The pigeons were coocoor-cooing on the AC, the shafts of sunlight were playing across the room, and the roar of young men in their fathers’ cars were zipping past on the main road. Bandra woke up early, and the crows were the first, you could tell it was morning when they started to caw, and my doorbell was a busy, insistent buzz, people wanting to get started.
“I don’t feel like leaving Delhi,” said my good friend Priyadarshini to me at a party the other day. Like me, Priya is bicitial, a term I coined for a person who belongs to two places, has two flats, and two sets of friends. We bounce back and forth, and everywhere we go, people ask us a variation of the same question: so where are you these days? (“Here,” I want to say, “I’m here.”) Priya and I bonded over unbelonging, and there’s always a spring in our step the day before we leave one city for another. Except this time.
Unexpectedly, I have found myself falling in love with Delhi. It’s been three—maybe four—years since I left my favourite suburb to move back “home,” a construct I was so vague about. What is home? I answer in flippancies; home is where your shoes are. Some days, over the past few years, I find myself wondering why I ever left, why leave swathes of sea and perfect blue skies, why leave traffic and chaos and life for a Lifestyle? Am I not too young for a lifestyle? Is this old age? I have forgotten so much: I can’t take an auto, I can’t walk without double checking over my shoulder, I can’t go to a party, and be as flaky as I feel like. Delhi has absorbed me again, but Delhi has made me whole.
Absurdly, even though I fight it in my head, Delhi has started to feel safer.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
It was December, that awful, awful December, that everyone still speaks of in hushed tones and capital letters, that made the city a real thing for me again. It felt like we stood together shoulder-to-shoulder and demanded more things, and the city listened to us. It was after that the Aam Aadmi Party came up, and we began to reclaim our streets even more. For the first time in a long time, the city was ours again, not belonging to the nameless, faceless demons that roamed it.
Say what you will about the AAP (and there is lots to say) but it brought the city together in a way no political party has been able to, by courting the upper middle class and the lower middle class, people who lived in posh neighbourhoods and the people who lived in the slums surrounding them. Us, the Great Apolitical, the people who would rather chat about what was new on a trending TV show than police brutality in a neighbouring state, began to follow the news for the first time. A funny thing happens when you begin to read the news regularly—at first it’s all a blur, so boring, who cares, and then suddenly, things begin to jump out at you, you feel stirred by a report, even if it is bland and press copy, written at the last minute by a harried reporter, and before you know it, you’re having an argument with someone at a party, and actually holding your own. It’s incredibly empowering.
But what’s changed about Delhi isn’t just because of the AAP and regular news reading. It’s subtle, it’s shifting, but all at once, it seems as though the country’s (and sometimes the world’s) best thinkers and doers are right here. You go to a gathering, you ask politely, “What do you do?” and you’re taken off chasing a conversation thread: discussing conservation, the local gun shop, the right kind of Mexican food, backpacking in Peru, maybe even what Arnab Goswami would be like in bed.
I have spent so long resisting Delhi, actually, wait that’s not true, I waited and waited for the *click* to go off in my chest, the moment of tripping and falling and feelings of great glorious well being to wash over you. I had those moments in Bombay often, I am in a rickshaw on the flyover that connects the Western Expess highway to Bandra West, I watch the sea, I am filled with sepia-tinted love.
In Delhi, it felt more like an arranged marriage, I made the right noises, I went through the motions, but it was faking it. And maybe, much like an arranged marriage, my family knew best, and I rise next to my husband, worn and fat and faded from four years of marriage and I gaze down at his sleeping face for a bit, and he rolls over in his sleep and smiles, and I realise that I love him.