My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

Sign up for my newsletter: The Internet Personified

17 June 2005

Six fifty eight, are you sure where your spark is?

People ask me often why I like Delhi so much. It's been a source of amusement for my family for years, as a child, returning home from Cochin or Hyderabad where I spent my summer, I'd wake up with the early morning sounds of the train and rush to the window to see the first grey contruction sites, the yards where the big compartments with MAERSK on them were stored, the posters, fraying at the edges advertising 'Sex Doctors' and the glorious Hindi script which I had barely seen all summer. My aunts would laugh at me, "You and your Delhi!" but I couldn't explain the feeling of utter, uncontrolable joy that came out of seeing the first signs of my home.

Now people look at me sceptically. "You like Delhi? Over Mumbai? Or Bangalore?" "Yes," I say simply and most often they leave it at that, not bothering to argue with someone so clearly mentally challenged. Sometimes they argue, Mumbai-people are the worst, extolling the virtues of ANY OTHER CITY in this planet, and then I bristle and say, "Well, if Delhi's so bad, why do you live here?"

Why does anyone choose to live in Delhi? I can understand the Punjabi immigrants from Pakistan. They have fully claimed this city, it is theirs, they have made it what it is today. Even the UPites and the Jats, with their refined Hindi and their string of vernacular abuses. It is not mine in the way that it is theirs, it can never be mine, a person from the South has no connections to this soil.

In school, we all defended our original birthplaces. I got a lot of "Oh, idli-sambhar," and demands about why I wasn't dark with oily hair. "You don't look South Indian at all," Punjabi mothers used to tell me when I played with their offspring. I didn't fit the stereotype certainly, with my accent so 'pukka-Delhi' with the fact that I could speak Hindi, that we ate, yes, rajma-chawal at home most days, instead of sambhar. But I never belonged to the South either. There my halting Telegu and Malayalam was greeted with scorn, there my accent was so not theirs, there my clothes, the way I talked, the way I behaved and expected to be treated was too Delhi. My parents seemed to straddle both worlds effectively, but I guess they could. They grew up in the South, their roots were there and at the end of the day, that's where they belonged more than Delhi. People referred to us as 'Madrassis' no matter how often I corrected them. I wanted an identity of my own. Something that didn't have to do with my distant Southern roots, something that would be tied up with this city that I belonged in, that I had been conceived in (but not born. Few people are born in Delhi from my generation. Most people's mothers, like mine, returned to the place they truly called home) and that I had grown up in. But no one was willing to give me that.

Delhi can never be a 'motherland' in the way some places are. It belongs truly to itself, the National Capital Region, not part of a state, independant and floating along happily. And no one can truly belong to Delhi. If someone asks me where I'm from, I know they're asking where my anscetors are from. I say, "My mother is from Andhra Pradesh and my father is from Kerala." Most people stop there, but some, curious or trying to make a point say, "And where are you from?" And then I say proudly, "Delhi." They laugh at that, some smile, no one really believes it.

No, Delhi isn't a motherland. It's more like a cool big sister. Or a favourite aunt. Someone you know isn't going to pick you up and kiss your wounds away, but who will show you a good time. And let you be independant. Someone who will give you your first lessons with reality and temper that with perfumed air-kisses. Maybe there's something wrong with me for warming to that rather than something you can always depend on. But Delhi's selfish little soul draws my own, and there are some things which are familiar. There's bhutta for instance in the rainy season and the sharp woodsmoke smell of the winter and there's Daryagunj with it's second-hand pavement bookstores and tonga wallahs and there's the green corridors of the posh India Gate colonies. There's memories everywhere I look, a restaurant where my parents trysted, Priya cinema complex, way back, when it was the only place that showed English movies and where my classmates and I went for our first movie on our own (Jurassic Park), and there's the schools I went to, and Khan Market where we made our first attempts at dating and so many things.

I don't think it's something I can explain, the way ex-pats from Mumbai or Calcutta or Bangalore or wherever can. They have fixed reasons, concrete reasons for hating my city and loving their own. But what other city would take them in? Sure, it won't mollycoddle you, it'll leave you alone to learn your own lessons, the rough men on the road might bother you a little, but I know that at the end of a year, or six months or whatever, it'll be hard for those people to return to their own (rather wussy) hometowns. Delhi spoils you for other places. I can now confidentally manage in any other part of this country. I am, after all, a Dilli-wallah, someone your mother warned you about. :)


  1. FOOOOOOOOD. That's why Delhi has to be up there. I love Bangalore BUT you can't get butter chicken, or Karim's kind of food, or ChAT (most street vendors put carrots, yes carrots in their papdi chat- come on!). Of course, Bombay is much better when it comes to food. But probably not as good....

  2. Oh, Delhi's a total seductress. The Page 3 political hostess who draws you in with her sparkle and her soul of ice. No? And then you're unwillingly in love. Though in your case it sounds very willing!

  3. LOVE Delhi, and yeah it DOES let you make your mistakes...but its totally upto you whether you choose to learn from them...
    summer of 2002 (i think)..
    Diary entry: Got roughed up by a few Jats in Munirka for reasons better left untold...ah the pain...
    **end flasback, prepare for more nightmares**

    L. Hyena

  4. Happy to see that "Swapping of Spit - Part III" wasn't composed :-)

  5. its "telugu".. i learnt it yesterday.

    and.. mumbaikars do not dislike delhi.. only your fashion designers.. take it from me.

  6. So what IS it about Delhi that you like? Every city lets you be to learn from your mistakes. Bombay more so than anywhere else. BTW, we're from neither Delhi nor Mumbai, but from 'wussy' hometowns.

    -The Lil' Le Poutski & Sista T

  7. The winters, the winters; how could you forget that? The freezing, fogged over mornings where you let your little toe wiggle out of the razai, and promptly curl up again for that extra five(?) minutes. And warming your hands clutching a hot cup of (elaichi) chai. Mumbai/Bangalore doesn't allow you such bliss!

    Lovely post. Find it difficult to believe you ran into blogger burnout earlier!!

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Funny i wrote a (lighthearted) rant about Delhi a couple of days ago. (I'm a Bombay-ite at heart, and a Townie... still not used to calling it Mumbai)

  10. Sounds a bit too jingoistic to me. Every resident loves their city. You can never take the city out of the person. All the junta I've known have hated Mumbai for the 1st couple of weeks and then a month later have decided they can't leave the city. Happens to all immigrants I guess

  11. good stuff. so got the part about north south, languages, madrasis and rajma vs sambhar...

    And yes, winters. The winters are my best part. The biting wind, january, republic day, mufflers, jackets, even a hot toddy a couple of times....

  12. kafka: I was going to go on and on about the food, but I think that deserves a post of its own! :)

    motheater: Funny enough, when I drive I can so imagine various parts of the city like roads and all as parts of a woman's body. Weird, I know, but works for me :)

    Hyena: I'm glad I'm hearing from so many other people who love this city. I though all the comments would be about how terrible this city is :)

    thetis: Did I not write Telugu? Oops!

    lavi: It's hard to explain. I mean, it took me about 800 words and not even close! Shall we say it beckons to the souls of all very independant people like me?

    n.a: Like I said before, it's HARD to make everything fit into one post :) But, oh yeah, the winter. When I was born. My favourite months in this city.

    brainbird: Home is home is home. I agree.

    fingeek: Highly suspicious of the word "lighthearted". Hmmm. Checking out your rant right now!

    the bitch: Thank you! Keep coming back, ya hear?

    imhunt: Loving your own city is all very well. But true Delhi-lovers are different in the way they just ARE as people. Tough to explain, you have to meet enough to know what I mean.

    asya: I totally agree. Luckily it stopped once I hit college :)

    vague: And you've forgotten Lodhi with bonfires and hot-hot rabdi :) Oh WHY is the winter so far away???

  13. Oh! This post took me down the memory lane..
    You missed the winters though.. I used to love the feel of the cold breeze on my face.. And the colorful sweaters and the smog.. And the razaai and a hot cup of tea..

    But yes.! having lived in Delhi and Bombay all my life, the where-are-you-from and you-dont-look-like-a-southie statements still give me an indigestion and I fumble for an appropriate answer..

  14. I been to Hyderabad and Bangalore so far. Loved Bangalore (amazing food) , hated Hyderabad cos of the horrid weather and the fact that I had the worst case of food poisoning there.

    Will be coming down to Delhi (for 2 days only though) next week, I think I will like it best. Why? Cos you will be there!

  15. Hmmm... good take on the dilliwallas. (note madru spelling here)

    Bombay is where I was born and brought up... and da Dilli one place I really can't stand--blame it on three sunstrokes and a couple of bus-trips where assorted men tried dry humping me in turns. Bombay with its smells and crowded transport is still where my heart is. This, after saying I love Baroda, Pune, Cochin, and Vizag just as much; except I haven't stayed in the last two cities long enough.

    BTW, being spoken to in Gujju is prolly the cruelest indictment of my non-madrasi looks; not easy to live with if you can't speak any of the languages as well. :)

    Damn, too much said already--nice post.

  16. Y'know what I like about Dilli - the wimmen... I reckon there are more pretty women per squre km in Delhi than in any other city in India, including the self-proclaimed Glamour Capital of the country!!!!

  17. i have font memories of delhi. the arts circle is the best in the country. most number of film festivals. the smell of peanuts roasting floating the fog. i loved the polluted diwali nights. but i would not want to live there again, lack the energy. blame it on old age. besides parashu does not allow me to do that.

    an advice from parashu i leave.
    a smaller posting would make much more interesting reading. i suggest you serialize your long posts. neyways. (you know what suggestions are ment for) :)

    [an identity crisis survivor]

  18. Since most ppl here seem to be delhi-ites, here's a (supposedly :-)) objective opinion. My biggest gripe with delhi is how difficult it is to get around. B'bay is much more welcoming to strangers of all hues. Bombay doesnt mollycoddle you either, but she'll ensure you are never in mortal danger. So I agree with hyena and heretic. (Of course, I have been a NYer some years now. If Delhi is a cool big sister, New York is a hot girl that grabs you by the collar and f**ks your brains out)

  19. I've never been to Delhi, but ive sure heard stories about it!

    You know i totally get what u mean about the whole south indian thing..i get the same nonsense from people here..people can be horribly narrow minded..i thought it was just ignorance on part of the singaporean people, but apprently its there in india too..kinda shocking.

  20. I have given up trying to explain "Madras" is (was) a city in South India not the whole of it :)

    BTW I guess every one in every city of the country thinks the rest are [fill your favorite obscenity here] !

  21. Great, now I have reasons for being in Delhi. Couldnt come up with any myself, so this post will be very useful if anyone asks me.

  22. rt: The best comeback is telling people from the North that they're all Punjabis :)

    Indian Stallion: But Hyderabad DOES have killer biryani :)

    heretic: Dry humping? No, do tell :)

    chameleon: Why thank you! (Decides to take that as a compliment to self as well)

    tenny: Serialise posts? Like how?

    fingeek: Ah, but what makes Delhi BETTER than Bombay is that it's a CIRCLE. So there's no concept of "town". Please, everywhere's so accesible :)

    madame: Oh every place is narrowminded when they discover unfamiliar things :)

    sridhar: Ditto what I said to RT!

    sharanya: "Whisper to me" about that one!

    samit: We are, as always, only too pleased to oblige :)Specially if it educates people, of course!

  23. *smiles*

    You said you don't write much about India. Maybe you don't. But every story you tell contains a bit of India for me, even if it's just the names you use for your friends. Unfamiliar to my only too European ears.

    And the stories are well written, and fun to read. (Although I do feel like almost a bit of a stalker, to read all these, your, stories...)

    And then, there are posts like this one - a personal declaration of love to a city. Your city. A city that to me, so far, was nothing but a few letters and a dot on a map. Now this city has a story. It has become a bit more real for me.

    I hope I get to visit Delhi when I'm over in India - but I still haven't yet made fixed plans... We'll see.

  24. HaHa eM, I like the comeback (....telling people from the North that they're all Punjabis :) )

    I learnt from a South Indian friend of mine in school how irritating it is for them to be just categorized as "Madrasi". So now I know to ask where, specifically, they are from. I have been through a similar thing. I was born and brought up in Rajasthan but we are not "Marwaris". Even after 8 years of marriage my sis-in-law and MIL used to think I am a marwari. I think they still do - and it is close to 10 years now! Isn't that irritating? Thank goodness my husband knows who I am - not :P

    I like reading your posts though sometimes, I don't identify with the "you" in them. But maybe thats just age (mine!!) Sometimes I envy you for all the fun you are having. I never did all that you do, when I was your age. I wanted to but then... Anyways, through your posts I learn of a world that I could have been a part of, but never was. Sometimes that makes me wistful - but don't get me wrong. I am happy where I am in life. Its just that yours is a life I never had but always wanted - I was always VERY independent but learnt to rein my self in other people's expectations. Don't change eM - for anybody. Change only for yourself, if you have to.

  25. easier to get lost in circles isn't it? :) anyway, this is not a matter for rational debate, and that was a nice post. BTW, isnt South Delhi the equivalent of Bombay's "Town"?

  26. aren't all people from the north punjabi? ;)

  27. yes, just like everybody associated with Kafka is an intellectual :)

  28. He was high on intellectualism
    I've never been there but the brochure looks nice...

  29. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  31. cindy: I'm glad that I could make you see a little more about Delhi than just a dot on the map. So many places are like that, even for me, I'd love to find a blog from Timbuctoo for instance!

    gettingthere: The grass is always greener on the other side, I suppose :) No, but, I have a lot of fun with my life. I really do. And I wouldn't swap it for anything.

    fingeek: It's been a while since you were last in Delhi, right? ;)

    kafka: :)

  32. And Bontellis's comments weren't rude, just didn't have any connection to the post. And so, with my new-found "blog admin" power I press Delete. *evil laughter* Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  33. Great blog. Even more great considering u managed to write so evocatively about Delhi. I've lived in the city all my life and hate it.

  34. I've lived in Delhi all my life (well...almost) and I LOVE it too

  35. ive wanted to write this post for so long! thanks for doing it and much better than i cud have hoped to!

  36. a couple of years, if you call that a long time. anyway, my opinions are all second-hand.

  37. haha...hey, its nice to read such a passionate defense of delhi. i'm a southie, been here for almost 2 years now, and can't bear it. (i like my job though, which is why i stayed so long). i'd made my peace with delhi about a year ago but in the last few months have slipped back to disliking it. maybe its just the heat. so, its nice to read this, and wonder if maybe delhi isn't the worst city in the planet :-)

  38. this may be the older blog, but i came to read it today. it was nice one and it was like my alter ego wrote it. i live and born and brought up in mumbai. being my roots from AP, i also had the same feelings like u. i always feel myself as a mumbaikar/maharashtrian then a APite. i talk telugu at home but lifestyle is as fast as mumbaikar.
    The way u like delhi, i like mumbai.

    This blog just gave me the feeling of dejavu


Thanks for your feedback! It'll be published once I approve it. Inflammatory/abusive comments will not be posted. Please play nice.