“Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi,’ she said. ‘Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The Peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone.” William Dalrymple
I moved to Delhi in February, 2010- armed with William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. My agenda was simple- to spend a year living and working in India’s capital city and use the time to discover its many facets- old, and new, rich and once-rich, glorious and fallen. The book was my guide.
In the first month: I mustered up the courage to take the bus (and a share-a-cab) to Hauz Khas Village, and India Habitat Centre, Gk 1- M Block, and Chandini Chowk. In the bus, I ignored the catcalls, in the share-a-cab; I sat up straight, leaning away from the guy on the left, making eye contact with the girl opposite. Once into Delhi however, and the lake in Hauz Khas, and the arena in IHC, and the bustling marketplace in GK, and the sweet lassi in Chandni Chowk, all my fear was forgotten. Delhi was the magnificent city from the books; the people in the streets were just as characteristic.
Needless to say, I fell in love with Delhi. I fell in love with the vegetable-sellers who threw in extra chillies for free in winter, and the rickshaw pullers who hurried me to my swimming pool in summer, before sunset. I fell in love with the filthy lanes of Chandni Chowk- the glistening, glittering saris- brand new, but already full of summer sweat.
I fell in love with the lake at Hauz Khas, the paan-wallah at India Gate, the old-and-glorious golf course behind the Qutub. Despite the maddening loneliness that plagues the streets by day and night, Delhi was divine. And I could bear it all-
The stalkers on my way from the gym, the squeal-and-stop followed by the slow whistle in the middle of the afternoon, the driver who asked for my number, the man who hit my head.
For fighting somewhere, was the magnificent Delhi from the City of Djinns, and I could see it. Albeit in glimpses- barbecue, and chattering neighbours in gaudy Punjabi suits, and parathas by night. Fighting somewhere, was the romantic Delhi from the City of Djinns, and I could feel it. Albeit in snatches-warm hands in the deer park, red monkey caps in morning balconies, and in the sadness when I had to leave.
A year later…
This is the Delhi, I remember.
This is the Delhi; I am now being made to forget.
In the wake of yet another dastardly rape in the capital city — in the rambling kitchens and living rooms of Bombay it is decided- our daughters will never again move to Delhi.
The peace of Delhi is gone. Now, it’s all gone.