I’ve been in Delhi for more than a year now. If I were asked to name the first three words that came to my mind when asked to describe this city, they would be: haze, dust, and harsh. Harsh. That’s the word I use the most for this city. It’s harsh.
This city has its good spots. This city exudes history. You can’t help but be impressed when you see the Red Fort or Jama Masjid. The Lodhi Gardens are insanely beautiful and the tombs there are lovely. You can feel the gulf of years and you wonder about the man lying under the grave. You wonder if Iltutmish ever thought he’d have school children clamber up on his tomb and take stupidly posed photographs for their social media display photos. That must have made for an interesting nightmare. When I went to the Red Fort, I kept wondering what it must have been like at the height of its glory. Right now it’s a carcass. But back when the Diwan-i-khas still had its silver roof, the rooms were richly adorned and the Yamuna was not a drain, it must have been an imposing sight. Ozymandias indeed.
Yet the city is harsh. It’s harsh in the way it treats people. It’s harsh in the way people treat each other. Its climate is harsh and it’s harsh in the way people treat it.
I don’t really like the city. I live here because I have to. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t. But it’s the place to find gainful employment in the field I pursue. So here I am. But the city and I are not friends. We tolerate each other. I don’t like that it’s spread out so much and I don’t like how everything is so insanely spread out. I don’t like it that it is not really pedestrian friendly. I dislike the fact that primacy is given to vehicles. I don’t like the fact that public transport is so erratic. The metro is good but it’s not always convenient and the buses are a pain to figure out. I have no idea which bus goes where and, even if I did, their frequency does not inspire confidence. And I’m not a fan of catching autos. Walking in this city is not usually feasible. I like walking. I like going about a place on foot, enjoying the sights, stopping to look at something more closely or just listening to music and walking about. I like the pace of walking. I like the swing of walking. I like the feel of the earth under my feet. And I like walking because it lets me discover new ways and nooks and crannies. But this city is not conducive to walking. Unless you do it in spaces set aside for that purpose. Then it’s brilliant. But I don’t walk for my health. I walk to walk. And there this city does not help.
I dislike the way people are quick to pick a fight here. And I dislike the fact that I’m also becoming quick-tempered. This city covers you in a patina of anger and frustration and you lash out at small things to ease yourself. I can see it happening to me and I don’t like it. Maybe it’s the climate but small things can escalate quickly here and everybody feels they’re the one wronged. Which, a moment’s thought will tell you, is scarcely credible. But there it is.
I don’t like the way people push and try to get ahead all the time here. Be it an auto or a shop, they have to run and get ahead. I can’t understand it. What are you going to achieve by running around everywhere? Do you think it makes you look busy and efficient? Do you think it makes you look important? I’m bewildered by this urge to get ahead of everyone. It’s especially annoying when it happens at the Metro. Just stand in a fucking queue already! Why do you want to sit so badly? This is especially annoying when everybody is already standing in line and some asshole will deliberately try to cut ahead. More than anything else, it clogs the door and then people are pushing from both ends. Why must you push? What do you think is going to happen when you push? As a result, I now keep my elbows out and bang such people with my shoulders and shove them with my forearm. See what I mean about patina of anger and frustration?
This also happens on the streets. If the traffic slows down, invariably some idiot will decide to get into the opposite lane and try to get ahead. This, of course, causes the opposite lane to clog up and so people in that lane get into the opposite lane and now both lanes are clogged and people are yelling and everybody is blowing their horn. I’m not sure what they think will happen if they blow their horns. Do they think their horn is some magical device which will melt the traffic in front of them with magic? The only reason more people don’t die is because you can’t go quickly enough to kill anyone.
I also don’t like most people I see. I want to punch most of them in the face. Or at least yell at them and jump on their faces with jackboots on. I’m not sure what jackboots are but their primary purpose seems to treading down on the downtrodden. So they can surely be used for crushing faces. I don’t like the fact that people here either don’t or can’t parallel park. I don’t like how they think once they’ve parked their car it’s not their problem that the road is now almost impassable and as far as they’re concerned their car is parked perfectly and no one better ding it. These are the people whom I wish to shoot with a shotgun. In the face. I am not a cheery soul.
This city and I are not at war. But this city and I are not in love.
But I like some facets of this city. I like that it lets people from everywhere live here. People become Delhiites. You live here for any amount of time and you reach an uneasy truce with the city. You agree to look at the best bits about each other and to sweep the problems under the carpet. I don’t want to become one but I fear I might. Or I might be able to some day point at a Delhiite and say “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”