Tens of firecrackers burst in haphazard intervals.
Car alarms set off from the same dins, adding to the madness.
Children’s faces are more lit up than the homes they live in and there are plenty sweets stocked up in fridges to last for the entirety of winter.
Caveat lector: This is NOT a post about Delhi’s weaknesses. There’s plenty of material out there for that.
This is my personal ode to a city that makes you breathless (literally, a day after Diwali) and you do not realize how much she has woven herself into the fabric of your soul until you move away and return.
Despite the reputation Delhi has carved for itself owing to some sensationalist news and genuine safety concerns, this city has an unmistakable charm.
I’m still in the honeymoon phase of being back in Delhi.
A few weeks ago, I went out on an autorickshaw with a minor headache.
The autowala took a sharp U-turn with no heed to oncoming traffic and all cars miraculously stopped just in time for us to pass through, as if nothing peculiar ever took place. The autowala then nonchalantly jumped to the next lane and we missed bumping into the buttocks of a traffic guard.
My headache was cured instantaneously.
When I finally purchased my first car, I began navigating it around an assortment of vehicles and hapless pedestrians who simply raise their palms, remnant of an aashirwad, to heed to oncoming traffic.
It is no secret that lanes are imaginary concepts in the mind of an Indian driver.
I somehow manage to fit my Maruti car between a huge Pajero and a horse pulling a fatigued man’s cart load of vegetables as the South Ex Metro construction continues.
All this is nothing short of a circus trick to witness in the States.
The morning jhaadowalas and the cloud of dust engulfing them, unruly neighborhood roads, chaos and congestion of people, traffic, shops and homes that otherwise would have been major culture shocks in a foreigner, are ordinary occurrences that carry hints of the early days of going to school.
The unusual has become usual.
And strangely, I never felt more at home.
A typical morning ritual involves yoga and jogging at Deer Park around the block from my house, followed by some fresh coconut water with malai (cream) for only 35 rupees (50 cents). Then, I take my mother to feed some cows who are seen typically content in their spaces of dung and flies, salivating all the while.
I must admit that a great deal of my comfort in adjusting back home is due to the presence of the hone-wala-dulha (to-be-hubby) whom I am very fortunate to have in my life (apologies for any barf owing to the mushy stuff).
Then there are my beloved cousins and Dilli friends and those purane one-liners and all night sleepovers that make me feel as if I never left.
“Rehne de bhai, tumse na ho payega!”
“Arey, itne main itna-ich milegaaa!”
It may seem child-like to live in this bubble of nostalgia ad nauseum, but maturity is only disposable to those who’ve learned to live in the moments.
The best bazaars have little to no parking. Calls get dropped just as you get hold of a customer service rep. Your biggest fear is when your kaamwali takes absence for a stretch at a time and you can’t find a replacement. Internet connectivity is slow and disappears when you need it most. Taking a stroll anywhere implies coming home with some form of mud stuck to your chappals, as you narrowly escape the paan-spits and overstepping from locals who are clueless about the concept of personal space.
Despite these mentions, there are tremendous joys of being a Delhi-ite. The garam-garam samosas after an impromtu rain; the mouth-watering and crunchy gol gappes that reign only in the capital; the scarcity of resources in general that teaches you to be happy with a bucket of water to bathe and ask locals for directions when your phone is out of service; the little tasks that get done by plumbers and electricians who live around the block and the grocery app walas who are quick to deliver at home; are all facets of the modern mess that is Delhi.
Lovers are abound in the nooks and corners of every major District Park, some openly devouring each others faces, others covering them with a dupatta, your reaction ranging anywhere between borderline regurgitation to romantic inspiration. India Gate becomes a prime picnic spot whilst Chandani Chowk is the go-to market for designer clothing without the designer price-tag.
Delhi’s bottleneck traffic at odd hours of the day, and the general populace’s disregard for her environment is troublesome but is somewhat compensated by kinder souls who help each other with or without the pretext of a festival, like my neighborhood chowkidaar getting his boxes of mithai after Diwali or the kids of my kaamwali who receive free education and medication from Streebal, a nearby non-profit.
Delhi is a foodie’s delight and festival lover’s paradise.
Like how the deliciousness of malai chawal multiples when eaten with your hands, the joys of eating and celebrating in Delhi become tenfold when experienced with your loved ones.
She makes you feel like you are always welcome to her many surprises. And for someone who has experienced profound loneliness in the States, Delhi’s chaos is tremendously soothing.
Once you are born in Dilli, a remnant of herself seeps into your veins. You can never truly let go.
If you listen closely to the blood that flows into your relentlessly toiling Dil, this city is alive in those very rhythms, making you fall in and out of love with her at her own whims.
The horns continue to toot, the kabadiwalas make their rounds to yell, the cows moo on, crowds surge towards buses and metros; humanity endures and survives.
Yeh Dilli hai Dilwalon Ki 🙂