When I found out that I’ll be doing masters in Delhi, I saw a big genie, bum plopped on the edge of the horizon, laughing at me — a full-belied laugh that makes it seem like you’ve just had an intense workout.
Full belied laughter is only produced when one is laughing at someone else’s folly. And the folly has to be incredibly silly.
After hating Bangalore all my life, and being completely in love with Delhi for the same amount of time, these feelings had taken full reverse in the last year or so. Finding out that I’d be in Delhi for MA was some kind of kick in the ass (or kick in the head). All my genies must be laughing somewhere.
I discovered that it is possible to be in love with a city only if you’re not a part of it fully. A more recent discovery is that this a good thing. Because when you’re dangling between two cities, and can’t completely call one your own, you don’t invest yourself in either one. This also means that you’re not investing too much of yourself into the people and places from either city.
This realisation was large — in that, it knocked me off my feet, straight into a happiness I haven’t felt in a long, long time. I’m now living in a permanent state of contentment with medium highs and lows. A bad moment doesn’t affect how I’m feeling, and when the man I’m working with is not taking me seriously, it’s easy to step back and brush it off — to say that I don’t give a damn . Getting to this point has been a long journey that I’m forgetting, only because it seems too easy now. But I’m also wondering if I really am at that point, or if this is an in-between moment between two realities.
When people ask me if I like Delhi, I smile a small smile and tell them that I haven’t seen anything yet. But I will always remember the first time I went out on my own — to a store called People Tree. After buying a book of Hoshang Merchant’s writing, I walked and walked, in the hope of finding a place that I can only call mine, that I won’t tell anyone about. But instead, I walked and walked, past people who looked at me suspiciously, past thele-walas selling paan and chaat. In place of a café, I found myself in the midst of an agitated crowd, all rushing towards the entrance to a huge Hanuman temple.
I settled for observing the mini-ecosystem that was operating there. There were men sitting on worn out carpets occupying random spots outside the temple, and each of them had different duties that contributed to the general process of temple-going. Some of them sold flowers, some looked after chappals for 20 Rs, and some sold chole-bhature. But what struck me was the expressions on their faces. All of them, invariably, were frowning, either because of the Delhi heat or because I was walking past them without adding to their business.
This first moment of exploration will always be accompanied by another story that I’ve told only three times so far. How do you tell people that when you were standing in the middle of campus, a monkey promptly ran up to you and snatched a packet of chips from your hand? After making it past this story, how do you then say that this monkey stared at you while tearing the packet open, digging into the chips you bought?
My association with Delhi has been brief, but also not. I’ve spent almost every summer of my life here. Whenever I went back to school after the holidays, I told my friends about the city with great enthusiasm. I made it out to be an unachievable land in which only happiness and good street food exists. I told them how my entire family would go to Greater Kailash and have chuski and gol gappe, and I told them how my cousins and I would go to Country Club, swim there and then have chilli chicken while our hair was still wet, arms still damp.
I told stories of how stores in Delhi are larger than the Bangalore ones, and that every store has an AC. I told them of numerous markets that contained odd shops with names of people on the front. I told them stories of smaller markets that sell peculiar things, from double-sided pencil cases to chicken ham that my mother never seemed to find in any stores in Bangalore.
This Delhi is different from the one I’m seeing now and I’m finding it hard to put the two together. Instead, the Delhi of my childhood is an orange coloured paradise that got lost somewhere while I was growing up.
My first memory of Bangalore is actually the memory of my first best friend, now long gone. B and I were always together. In the social hierarchy of our class, we stood somewhere in between. So more often than not, we had a secret friendship in which we admired all the girls better than us, and viciously bitched about the girls beneath us. Whenever I was in Delhi, I’d call her landline and speak to her for hours, narrating exaggerated stories of simple events to make her jealous.
My first task on going back home was always the construction of an elaborate scenario — one in which I’d tell her more things about this strange land that she had never been to. Even though I didn’t realise it then, she became the epitome of everything that meant ‘Bangalore’.
Every morning, B came to school five minutes after the bell rang, pushing through crowds of forever late students. She was always immaculately dressed, no creases of her starched uniform, and long, oiled hair tightly pulled back into a French braid. Her face bore different shades of yellow every day, the result of a persistent, stubborn mother whose hands were always yellow.
Even now, my first recollection of Bangalore is the moment in which I’d enthusiastically wave at her at 8:35 am every morning.
When we began fighting, after prospects of new friends turned up in our lives, I was all too happy to let her go. Now, eight years later, I find myself facing the consequence of a foolishness I hoped I was never capable of. I let her go for the sake of letting her go, and I refused to fall in love with the city that I was living in just for the sake of it.
It is difficult to write about the Bangalore that a part of me is constantly missing, because this is a city that I’ve only seen glimpses of — some in reality, some in fiction. When I went back there for Dussehra vacation a fortnight ago, I realised that I still hadn’t found this Bangalore. I also realised that in the two months that I was in Delhi, I had built up the city in my head so much, that coming back was almost a disappointment, one that I didn’t know how to deal with.
In the three-week buffer period I had between getting entrance exam results and moving to Delhi, I had immersed myself into a long mourning. I first promised myself that I’d do everything that is typically Bangalore. But on moving day, I realised that I had barely stepped out. My meals were ordered on Swiggy, and my days began and ended with Friends. I didn’t read any books on my list, and I cursed myself for writing the entrance. Even then, not doing MA was never an option.
My first month in Delhi also passed like this, and I quickly dropped the idea of living alone. It has taken hours and days of introspection to admit that living alone is a fantasy I am not ready for. The romance of it is too much to bear, and in those two months, I had worked myself into a dangerous depression that would only worse with time. I found that I had disappointed myself in all the possible ways, and I began wondering what friends back home would say if I ever told them this.
But here’s the thing about living away from all the important people in your life — you become responsible for your own days in small, seemingly meaningless ways. Once classes began, I found that I could be happy only if I let myself be. Suddenly, all of this time became mine, and I entered my Dilli phase.
This is a phase in which I’ve discovered that I’m not as lazy as I always believed I was. This happy discovery has come to me in the form of several books that I have read in the last three months. I’ve found in myself a need to just read, and as long as I’m reading, that consistent feeling of contentment persists.
All my bad moments exist outside of this contentment, and these moments have no room in my world. I’ve had more arguments with people in the last month than I’ve had in the last three years, and yet I find that these arguments are somehow restricted to the moments in which they happen — they don’t extend into the rest of my day.
There are still parts of Delhi that I’m trying to come to terms with — like the lack of good book stores, for example, or the unending stare of strange men. But suddenly, I’m not living in Dilli anymore, instead I’m living in a space constructed with books — a space in which I’m wondering what I can read next.