It all began in the depth of night when the city was in deep slumber. The ferocious wind began to howl and scream as it rose between the high-rise like a phantom and hissed passed the trees and ground. The smell of thunder hung heavy in the air and soon the night was nothing but a cacophony of rattling window panes, banging doors and thundering clouds. A nerve-racking sound of smashed glass got the attention of some dazed people as they scurried to gather their belongings which the wind was threatening to take away. The electricity went off plunging the area in further darkness.
I gasped for breath in bitter air dull of sand while I struggled to pull a shutter that clung to the wall and wont budge as if scared to death. I cursed and let it be.
It sure was a relief from the merciless heat that was driving people nuts and an assurance of a cool nice weekend. I lay quietly in my bed trying to decipher the sounds that reverberated outside.
Slowly the intensity of the storm receded and soon heat gave way to dismal rain. The delicate intoxicating fragrance of the mogra and mixed with the humousy smell of damp earth began to filter in from the open window. I poured myself a glass of chilled water and looked out at the waves of darkness.
Slowly the sleep took over and it was calm inside and outside.
I stepped out early morning to inspect the damage of the night storm. Broken branches, fallen trees, everything covered in a fine film of dust. Shattered window panes all told the story of past night. Yet, people seemed happy and relived. Many of them were out in their balconies or gardens sipping the first tea of tea laced with milk, sugar and ginger.
The trees looked shaken but not stirred. They stood dozing in the gentle breeze tired after the night’s battle.
I made a big mug of coffee and looked out in silence as the world around me began to wake up.
The fury of the storm had subsided but nature was not done yet. The sun which had emerged from h
is hideout was soon pushed behind a veil of haze. The storm was rising again from distant grey blue horizon. Soon everything was filled by the dust kicked up by the wind. The rain filled clouds struggled to hold their place. Once again the ghostly orchestra began to fill the morning made more mysterious by the whooshing sound of the wind. This time I wanted to witness the scene. Braving the wind which wanted to sweep me off my feet from the ninth floor balcony I firmly gripped the railing and watched the pigeons sail along propelled entirely by the wind. Aimless and confused they floated along with various other things like newspapers, plastic bags, leaves etc. A colorful leaflet of Pizza Hut came hurling towards the balcony, slapped against the wall and stayed their shivering like a malaria patient. I released it and it went floating to another destination.
The storm has scattered the crows that were roosting in the trees and they all sang in a shrill chorus. I found it much melodious than the sound of cooing love-sick pigeons who made out in the balcony all day long.
At the ground level trees were swaying like they had been hit by a seizer. Dogs ran in search of safe place. The deserted streets began to fill with daily life.
I wondered if the clouds will bring rain or they the gutsy winds will win over them leaving us high and dry. It ended as quickly as it started. The wind-swept rain began to fall in sheets like gauze curtains cleaning the side walks , the vehicles, buildings , roads and trees.
After sweltering days and soaring temperatures it really made the weekend special. I can see colorful bundles of joy playing football or cricket in the small open patches in the colony. Here at home another round of coffee has begun and there is a sense of calm all around
I sit quietly listening to the soul-stirring voice of Nina Simon . My body warmed by her velvety voice and the coffee in my hands.
On December 15, 1911 King George v laid the foundation stone for New Delhi. Now 100 years after its inception the national capital of Delhi has overspilled its boundaries and has layers within layers. On one hand it is aggressive competitive energetic and violent and on the other vibrant colorful seeped in nostalgia and old world charm.
Even with population of 17 million people from within and outside India Delhi has never closed its doors to anyone and as it gently mixes all new elements it grows culturally. Anyone who resides in Dilli becomes a ‘dilliwala’ irrespective of religion, caste or creed.
Delhi is a beautiful kaleidoscope of sounds, colors, people, places, cuisines, festivals all through the year. One gets fantastic exposure to different cultures, ideas and one can experience so many diverse worlds with this big city.
Delhi’s mood varies from locality to locality. The by-lanes of Old Delhi are like a surreal art house movie taking you to a different time zone and then there are sprawling parks, university campuses , the ridge areas thick with wood and grass and all their unsolved mysteries.
Although the city has residents from all over the country , the Punjabis who thronged the city post partition are the most visible and audible lot. The big fat panjabi weddings, the fashionable aunties ranging from Karol Bag to Defense Colony and all that goes with their kitty party culture . It adds spice to life whatever one may say.
Dillwalas are a special breed. Warm hearted generous and outgoing and yet ferocious bad mouthed ready to kill. Deadly combination which makes the outsiders wonder what stuff they are made of.
We all know about the cultural heritage , the history and the geography of the city. We know of its rich cuisine ranging from the sumptuous stuff from the walled city to the swanky restaurants and food joints of pompous South Delhi.
The city holds many secrets. Places waiting to be explored like the Purana Quila park, Jamali Kamali park and all those big and little monuments scattered all over Delhi. Apart from these are the usual dense tangle of tombs, mosques, baolis(wells), old gates and forts there are old temples, gurudwaras, churches and much more.
The city comes alive during festive season. Eid-ul-Fitr, Diwali, dussera , Holi , Christmas and all the other minor ones. The city prays, fasts, gorges on great food and celebrates together. Everyone is drenched in the color of bonhomie and reverence irrespective of their religion.
I grew up with Old Delhi food and it is still unmatched . The sweets – imarti, jalebees, rasmalai, rabri, khurchan , pedas, nankhatai and all the other mouth-watering delicacies which are specialties of the walled city . The namkeens – power packed samosas, kachoris, matar kulcha, chole bhature, kebabs and the variety of mughlai food.
Then we have the famous butter chicken ( not meant for the weak hearted) and the lassi malai marke and the delicious kulfi with faluda. There is something sensuous about the street food of Delhi including the bhuna bhutta ( roasted corn cobs) , shakarkandi (roasted sweet potato), sweet corns and momos . You actually can not understand this unless you make a visit to the capital and relish these. There is so much variety of food here that one can go on about it and write a book on it .
I have been to places tucked away in small lanes away from the madding crowd , places which dish out wonders. Places in Paharganj like the German Bakery there . absolute heaven for foodies like me.
The dhabas have become rare now and I miss the little tandoors which used to be a part of almost all localities. We still have some in other parts of Delhi but South Delhi lacks such simple pleasures as far as I know.
Every region of Delhi from Central fast paced Connaught place to the sloping tin roofs of laid back Kashmere gate , the posh South Delhi and the ruins of Mehruli to the Step-child East Delhi all the areas have a very distinctive way of life.
There is something else about the power-hungry Delhi , a dark side . Amidst all the beauty the city is divided in hearts. It is my personal feeling. The South Delhi person will look down upon an East Delhi or a North Delhi one . Students from University’s North Campus hardly mingle with the South Delhi college students. There is always a prestige issue. Somewhere a big ego clash. There is a definite divide between the Hindi speaking and the so-called “modern” english speaking people and then there are people from other states especially Bihar and UP who are normally considered down market .
The rich have become richer and the poor are still there where they were 100 years back. The middle class is swollen with its own importance.
The residents of old Delhi consider all others outsiders. They say we don’t have it in us. Something is amiss maybe that tehzeeb , that feeling of brotherhood and warmth of togetherness is lacking in today’s so-called dilliwalas.
The city tops in crime. molestation, rapes, killings road rage you name it Delhi has it all. Women are unsafe in the capital. Very rarely one finds a stranger ready to help. The trust issue is missing completely especially in New Delhi.
Roads have become wider, hearts smaller. the high-rise buildings, the swanky malls and the development to make it a great modern city has made holes in the very fabric of Delhi that was .
Although communities gather for festivals etc yet there is a void among people.
Delhi is intolerant in some areas, its residents small-minded and untrustworthy. It is strange that so many cultures mingle in the main stream like little rivulets in a mighty river and yet one can not see them as one.
Life here in the capital has changed so dramatically in last few years. It is sad to see that a Muslim or a Kashmiri will not find a place on rent so easily in the capital. People are skeptical , judgmental and prejudiced at times.
There is an unrest in the hearts of people. . The city is unsafe.
Something dark flows as an undercurrent in the minds of people here . Something that is mysterious and dangerous.
It is all about money and power. It is like a gas chamber ready to burst and yet there is that clam and serenity that makes Delhi what is it. Difficult to comprehend and describe .
Amidst noise of traffic a city wakes from slumber and slowly goes through the mundane routines of life.
Disconnected, and undistinguished the ruins of past and the hundred year old trees watch the city of immigrants and their oblivious nature . Apprehensive about their survival the trees wonder when they will be cut down to give way to a mall or an expressway. Each group of immigrants tries to establish their culture and mark their territory rather than embracing the existing one.
In this daily hustle of living for survival the city is forgotten , its culture and history kept aside.
I love the city , its natural beauty ( whatever is remaining) , its seasons and riot of colorful blooms, its old world charm and modern facilities , its food and culture but I have
reservations about its people.
Delhi is a chameleon metropolis changing colors at the blink of an eye.
A city with global aspirations — and one that is a veritable melting pot of Indian culture - Delhi is a fascinating adventure of people shaping the city and vice-versa.
There has been a slow transformation of the old city of tehzeeb to the ”you-know-who-my-father-is” culture . People come here to build their dreams and in that process an old city is slowly dying an unnatural death. The original Delhi is fighting a losing battle of survival in the urban jungle.
In the last 100 years the original Delhi has slipped back in time to give way to the so-called “world-class New Delhi” the power capital of India. Urbanization has made rapid strides but the old charm and allure of this beautiful City is lost forever.
I look at Delhi’s landscape under the orange hue of fading winter sun and try to unravel the mystery and the present surge of my city.
I leave you with lines from Wordsworth’s poem The world is too much with us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;