Monday, August 30, 2010

Boorish Bombay,Delectable Delhi !

For years, I refrained from the vicarious pleasures and indulgence that the internet affords. And it was for these very reasons- the seemingly pitiable pretence of seeking a sense of identity from others as also the depraved indolence at finding belongingness in the pale blue light of a little computer screen.

Perhaps I was mistaken. It started when I was finally relented to a spate of persuasions and somewhat reluctantly penned my first post on a blog that someone else created for me. At first, it felt foolish to share my rants with the world. Curiously, however, I realised that being compelled to put my words into black-and-white forced me to delve into the very recesses of my mind and memories, bringing me into proximity with the issue with an unmatched clarity.

And then there were the people who read my writings and shared their opinions-some were predictably superficial but for the better part, there were people who genuinely took interest. Getting to hear from them felt good and opened new dimensions of thought but more importantly, afforded solutions to the perplexities that had confounded me for ages.

In my random and itinerant wanderings across the virtual world, I have come upon many pieces of writing which, with the sheer fluidity of their temerity, would any day shame even the maestros of prose. But I have also come across some who, despite the beauty of their words, have fallen prey to misguided opinions!

One such piece of writing that I chanced upon recently was a piece on the ostensible superiority of Mumbai over Delhi. The author is very articulate and eloquent in her efforts to garner some compassion for Mumbai (or is it Bombay-I know, who cares!). And while we laud her valiant attempts in the face of such a daunting task, she also deserves every bit of our sympathy for even daring to undertake such a futile endeavour!

My tryst with Delhi began when I joined college at Delhi University. Having recently passed out of a school with a captive strength of just over 700 souls confined to an area of barely 150 acres, the enormity of Delhi was a cultural jolt all by itself. And beyond that came the manifestation of scores of things that so far had merely been abstract elements in our adolescent reflections. It was all there-the monuments, the glamour, the power, the opportunity. But I am sure you would find all of this, and even more, in any other of India’s bustling metropolitans. What then makes Delhi luna inter minores-the little moon among the stars?

Its inability to be pigeonholed into a stereotype. Or maybe its ability to escape the same. Mumbai is about money as Bangalore is about IT. Pune is for students as Kolkata is for leftist intellectuals. But try as hard as you may, you really can never define what Delhi stands for. It is the sum of many little elements, and the whole is definitely much more than a mere aggregation. Delhi is not a city; it is an animated entity that defies all attempts at definition. The only thing singular about Delhi is its plurality.

Beyond the teeming multitudes struggling to blend into this eclectic melting pot, Delhi offers assortment in almost every arena. It serves up all forms of food, from the delectable kababs at Nizamuddin to the zesty chuskis at South Extension. It has a legion of intelligentsia but not the sort who would pass up a Govinda movie. Its markets offer the most decadent in luxury yet leave scope for a Sunday jaunt at the Daryaganj flea market. Religious proclivities find an untrammelled expression in Delhi, allowing you to revel as much at the Ramlila as to delve into profound reflection at a Majlis. Even nature has been munificent in its bounties to the city, permitting the denizens to experience the agony as well as the magnificence of all the seasons-while the scorching summers force you to indulge in nimbu-paani and coconut jal, the fabled Delhi winter presents a burst of fauna in a wild assortment of hues, to gladden your heart as you hum your way to harmony at an open concert in Nehru park.

And then there are the unparalleled monuments. From the understated majesty of the Mughals at Puraani Dilli to the deliberate grandeur of the British in New Delhi, every nook in the road has a story to tell. Delhi houses the headquarters of all our armed forces and also plays host to the representations of all foreign countries in India. A drive across its roads is a delight, if not for the vistas sprinkled all about you, then even just for their names alone-Kautilya marg, Shanti path, Palam marg, Aurangzeb road, Janpath.

Which brings me to what is unarguably India’s most famous boulevard-Rajpath. Barely will the sheer majesty of the drive on Rajpath have subsided when Vijay Chowk will drop you onto Raisina Hill and set forth an imposing view of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. As you drive up to its gargantuan gates and turn around, the panorama that unfolds is seductive to say the least. Park awhile and sit on the ramparts of South Block and bask in the awe of being at the pulsating epicentre of India’s policy elite. And as you silently watch the Delhi traffic zoom across India Gate in the distance, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

For years, I refrained from the vicarious pleasures and indulgence that the internet affords. But today, do me a favour. Log on to Google, type “Mumbai” and then click the “images” link. Look at the images it throws up of India’s bustling financial capital and wonder how anyone can ever like any city in India better than Mumbai.
But before you log off, just for the heck of it, type in “Delhi” too and view the images that show up.
And smile.
For you have just seen the answer!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Return to Innocence

“Sach hi kehti thi, jo bhi Ammi kehti thi
Jab mere bachpan ke din the, chaand pe pariyaan rehti thi”

When was the last time you laughed? Really opened up and let out a guffaw? Chortled till your insides hurt? And not at another joke, but at the sheer joy of being alive, of returning to the lost innocence of finding ecstasy in the simple things strewn all around you.

I returned to Chandigarh yesterday for another of my overnight stays. And as has become wont with me since she shifted to Mohali, took a surreptitious drive just outside Jasmine’s house. Now, Jasmine is the 5 year old who was 2 when I first met her. We were both once tenants at the same house and for the first few months after I shifted there, shared little more beyond quizzical looks whenever we passed each other around the premises.

And then came the day when she deigned it fit to come visiting. It was almost noon and I was just sitting down for a late breakfast. Although not yet able to walk without faltering, she nonetheless matched me toast-for-toast, orange-for-orange, before announcing that she was going home for lunch! And as she left, she elicited from me the promise of getting her a toy when I returned from office that evening. But as is usually the case, I forgot all about it till I got into my car at the end of a long day. The thought of going back to the comfort of my bed also brought with it the memory of my promise to her. But since it was too late for the toy shops to be open, I had to settle for a couple of balloons from a roadside vendor.

I got home, summoned my helper and before he started warming the food, asked him to go and give the balloons to Jasmine. He did one better-he went and called her over. And this is when I experienced a moment of the kind that we see all around us but are too busy to cherish.

Jasmine came, frowned at me and then noticed the balloons. Her smile said it all-she was thrilled! But what was even more amazing was the involuntary chuckle that escaped her. She was actually laughing with glee, at a present as meagre as a pair of balloons! She pranced about for a bit, helped herself to some dinner (her second for the night!) and though I did not get a goodnight kiss, I did sleep with a huge smile that night.

Over the next couple of years that I knew her, I shared many such moments with her. And she was always the perfect panacea to wish away the blues. She found merriment in candyfloss melting over her fingers, pride in showing me her latest outfit and an exuberant hope in demanding a puppy for her next birthday. With each action, confirming irrefutably that the real wonders exist only where there are those with the sight to see them.

The real wonders. The little, simple things that we start taking for granted as we “grow up”. If caught in a particularly bad mood, these very things can even trigger a rush of annoyance. Yeats wrote someplace that the innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time. Perhaps he isn’t all that mistaken. For there comes a time in each of our lives when we cease to enjoy anything, intent merely on amassing immaterial treasures. We stop believing in love, believing in loveliness, believing in belief itself. We possess a spirit that knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. We hoard our smiles and measure our words. We never forget an insult, never forgive an injury.

I wonder what it would take to revisit our misplaced innocence. To find joy in a bar of chocolate divided into seven shares, to yearn to get drenched in the next rain, to think nothing of conceding defeat before our friends just to see the delight on their faces. To return to the time when fairies left us presents under the pillow and God took note of our every prayer.

Maybe all it takes is a chubby hand in yours, hauling you to the next mirthful escapade. And if you don’t have that, then the next best thing would be the memory of a chubby hand.

I have been planning to meet Jasmine for ages now, ever since she shifted out of what was once “our” house. My drives towards Chandigarh are always crammed with plans of meeting her-where we would go, what we would do. But the moment I pull into the city, all plans go flying out of the window. A strange dread grips me-what if she has forgotten me? It is not easy to live with the memories of a beautiful time gone by, never to come again. But it would be impossible to live without the hope of that time ever returning. Without the consolation, however feeble, that it will all go back to being the way it was.

So I continue to make plans that may never bear fruition. And giving me company is the warmth of a chuckle.