Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goodbye, Delhi

(Click photos to view in large)

When you're standing at the threshold of something new, it's only right to say a proper goodbye to your past 

and deal with the tizzying fragments of what makes you who you are.

Up to this point, all your stories and adventures

and the people and corners you shared them with,

were just preparing you to jump up, take off

and fly

into the vast expanse of the sky.

As I leave Delhi, I am already a little reminiscent. Though I have moved many, many times before, my relationship with this city is perhaps the most complicated. It is the closest thing I have to a home city, but until very recently, it didn't feel like it. When we visited as children, the intensity of our meetings with soooo many relatives and family friends in our two weeks spent here, the ceaseless hurricanes of other stimuli (blaring horns, scorching sun, glaring men on the sidewalk), and the garish contrasts between its developed and underdeveloped parts used to shock me so deeply that a day out in the city usually ended in tears.

Fifteen years later, it almost still does. The difference now is that I know that all the undesirable things about Delhi are just small parts of a far more complex and beautiful whole. And the reason that visitors to Delhi are often so harshly divided on whether they love or hate the city is because it's so difficult to see it in its entirety immediately. For every unauthorised garbage dump on the side of the road, there's an equally breathtaking historical relic hidden just around the corner. For every congested inner city road, there's all the wide ones (Shanti Path, Nelson Mandela Marg, Siri Fort road), perfect to drive into the rising sun. In my view, Delhi is a gigantic, multicoloured glass globe, and each one of us is in its centre, shining a torch through the colours we see in it. 

See, everyone has their own version of Delhi, of the places and sounds and smells that bring back the city for them. And they are always changing. Take Nizamuddin for example. It is one of Delhi's oldest Muslim settlements, an enclave nestled in the nook of a road I've driven past too many times with the nagging feeling of zooming past something important. I'm almost embarrassed to say that with all my exploring Delhi, I hadn't so far as wandered into until Kevin and TanvBar led me into it two days ago. But now that I have, I can barely imagine Delhi without thinking of the rich, colourful, intricately decorated dargah, or the markets leading up to it, with their rose petal and incense sellers coaxing you to leave your shoes for safekeeping with them.

Delhi has grown on me, layer by layer, colour by colour, year by year. Exploring Delhi these past few years has chiselled out a special niche in my heart for a city I spent most of my twenty-one years actively disliking. My relationship with Delhi is largely one that I set out to define, instead of the coddled world view I had of it as a child. As with any real relationship, you make the choice to love, trust or believe, and that's it. From then on, they're yours, for better or worse. Every fault is forgiveable, every act is loveable. All judgement ceases.

That's how I feel about Delhi. Once I decided to enjoy it, everything that would otherwise annoy me took on much less importance as I set out to find new things to love about it.

But for all its virtues, Delhi is an unreasonable lover. It is dirty, unruly, trafficky, aggressive and unarguably polluted. It makes demands on your time, health, sanity and worse, it sidles you into its potbellied, nouveau riche showiness if you don't watch out. Most aversively though, for all seven cities' worth of historic charm, Delhi has its own distinct brand of discourtesy, usually of the North Indian chauvinistic kind. You can see it in the way Punjabi aunties edge you out of the way to get the front of the line you've been waiting in for thirty minutes in. You can see it in the way the administrative office people brush you away (complete with the spectacular eyebrow raise offered to vagrant junkies entering the Four Seasons in Paris). Heck, you can see it in the way the shopkeeper gives you the once over -- twice -- as you ask politely for a pack of biscuits. And like stains of tobacco spat out hastily on pillars of historic monuments, once you see it, you can't quite unsee it. 

So am I excited to be leaving? Yes. I'm a nomad through and through, and I would have kicked someone very hard if they'd told me I'd be here for four whole years. But all said and done, I'm glad some freak torrential wave of rain brought me here, because four years on, I'm more rooted, more in touch with the needs, wants and beliefs of the people I want to work towards improving the lives of, and can almost name all my relatives. I've met some amazing people, made some of the best friends of my life, and discovered a whole reserve of potential awesomeness within myself. And finally, I feel like I'm ready to soar. So here's to Delhi, the only city I can call my own, for setting me free.

Goodbye, Delhi.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A 15-Second Happy Birthday Song

Guess who got featured in today's HT City!

It couldn't have come at a better time. This blog turns 3 years old in two days. (If blog years were dog years, that would mean it's as old as me!) To think of all the times I've almost wanted to pack up and shut it down, because it was only meant to be a 12-month project or because my camera got stolen, or because because because...

I'm so glad I didn't.

This whole process of interviewing for a series on Delhi-based blogs made me realise that despite the travel posts and all my other rambling, this has really been a blog about my life in Delhi and the people in it. It's been such a reflective, connective experience and I have every one of you to thank for making me feel finally at home in this city. And though the location is set to change soon because I'm going off to the Netherlands to do my Master's, I still plan to keep blogging. So here's to growing up and growing older. Happy birthday, Independent Random Variables!

Now, while you excuse me to dissolve into a pool of tears (of joy), feel free to read the full transcript below.

Tell us something about yourself. 
The basics: I am a 21 year-old girl who moved back to Delhi four years ago to do a bachelor's in Economics from Stephen's. My dad's a diplomat, and though I have grown up in different cities around the world, Delhi feels most like home. Plus, I have always loved taking pictures, writing and cooking and so creating this blog was like a natural collaboration of all three things.

How did you come up with the idea of creating this blog. 
I actually started it to keep in touch with my family and friends who were in different countries. I used to email them about what I was up to -- parts of Delhi I'd explore, tales from working on an organic farm my first year here, and anecdotes from college -- and I felt I should document it somewhere. So I started a blog, originally just as a year-long project. At the end of the year, I found I was too in love with the city (and of course, completely enjoying the attention) to stop. 
What is unique about this blog and how does it talk about Delhi? 
Essentially, it's a photo blog that gives an insider's outsider view on Delhi. When I first moved back here (from Geneva), I felt Delhi was loud and obnoxious, no one seemed to follow the rules, and everything was complete chaos. I hated it! So I started the blog as a sort of personal challenge to pick out some things every day that I did like about the city and my life here, and to remind myself to give thanks for the small moments of joy I found in this city. And you know what? I fell in love with Delhi! There are so many little surprises around every nook and corner. All those old tombs still standing in the most built-up parts of the city, all the famous chaat stalls or the specialist markets in Old Delhi that are rarely documented in travel books, and just the layers and layers of life that make up Delhi. It's amazing.

Tell us something about the title, what was the thought behind this title? 
Independent Random Variables is a statistics term. (I'm a student of economics, so it had to figure in there somewhere.) But more than that, I feel it's also just the perfect way to express how each of us is an independently functioning variable, individually defined by the random experiences that happen to us and that we decide to take on.

Tell us something about few of the Delhi-centric posts. 
My favourite posts are the ones about the facets of Delhi life that really give it a distinct flavour for me. Like discovering the farm plots along the Yamuna at the edge of the Tibetan Refuge Colony, or the Malyali biryani at INA. Like making friends with kids from a neighbouring village, or in my colony, or with cats, dogs and rabbits at an animal shelter. And of course, documenting North Campus' laid back pace of life, between endless cups of chai and walks around the campus with my friends from college.
There are also the festivals and fairs in Delhi that I've loved visiting -- the jazz fest, Durga Pujo, Comicon and the Surajkund Mela -- they're so colourful and different from each other! So there's a lot of different hues of Delhi on the blog.

Also, there are personal posts on the blog. Tell us something about that. 
Well, you can't have art without context and feeling. So the photos usually tie in to captions or stories that expand on themes I've been thinking about in the context of my own life. And because it's my blog and following the same format all the time would be as boring to me as it would be to my readers, there's a huge variety of kinds of posts: photo essays, poetic interludes, travelogues, with the odd sprinkling of a music review, video or short story. All said, I'm a lot more personal on the blog now than before. It's kind of my place of peace.

Anything you would like to add? 
I'm shifting to Europe to do my Master's soon, so it won't be a 'Delhi' blog anymore, as such. But it's really been a great learning process, documenting the seven cities that make up Delhi and learning to love them. If you haven't seen my blog yet, you should visit! [Edit: And if you have, share it with someone you'd think would like it!] I'd love your feedback. :)