I moved all around India, but Delhi was never home to me. I probably don’t remember my first few days in Delhi. I was three months old. The second time I was two and I do know that I got pneumonia. Later, for two and a half years, Class two to four, I lived here. Those days passed in sunny bliss. I had friends, and an adorable dog who had got me many of those friends. I played in the park in the evening, and never felt the heat. We had a small alcove in one corner, shaded by trees, and blessed with a leaky water tap; it was always cool. We scrutinized the lives of slugs, tried climbing the trees and checked who had bigger muscles.
Nine years later, and I find myself here again. It’s definitely not as pleasant as I’d remembered it to be. Stepping of the airport, I felt the cool AC air immediately melt away. It was so bright! The sun reflected off everything, making the white ambassadors almost impossible to look at. In the car it was better. People call Delhi the green capital, but everything was so dry! That women here dress in brighter colours than in other parts of India was one of the first things I noticed. There were no women driving scooters. The people here looked different. Most had sharper features, lighter eyes, straighter hair and fairer skin.
Slowly I began to remember. The Amul ice-cream vendors that stand outside schools and colleges are still there. You don’t see them in Pune. There was one outside JMC and another outside LSR. You get chaat and gol gappa’s here and the food is spicy with so much variety. The city has its own smells. Gone is the smell of Vada Pav and rain. Here, it smells of vehicle exhaust, sweat and dust. Bus stops smell of old tickets and dirty toilets.
Early in the morning, you see men on cycles with huge steel milk cans balanced on both sides cycling down roads. Before it gets hot, there’s a soft mist in the air. Dogs stretch and playfully roll on the road before the real traffic begins. And when the traffic does begin, it’s a mess! I was stuck for two hours in a traffic jam! In Pune, the worse jams are for ten minutes, and you see the men, red faced, looking for the errant traffic policeman.
People here are from all over the country. And still they have a strong cultural identity. You ask them where they come from, and when they answer, you can see a fierce pride in their eyes and a slight smile. I’ve never had the chance to belong to any one place and I feel almost jealous.
I feel the heat now, and sometimes, the uncomfortable stares, neither of which I’m used to. The food is different and people talk differently. It’s not the change from a small city. I’d actually wanted to come to Delhi. I used to hate the lack of anonymity and now I miss it. And although many people say it’ll change, this is one place I feel I’ll never belong.