Since I’m very cold and since EVERYONE AND THEIR UNCLE have asked me, “Oh you moved from Bombay? Which city do you like better?” I’ve decided to share two pieces of journalistic fabulousness that I did in the last couple of months, both around the same topic.
First, a piece for Marie Claire’s December “party” issue, on parties in Bombay vs. parties in Delhi:
I used to be “that girl”. The one you might have passed on your Sunday morning jog,
as she’s teetering blearily home. The one you might glance at in a nightclub, where she’s
in the centre of the dance floor, shaking her straightened-for-the-occasion hair, singing
along to everything that comes on, appearing as though she’s tapping into an endless
source of energy. That was me, not even that long ago, but it’s not me anymore. Now-Me
likes nothing else but a place where she can sit down, have a glass of wine and be able to
have conversation with friends. Now-Me, in fact, is what Then-Me would have dismissed
as “boring”, but I’m okay with that.
So as part of this major shift, I decided a couple of weeks ago to hang up the glitter and take myself back to Delhi, the city I grew up in. Bombay—the city I was grown up in—suddenly seemed to be all about the sameness, and I craved a change, something other than little nightclubs with pulsing music being all that one can do on a weekend. Delhi, while lovely, seemed to have just the right amount of stodge to get me to do some serious work without distractions. Er. So, yes, not so much. While Thursday night in Bombay got me some sweet text messages from friends wishing I was there to go to Olive with them, Thursday night in Delhi saw me looking at pretty much exactly the same scene. While the venue was different (the Foreign Correspondents Club) and the drinks were much cheaper (Rs 400 for a small vodka at Olive, Rs 40 for a small vodka here) the crowd? Well, they could have been just about anywhere. The only thing missing was the familiar heartbeat of music, the lub-dub in the background that I am so used to, I only miss it when it’s not there and I find myself straining to hear it.
Ah, the Delhi-Bombay divide. That most beloved of debates, that every citizen of India
(and some non-citizens) love to weigh in on. Where Bombay wins: the complete and utter
independence for women, where else in this country can you take a rickshaw home at 4
in the morning without second thought? For a party girl, this one fact is of the utmost
importance. Yes, I think that is what defines my social life in Bombay, not having to depend on anyone else, being the mistress of my own fate, so to speak. I loved the fact that I could go to a bar on my own, just sit there with a book and a cigarette even if I wasn’t meeting anyone, and then go home, equally unburdened, no one to answer to, but myself. But, let’s examine the plus side of being a little less safe: one, it’s rather romantic to be picked up and dropped home by the object of your affections, two, it means that you do get to see your friends and spend more time with them than otherwise (long car rides being perfect for bonding) and three, it means everyone sticks to the plan. One of my pet peeves, and something that happens a lot in Bombay is when people are fluid about their evenings. Not I. I like a little structure, I like to decide a little bit in advance where I’ll go and what I’ll do and who I’ll see. Going with the flow is not something that has ever appealed to me.
And, I spent this weekend, a newly reinstated Delhiite, a new Bombay abandoner, in
Bombay, at a very popular club, where being one of the shortest people there, I was
invariably shoved and stepped upon by people in a hurry. From Delhi, I get a phone call:
did I want to go to a book reading? Reader, I did. It was at that moment, that I swapped
my fancy heels (beautiful but torturous) for plain canvas flats, said goodbye to my friends
and decided to go home and read a book. I’m not quite hanging up the high heels yet, but
I might put them into early retirement. I’ll be taking a little bit of Bombay with me though: my fashion sense for one. In Delhi, they like you matchy-matchy, all accessories impeccable, in Bombay, the girls wear cotton in nightclubs, wear flat shoes pretty much everywhere and accessories are quirky and over the top. The crowds may look at me askance, sheltered Punjabi girls with straightened hair who only come to these things to get some alone time with their secret boyfriends and dress provocatively, but hey, I’m in my late twenties, I’ve earned it. In Bombay, they don’t care who I am, what I’m doing or even who I’m with— unless he’s a Bollywood star.
I sense there never will be a resolution between the two cities. But, I remain as a party girl— a Belhi-ite, a combination of the two cities I love, and all, uniquely, myself.
And this little guest column on my love life (or lack thereof) for The Sunday Guardian:
Delhi has always been a black hole. Not in terms of the stuff that matters—there's plenty of work, stuff to do, and nice people. No, when I say 'black hole', I mean the vacuous area of darkness that seems to envelop my love life each time I live in this city. Oh, you say, how many times have you lived in this city? To which I must (somewhat abashedly) admit that this is only my second try. My first try was a couple of weeks after I was born and it extended to a couple of decades after that. And okay, while I didn't spend those decades constantly single, for a while there, in the middle, it felt as though I was.
So, shall we then agree that Delhi is not to blame? I suppose I can allow that. Grudgingly. After all, my first “date” in a very long time happened in Delhi not too long ago, even though Mumbai (where I spent the last four years) seemed a lot more promiscuous. Maybe it's because for the first time in a very long time, I am in a position to start dating again, having just emerged from a very long, very monogamous relationship. This is something they tell you not to mention on first dates, the “pressure” might cause whichever unwitting gentleman is out with me that evening to run for the hills, but what about the pressure that's putting on a city? Delhi, which I left Bombay for, is now constantly up for comparison with my “old boyfriend”, Delhi's not as cool, Delhi doesn't let me take rickshaws at four in the morning, in Bombay people are nicer and so on and so forth. It makes me wonder though—am I letting go enough? Is this 'black hole' just something of my own creation?
My move back to Delhi is pretty fresh, a little over a week old, and I watch my interaction with this once-familiar city with cagey eyes. Will it be just the same city I left all those years ago? Does anything ever really change? Is the black hole waiting to swallow me whole? News of friends new relationships make me happy though, in some selfish corner of my heart, I feel their happiness is also mine. If they can find love in this unforgiving world, so can I—again. But, but (and again, I point to Bombay) in my old city I knew how to navigate the single world. I knew where I'd be likely to meet fun, interesting people, more importantly, I knew what fun, interesting people were out there. I wasn't like this, unsure of my next step, watching cautiously, wondering if what I'm wearing is too quirky, too loud, too OTT, too Bombay for Delhi. (eM’s aside: I think I was very concerned about what I was wearing the first couple of weeks I was here. Winter wear has never been my strong point, and so, because it’s what I do, I obsessed like a mad woman, which sort of took over my writing as well, clearly. I’ve learned to accept it now though, you’ll be happy to hear.)
At the end of the day, however, I remind myself, as I walk around my apartment, talking to my cat (yes, I'm that single lady) that I'm still me. No matter what black holes I've known in the past, and however many potentially loom in my future. I'm still who I was about a week ago, and I know this sounds all very Gloria Gaynor karaoke moment but no black holes are going to get me down.
As for the inevitable comparisons, I suspect they'll continue to happen. Which of us hasn't compared a present to an ex, even if it is favourably? You have history, and then you base your future on your history. It's as simple as that.