Lots wrong with Delhi, but it has its many, many charms

Khaleej Times - - TALKING POINT - Sush­mita Bose

Ial­ways seethe (in­wardly) when­ever some­one comes back from Delhi and rev­els in carp­ing about get­ting around in the In­dian cap­i­tal. The traf­fic, they re­port, is a night­mare, and get­ting from point A to point B is like nav­i­gat­ing hell. My fre­quent — but short — trips to Delhi are ge­o­graph­i­cally con­stricted: I live in a cer­tain area, and my out­ings have a ra­dius of three to four kilo­me­tres… So I can­not jump to my home­town’s de­fence as fast as I’d like to.

The course of the last fort­night was dif­fer­ent. I was in Delhi to at­tend a long-drawnout fam­ily wed­ding, and since no­body could be both­ered to pull out the red car­pet for me (the bride and groom were hog­ging cen­trestage), I was pretty much left to my own de­vices… every­one’s car seemed to be on wed­ding duty, so I had to fend for my­self get­ting from point A to point B ev­ery time I stepped out of the house. And since I was there for a fairly ex­tended pe­riod of time, I had to travel long dis­tances in an at­tempt to catch up with friends and former col­leagues in their nest­ing places.

In be­tween, I had to also make a cou­ple of trips to the New Delhi Rail­way Sta­tion — that I’d last been to 15 years ago — to pick up my fa­ther (and drop him back), who was com­ing to town for the wed­ding from Kolkata and had in­sisted on tak­ing a train (more com­fort­able, ac­cord­ing to him).

The lie of the land that is Delhi had sud­denly be­come a per­son­alised map.

By the end of the time I spent there, I was re­ju­ve­nated. Phys­i­cally, be­cause it had been way eas­ier than I thought it would be. Men­tally, be­cause I now have solid grounds to de­fend Delhi.

Traf­fic was no walk in the park, there were some bad snarls es­pe­cially dur­ing peak hours, but I was try­ing to look at life as a glass half full. What I en­joyed the most was get­ting back on the ground. For way too long, I’d been told since I’m an “NRI” now, I won’t be able to han­dle ground real­i­ties in Delhi “these days”; I want to say this is the city that’s shaped my think­ing and, in many ways, made me what I am, but I’m usu­ally too tired to de­bate the mat­ter, so I let it be.

This time, I was back in the sad­dle, get­ting an un­fil­tered view after ages… and even if that meant sniff­ing pol­luted air, it was quite al­right…

In many ways, the city has changed — for the bet­ter, for the worse — but it still re­mains the Delhi I so loved and love, the city that taught me tough love.

As al­ways, hu­man in­ter­ac­tions were the lodestar: from hob­nob­bing with tea-stall ven­dors in Chandni Chowk and cops at the rail­way sta­tion to chat­ting up book­store own­ers in south Delhi and restau­rant chefs in Khan Mar­ket.

But it was the driv­ers — a.k.a. nav­i­ga­tors — who made my trip truly mem­o­rable. Criss-cross­ing the vast ex­panse that the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion, I rode along with many voices and sen­si­bil­i­ties. I was most chuffed that my In­dia rat­ing on a car-rid­ing app was stuck at 5.

A friend who was or­der­ing rides for me (when I didn’t have mo­bile data) from his app told me that his rat­ing had been hiked from 4.52 to 4.86 — thanks to me. “I think it’s a gen­der thing — men al­ways rate women more favourably,” he com­plained, but I knew bet­ter: I had been hav­ing most en­ter­tain­ing con­ver­sa­tions with cab­bies, and part­ing as friends.

Also, it couldn’t have been a “gen­der thing” be­cause there was this top-notch woman driver who took me from point A to point B one day. I was try­ing to, sneak­ily, take some pho­tos of her (side an­gles), and then re­alised I shouldn’t be do­ing that so manned up suf­fi­ciently to ask her if she’d mind pos­ing for a fac­ing-into-the-cam­er­atype photo, and she agreed read­ily.

I had numer­ous oc­ca­sions to fall back on the trusty cen­tre-of-grav­ity-de­fy­ing Delhi au­tos — again, after ages. Happy to note I was com­pletely at home in them as they did the rough and rum­ble rou­tine. One evening, we got lost in­side the IIT Delhi cam­pus, and with no GPS or Google Maps to guide him, the driver used his smarts to get me to the ex­act lo­ca­tion even as we cracked jokes about the “ho­mo­gene­ity of the cam­pus lay­out”.

Soon after, at one of the many heady wed­ding par­ties, there was a group of men hav­ing a convo presided over by one gent — a friend of my un­cle’s — who’s re­cently re­lo­cated from New York. “What a city, New York, and I can­not get over the yel­low cabs!” he was say­ing, and every­one was nod­ding in agree­ment and adding their two cents, in­clud­ing my un­cle who’s just back from a trip to the Big Ap­ple. I sashayed into the group, placed my flute on the round ta­ble they were gath­ered around, and an­nounced, “What New York yel­low cabs? Have you tried out the New Delhi au­tos? Leagues ahead!”

From hob­nob­bing with tea-stall ven­dors in Chandni Chowk and cops at the rail­way sta­tion to chat­ting up book­store own­ers in south Delhi and restau­rant chefs in Khan Mar­ket, hu­man in­ter­ac­tions were the lodestar. But it was the driv­ers — a.k.a. nav­i­ga­tors — who made my trip truly mem­o­rable

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