A Tale Of Two Cities

When people ask me, “Born and brought up here?”, I have to pause to think how to answer them best. I’ve settled for the bombastic and somewhat pretentious sounding “Born in the Capital and grew up in Island City.”

Its an odd feeling to belong to two different places simultaneously like this. Just like our relationships with people, there are invisible bonds that link us to places too…places that contain strong memories, places we’ve experienced life most in..

Each visit to the capital brings up parallel voices inside of me, conflicting, contradicting and highlighting the differences in the two places. If a city could be the motherland, I’m the proverbial Krishna, originating from one and flowering in another.

Mumbai has left an undeniable ‘chappa’ on me, shaped my thinking and attitudes. Visiting Delhi however invokes odd feelings that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I suppose it is a symbolic return to the womb, a reminder of how life could have been, still could be. Having a birth certificate from a city links you to that place for life. Mumbai is in my every waking moment and movement, in my brisk ‘lets-get-down-to-it’ attitude, my indifference to crowds and noise and precision-honed efficiency. Delhi however, whispers its hidden influences in my intellectualising, my love of the good life and long conversations.

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Its cold. But not coooooooooooooold. That’s the first thought that hits me as I alight at Nizamuddin. What’s the fuss I think, remembering the dire warnings I’ve received over the past week about the winter in Delhi. Sure, everyone looks plumper (and that’s saying something….the average figure pays testimony to well-fed stomachs) and brighter draped in woolens and feathers (And I always thought these were the grey things that pigeons shed!).

As the day progresses, I can’t help reflecting that in Mumbai food takes longer to cool than to heat up. And oh…what an odd feeling to keep feeling hungry every hour! Mom is delighted and hints that my weight-gain plan might succeed if I shift here.

Shopping is always a great experience in Delhi, even for shop-a-phobics like me. I love the colour, the sheer feel of the ‘arty’ look, kurtas, jholas, mojris and trinkets. Idly I muse that I’ve never seen Delhi-ites wear all of this, though its considered the ‘Delhi look’. And oddly enough I’ve only seen all of this stuff on Mumbaikers who proudly say “Picked it up on my last visit to Delhi”…ah, umm.

The people look different, even their skin ailments look different. Can’t see any of the familiar pimples and acne that adorn Mumbai faces. There are instead, red splotches and little bumps which I assume must be a combination of colder weather and skins endowed with far less melanin.

Every single person I arrange to meet offers to pick me up or drop me back or both. Hmm…I think…I can’t imagine my Mumbaiker friends doing that any more than I can imagine my permitting them to. As always I hate not being able to travel around freely but I take note of the gentle solicitousness it seems to invoke in people here.

Books, books, BOOOOOKS!!!!! I’ll never be able to hate Delhi so long as it has its books. Mumbai’s workaholism drowns out any possibility of culture appreciation.
What is this life, if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?

If Mumbai is the place to make money, Delhi’s the place to spend it.
I also saw a band playing in one of the corners of Connaught Place. Intrigued I stood and listened to the music belting out of the makeshift speakers. How wonderful….the drummer’s a girl! Can’t imagine amateur musicians making music at street corners like this. Come to think of it, where would they play….Churchgate station?

I gape, all open-mouthed wonder at the neat manicured lawns, shining signboards and broad roads all through our jaunts. I make snide comments about how Mumbai pays at least 1/3rd of the country’s taxes and gets so few benefits in return while the Delhi lives off the rest of the country’s earnings in splendour. I remind my co-passengers of the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ and get muttered threats for reply.

No trip to Delhi is complete without the mandatory visit to the chaat-wala. Yum, yum I drool as I watch potatoes and unidentified stuff being mauled in as unhygenic conditions as possible. Oh, to hell with hygeiene I tell that nagging voice and tuck into the ‘halka masala mixed fruit chaat’. My mouth was on fire for an hour afterward. Grr…Delhi-ites must have cast-iron cauldrons for stomachs.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness floats pictures of homeless people…victims of the tsunami. I wonder, if a natural disaster had struck up north, would Delhi have been so complacent and matter-of-fact? Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that springs to mind.

Not that there aren’t conversations. Politics, politics….does every single Delhiite from age 7 upward own a degree in Political Science??? I feel woefully ignorant in all this chatter. That’s until someone mentions a movie and the talk turns to Bollywood. Then I inform them that I’ve stayed within a kilometer from the Big B’s residence and that Vivek Oberoi was my senior in college. HAH! I love the grudging admiration that shines in their eyes as I throw out these facts with an air of disdainful nonchalance.

Saturday and its time to leave. As the capital gears up for a weekend (what’s a weekend to a city that seems to be either lazing or partying during the week?), I pack my bags. On my train I’m glad that the other family in the cubicle is from Mumbai and I won’t have to endure tales of “Dilli sabse number one city”. I take an almost devilish delight in graphic details of Mumbai trains to a group of youngsters on their first trip to Mumbai. I see one gulp and I smirk. As the train whizzes into Borivili…I sigh..home sweet home. Its odd but nothing reminds me more about how much I belong here than a visit to Delhi.

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