A friend from London who was touring India told me once, ‘Life is easy in India. Everything is so inexpensive.’ I looked at him in mild surprise and asked him to give me a few days to show that Delhi wasn’t an easy city to live in. As he turned to go, I saw some daily wagers sitting on a discarded table on the street in Chawri Bazar and pointed out to him the T-shit one of them was wearing. It said: ‘I’m not paid enough.’ We noticed the stress of survival written clearly in his disheveled appearance and his expression was that of a person who didn’t know what the word easy meant.
Is it easy to describe comfort to a man who has to push (or pull) a heavy cart the entire day and then earn just enough to make a single meal possible for the family? Ask the gang that seeks to find clients for white-washing and they might still smile but tell you, ‘We love the city but we wish so many walls weren’t left unpainted.’ Delhi is a city where you can find families living in make-shift tents…though they might have a motorcycle parked right in front and a TV inside to watch inane soaps that they do not relate to in any way. Delhi is where an assignment could mean repainting the stones on dividers or asbestos sheets for the PWD…but they do it without being provided any shelter from the elements and work squatting on the footpath with the hazard of unruly traffic blaring their horns angrily at them.
Delhi is my city. But Delhi is also ruthless. It moves from one moment to another seeming not to care for those who have come here to make a living. It leaves them to fend for themselves. Not that it lacks smarter ones who sit all day long waiting for someone to fall for their con act…yes, treachery isn’t absent and can pop up suddenly as you turn a corner and come face-to-face with someone inviting you to play and lose a game of cards or even games as inane as ‘guess the number of fingers that will appear next’.
The streets are full of professions that the rest of world may not have even heard of… roadside dentists and ear cleaners! People selling aphrodisiacs and powdered medicines from plants alleged brought from remote parts mingle with others to make the thin line dividing honesty and dishonesty simply disappear. Delhi is a city where one always needs to be careful and circumspect.
Even relaxation comes in weird forms. One may find someone sleeping out on a divider or a rickshaw or a parked scooter or car even in sweltering heat and wonder if such a thing can be possible.
Walk on the streets of Delhi to discover how fiercely life fights to survive and you’ll know what it means to be born (or reborn) in a developing country.
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