Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sayonara Delhi

You're still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to know.
Take your time, think a lot, 
Why, think of everything you've got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

What the chap being addressed went on to do with his youth, I don't know; but I suspect all I've been doing with mine is finding new ways of violating SRP, forgetting all interests and passions, and becoming more and more of an automaton. It might seem obvious that if I'd taken the time to think things through, I would've spent far less time in the office; after all, if I were to list everything I've got, or even my dreams, how many of those would be found at work? But after years of indoctrination, you tend to go with the herd on matters of "responsibility," on earning a living, on being a productive member of society and all that shit. And then lines don't get drawn, questions such as "Shouldn't I be trying that, too?" get asked less and less, and before you know it you've forgotten much of Bande à part, but remember word-for-word the last six email exchanges with your manager. In short, all 20/20 hindsight notwithstanding, I'm sorry to report that I wasn't clear-thinking enough.

What I'm getting at is that when I took the flight out of Delhi, there was a fair bit of regret, of the sort I didn't have when I left Pune - I loved Delhi but didn't sample even a third of what it had to offer. There are reservations certainly, chiefly involving people and the weather, but of all the things a city should be judged by, people are probably the least important - not least because we're generally obnoxious across cultural and geographical boundaries, with the differences usually being a matter of subtlety. If I were to list all the things I like about Delhi, though...

Here's a city with roads that are pedestrian friendly and, further, is beautiful enough for you to want to walk around it; where the Metro could take you from practically anywhere and deposit you right at the heart of, say, Old Delhi. Who'd think it possible that beneath all those relics of the centuries past, seemingly crammed together with not an inch to spare, and the mind-numbing crowd and the heat, there lies spotless clean, air-conditioned tubes that could deposit you within 20 minutes to a different sort of market-place, with buildings of no more than two stories, cobblestone walkways, movie-themed restaurants, drinks with straws in them, and a rather less frenetic pace on the whole?

Then there are the roads itself: hell holes on occasion at rush hour, but also a pleasure to drive on, with sights to match by them. I remember the first time I took a drive around India Gate, the Parliament and Rashtrapati Bhavan. I kept trying to tell myself that it's very shallow to be over-awed by them, to look beyond symbols, but I couldn't help it - here is a nation's capital. The diversity on offer at Delhi, the hundred different places you could go to, is unmatched by any other city I've lived in. Why, for instance, would you pay thousands for a concert when you could enjoy music for free just a couple of feet from the musicians, with food from the heavens waiting for you right outside?

None of which is to imply that Delhi's any sort of a perfect paradise. It's a city of extremes and is just as easy to hate as to love. When I was considering moving to Delhi, I was warned that I wouldn't like it very much - that the people are difficult, the weather horrible, and the crime high. Some of which is true: in McLeod Ganj, there were these chaps who'd stopped their car right in the middle of its busiest intersection and were out dancing to music blaring through its open doors (all four of them)... and arguing with a traffic cop. You'd think that anyone in that position would find a conversation with a cop decidedly one-sided, but no, these chaps were at it with gusto. The license plate showed them as folks from Delhi, naturally. Is stuff like this where the comparisons to Ankh-Morpork come from?

But set that off against the other stuff above, and add in the little things - like the fact that there are never any power cuts (most likely at the expense of the places around Delhi, admittedly); that the girls there are so much prettier than elsewhere (save for Arunachal perhaps); that you feel less like an outsider there than in a city like Pune; that it has so much variety close to its borders (from the desert to the mountains) - and then you have a city that deserves a fairer deal than it usually gets from folks from the South... or the West... or the East. 


Before Delhi, the worst weather I've ever driven in is a bit of torrential rain. But that pales in comparison to a drive in the fog. The first time I thought I experienced it, I was petrified. I stuck to the lane on the extreme left - at about 20 kph. No one else seemed deterred, though. The rest of the highway was whizzing along as if it were just some kind of a light mist... which it was. My first drive in real fog is indescribable. I couldn't see more than 3 inches ahead, and the only hope of not driving into something hard or deep was to follow some other vehicle's tail-lights. In a city that usually works on the maxim "every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you," the politeness on view had to be seen to be believed. It was all "After you, sir; no, no, I insist." Very embarrassing.

And then there was the mini-duststorm, that one time, just before a mid-summer downpour. It lent a sepia tone to the evening sky that made it look like a frame from The Godfather - but tending towards orange, to add oodles of comfort. You could sense the violence outside, but the safety of the car's interiors made that pleasurable. Further, the car seemed to float on a carpet of dust. You'd think the fog would give that impression too, but it has a dreadful stillness about it that takes away the Aladdin's-carpet feel. It was all so very lovely that I was just telling myself how fun the drive is, and how nice it is that there is no rain to spoil the whole thing, when a lightning bolt hit a tower not too far away, and the heavens opened up, and I went over a pothole the size of a lunar crater, and every bone in my body jarred loose. 


In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade talks about this case where he tracked down a missing man. (Disclaimer: I'm quoting from memory, as my books are all packed up and in transit, so the wording may differ a fair bit from the Hammett version.) The chap was apparently an upper-class sort, with a high-maintenance wife and snotty kids. And one day, when he stepped out to have lunch, a beam fell about an inch to his right. He was all shook up, and began contemplating the fragility of his life and such like, decided that major changes were in order, and ended up skipping out on his family. When Spade caught up with him a few years later, he was again a well-to-do chap with a lifestyle much like earlier, a similar wife and two little brats. The moral of the story being that he had adjusted himself to beams falling out of the sky, and then when they stopped falling, he adjusted himself back to them not falling from the sky. Or, to quote Simon & Garfunkel, "It's not unusual, no it isn't strange, that after changes upon changes, we're more or less the same."

Just saying.