When I fell in love with Delhi
Delhi is a fast-paced, high-tempered, pulsating city. Your relation with the city is turbulent. There are a bunch of stop-gaze-amaze moments. But on the other hand the city presents you glimpses which make you question the extreme atrocities that are nothing but the consequences of the quest for survival.
My first mental note before i began this unplanned and unorganized trip was that the locals are as crude as the city. Right from the moment I was hitched with my prep-paid taxi ride from the airport, i was prepared to face the robust nature of humanity that resides in this city. My driver didn't like where i was headed. Almost like I'd abducted him to a drop off. My guess was that he'd not have a probable customer waiting at the other end. Low-gear, sudden bursts of acceleration that lodged me off my unhinged seat, and an impromptu street-race in the middle of the highway with his like-minded, hot headed contender, seemed like his idea of revenge. In all honesty, I absolutely enjoyed my thrilling welcome to the capital.
For the first couple of hours, the city doused me with toxic fumes, gag-inducing smells and sweltering heat. I questioned my intent with every step. Saw filth that i once watched in an Nat geo documentary on a city in Africa. Delhi is the 3rd metropolitan city I've visited after Mumbai and Bangalore. For me, Delhi is an experiment. An experiment to gauge the qualities of a fast expanding multi-cultural and diverse region. To see the state of human beings. To see life in its raw, unpolished and organic sense. Though the essence of an Indian city is blatantly visible in its fabric, life in Delhi will overwhelm you.
Wandering under an over head wired mess, with a bit of instinct and bit to the strums of instructional directions in a perplexing Haryani accent of my hostel-keeper, i was lost. Already having lost all hope in my technologically advanced gadget of satellite mapping, i opted for the 100% success rate of local consultancy. Again, highly effective. No sooner had i checked in to my bunk and had a chat with a few fellow travelers, i found myself in the old region of the city.
Delhi, like Rome, has been a capital of multiple reigns over the centuries. Architectural imprints of these kingdoms are scattered all over the city's footprint, while the stone and rubble of city-dwellers organically grows over the monumental layers. I hop-skipped-jumped my way through the mucky edges of roads and a sewage system that was craving for attention. Hordes of man-powered tuk-tuks pass by as I'm left spell bound and astonished by the multitude of activities around. It felt like i was being pushed and turned around by an invisible force to witness the carnival. I was dizzy. I felt sick. And i was hungry. Dahi bhallas that i was asked to try, looked like inevitable diarrhea. I went ahead and gauged on it. Two plates to be precise.
What do you think the story of that man who lies on the entrance of Haldiram's could be? His clothes are rags. Wrappers spewed around him like his existence was a thing of the past. Bandages wrapped around his missing limbs from an age-old tragedy had turned pale yellow. What kind of life did this man lead to be where he is in his current situation? This carnival of inhumane madness kept flashing in front of me. Temples celebrated the birth of a million Gods, motorists honked to join the celebration. Life on the streets look like a choreography of tragedy. People were merely puppets in this show of distress. In the distance, I could see the tri-coloured flag, drooping down, waving in a tiresome manner to the tunes of a solemn, weak breeze, almost to mock the situation of its lifeless patriots below. The spectacular grandeur of the red fort which stood proudly in the backdrop seemed to be hidden behind all this madness. A long queue at the entrance, which seemed like a never-ending trail of people, snaked around the periphery of the lush gardens in the foreground of the monument. That, coupled with glaringly loud public announcements in preparation of independence day celebrations, encouraged me to leave the beautiful premise. Wading my way through scores of people in Kabutar market, a name i discovered by overhearing a vendor yell directions to the person at the other end of his cell phone, I desperately try to find my path to the large dome that rose above the shanty market shops. This cacophony felt far more soothing to that of the adjacent Chandni chowk main street.
Lesser vehicular traffic was a relief, although it wasn't infrequent that a motorist riding on the wrong side of the law would startle you with a loud honk from the back. "Do sao rupay ke andar banadega Darminder". Innovative sales pitches took over the atmosphere and sealed up the lid of these narrow walkways with a gratuitous number of apparel at display. You know, when someone confronts you with a razor, you don't gasp and scream for help cos he's trying to sell you the product and not slit your throat with it to mug you! I wasn't aware of this normalcy. Pigeons were caged up and taken to places i did not know. Subsequently, i came across the food district that smelt terrific, with wrought iron grills and metal barbecue sticks with glazing red meat which looked like far cry from anything I've tasted before. Kabutar market? I chose to ignore my suspicion and kept walking.
An experience of a mosque in India comes with a package of experiencing some gruesome, heart numbing and saddening poverty. I don't believe any one of those unfortunate beings ever left the compound of Allah. Although Allah seems to have left their's. Steps leading up to the Jama masjid had an air of austerity around it as though it rose and elevated itself from the circus below. People do not trust people. Footwear isn't allowed inside the masjid, so you can see people walking around with pairs of floaters in one hand. What an odd site. But it could be worse. Selfie sticks and fake smiles could become embedded in the ritualistic practices of the sanctimonious space.
I felt a sense of extreme calmness as i looked around. Pigeons flying around, being hushed in groups while someone fed them. Flights of the birds against the cloudy white sky was an incredible added visual element to the mosque. While people cleansed themselves off their sins in a pool of water directly in front of the entrance to the mosque, i joined a group of people who seemed to have settled adjacent. Most of them were lazying around as their kids ran around playing and screaming. I chose to gaze at the mosque from an angle which i thought represented the beauty of the building in all its splendor. I pulled out my fresh pages and intuitively began to sketch an image of the first scene in the city that made me fall in love.