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.


  1. Nan, this is so beautifully put together!

    Am glad I managed to speak to you this morning. Now go and have an awesome time in Holland and I look forward to following this space for all the interesting times that you are about to embark upon...

    "one can never discover new oceans unless one has the courage to lose sight of the shore"...

    All the best!!!

  2. This is a beautiful post, Nanya. Good luck in the Netherlands.

  3. I loved this post.
    Good luck out there!

  4. Movingly, honestly and beautiful put. Having more or less traversed in your shoes, I also have them same kind of feelings towards Delhi. Wishing you the very best in Netherlands and your future ventures I am positive you will shine!!!