My first visit to Delhi was in my parents arms, and the only memory that stands out is falling from a high chair in some restaurant.
This seemed to be the theme of my relationship with Delhi, as I was to return later, and fall again, in exciting company, in a wayward lifestyle, into a livelihood, and in love, with some of its citizens, one of whom continues to share my journey through life, and with the city itself.
Like my first fall, it was all by accident.
A holiday with friends to the capital after school was over coincided with the college admission season, and urged by friends that the coolest college in the country was here; I applied to this epitome of snobbery, and was promptly selected. Falling in love with the beautiful green campus with colonial red brick old buildings, rolling lawns, dotted by blooming flowers and the flower of the capitals dazzling damsels, all in sharp contrast to Kolkata’s chaotic College Street, I jumped to it.
Thus began my lifelong affair with this ancient city, purely by accident.
In college I lived all the clichés. Expanded my horizons, did not let studies interfere with my education, opened ‘Doors to Perception’ and being a person of heart and below twenty-five; was a deep red communist. I fell in love with all the going ideologies, fads and movements, which I accidentally happened to encounter. Also with a series of young ladies who espoused these causes, but these affairs were always one sided. I grew my hair, stopped shaving, dressed in kurtas and flip-flops, and joined the turn on tune in and drop out generation.
I also discovered Delhi. Not only the wide open leafy avenues of Lutyen’s Delhi and the international enclaves of Chanakya Puri and Vasant Vihar, or the touristy Walled city and the Paratha Wala Gallis, but also the seedy by lanes of Pahargunj where a very filmy Pathan distributed mind expanding elixirs while a policeman kept watch; the shanty town of Majnu ka Tila, where the poorest could revel in hooch and offal in the shacks run by Tibetans; the shady doctors of Jumma Masjid who would provide anything self destructive you craved for; the innocuous street that sold hardware by day and other wares for the lonely and the depraved at night. And I loved it all. The rich colour of real life, the seedy underbelly of a growing metro; to me these were experiences that would help me grow up, develop a soul and become a writer.
Reality intervened, and I left the City for the Deep South, to earn my living as a tiny wheel in the vast government machinery. I needed a change of scene to heal, for I was suffering my latest heartbreak, when yet another wise lady decided that I was not the right material for serious relations.
I did not intend to return, but fate and fatal attraction decided otherwise. I was posted back in Delhi and spent the next decade and a half becoming a native Delhite, knowing intimately the real citizens of Delhi, who came here post partition, colonized the city much like the American pioneers, and had the same robust spirit, and lived life King Size. I became an Honorary Punjabi.
I also found a Punjaban, who with true Sikh courage, decided to risk my company on a long term basis, braving the ire of her community, and the communally charged atmosphere which prevailed post ’85 massacres. I finally found love that was reciprocated; you guessed it, purely by accident, among dusty ledgers, over a crossword puzzle.
I now can do the Bhangra, drink Moga pegs in a plastic cups sitting in a car accompanied by tandoori legs of chicken, and share chutkule in theth Punjabi.
I have moved out of the city time and again in quest of the daily Dal Roti, but returned every time like a boomerang.
This looks like an affair that is going to last.
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