehente huey!’ And then suddenly realised she was carrying a large red purse - and we both went into fits of laughter...Nobody could have guessed we were meeting after so many years – yes, it had taken us 22 long years to ‘find’ each other again.

And it was the same with Delhi. And I plan to keep in touch – with the people and places that matter. I guess, there comes a time in your life when you need to ‘Get back to where you once belonged’…


  1. Suchis, you made me love Delhi again. I always say it is sadi (rotten)Dilli. I hate it. Yet I love it too. There lies the ambiguity.

    And yes, I loved being connected to you again. One of these days I will write poetry on that...

    BTW, I read ALL your posts. Via Google Reader!!!

  2. Nice to read...

    so you are from Delhi.. I used to think you are Maharashtrian...I Wonder what made me think this ?..LOL..

    Kuchh blogs padhane me maja aata he ..this one is definitely one of them :)

  3. @Gautami - I know that feeling of ambiguity... and that is why i will never be able to say decidedly whether I like Delhi better or Mumbai!

    look forward to the poetry!

    @Prasad - I guess I am more a 'khichdian'... 20% bong (by birth), 20% delhiite (by childhood memories), 15% tamilian (by marriage), and 15% each of maharashtrian, gujarati and andhraite (by virtue of a long stay of >5 years in these places)

    But it would be interesting to know what made you think I was a maharashtrian :)

  4. OMG! And after 2 attempts at writing a comment and managing to wipe it off with a single click of the mouse, here I am again attempting for the 3rd time!! And this time I am saving every line as I go on!I don't think its an age thing...I have always been this tech-challenged!
    Anyways, I'm digressing!
    You know, you are right about Delhi. I have worked in Bombay and Delhi both before settling down in Delhi for the past 8 years...There is no indifference or standoffishness of Bombay here...But somehow this city gives you a kick on the backside and gets you ready to take life head on! Yes, it is aggressive, yes it is loud, yes there is a culture shock, yes it has men scratching balls on every street corner, yes it's retrograded views on women makes you want to hang your head down in shame, but somehow, in-spite of it all this city kind of makes a survivor out of you!
    When I first went to Bombay to work, it made me feel like a lonely blob of cork bobbing up and down in the vast sea of indifference...I was aghast that one had to take time to go meet friends!! Coming from calcutta, that was the ultimate travesty!

    You know as a bong one is literally brought up on the evils of "foreign land" from a very young age. Especially regarding Delhi - Its "unfriendly" and people are crass and aggressive to "there is no culture" to everybody in the city has only one occupation - to hoodwink you out of your precious possessions!to nobody gives you correct directions - people will lead you in the opposite direction etc...I had heard them all!
    So when I shifted to Delhi, you can imagine my apprehension! But you know...from day 1 the city just kind of took me in its arms and said welcome home! Sorry to sound filmy and melodramatic but it was kind of life changing...Complete strangers welcomed me into their lives and homes...have been the best of friends with some of them since then and made scores of new friends too! And funnily, not once have I got wrong directions in my 8 years here nor has it been somebody's life mission to dupe me!
    This city has definitely given me the aggressiveness to take life head on, the courage to always speak my mind, and the strength to live life on my own terms! Though in my 8 years here, I am yet to take a bus ride( Though the autowallas have been a nuisance enough thank you very much!) Still awaiting my first metro ride, definitely not seen most of the city....So much to do , so much to look forward to....And I definitely plan to do it here....they say na home is where your heart is...maybe my soul belonged here! Well enough of my pro Delhi Tirade....
    Oh and by the I told you on the phone distinctly sound South Indian'ish ( should I be politically correct and say Tamilian?)! I don't know how that could be mistaken for a Maharashtran accent? LoL...Don't plot to kill me...I'm only your young nephew!

    Oh also to you and your friend - red rocks! bags shoes whatever....So go for it!

  5. Yaar, you know what - some how Phir bhi Dil Hai Dilli Wala:) I mean after 5 years here in Mumbai - I too have been unable to develop an affinity. In fact what I heard about as famous Mumbaikar spirit etc. I have not seen except that no one tolerates any thing that comes between them and more money, not even Tendulkar or Amitabh Bachachan. Else bulk of them are driven by the train and how to rush to their favourite seat etc.
    Wonder if it will be OK to say Delhi guys seem more honest in being dishonest, and Mumbaikars are more sauve?
    Delhi and a female conductor - the only thing I can immediately think of is that they willhave to start giving Param Vir CHakra, Ashok Chakra etc. beyond defense services too -after all DTC is in a war situation in perpetuity - and a woman conductor in that ....well....
    But good to hear that.
    Of course, about yoru post in general - why don't you try and be a dil ka doctor? Your ability to say so many things that so many of us keep feeling but do not manage to find words to say is amazing. Do it more often and on all things bright and beautiful and also those not. You are officially appointed as the concience keeper of us lesser heard frmo henceforth.
    And yes, we are curious to know - Delhi also means time spent with your Mother - how was War and Peace after Tolstoy? A blog on the usuals between the two of you should be fantastic fodder. Or perhaps her state after liqour chocolates? Baata Baata Jaldi Se

  6. @Sudarshan- a post on the 'nonk-jhonk' between me and mom! what a delightful idea - thanks, will definitely write up sometime..

    @Bumbu- hey good to hear abt your experiences with delhi! one thing that both you and Sudarshan say, and i resonate with is the fact about delhiites being more 'dil se' - if someone takes you to heart once, they are more likely to stand by you, whereas in Mumbai i truly feel people are much more preoccupied with money-making, everything else seems to come second. and anyone who comes here gets into that groove... the city has that effect on you. So, dilli really is dilwalon ki, i guess!

  7. Hey Suchi, It's fun reading your stories. Sudashan mentioned about your blog once and I did get to read some of them. You are very fortunate to have such an encouraging husband who keeps talking about you.. Heard so much about you and missed you the Oberoi!
    I enjoyed this piece as I am a "heart" core Delhite and misssss....Delhi every single day.
    So nice to connect to one more 'Dilli Wali'
    Anu (Arundhathi Suchit)

  8. Thanks, Anu! Hope to meet up some time soon!