“Dilli Dilwalon ki!” (The city of big-hearted people) was one of the earliest phrases that I learned in Hindi. I also distinctly recollect that when I first visited Delhi as a wide-eyed innocent twelve-year old, I had concluded that the oft-quoted statement was far from the truth. People seemed angry, rude and distinctly unfriendly – eager to cheat an unsuspecting outsider, and I being a lone woman walking from place ‘x’ to place ‘y’ was made to believe that I was fresh raw meat to be stared at ,dissected and made available, irrespective or what I was wearing or doing.
Through Law School, I would find myself spending each summer in Delhi for something related to my internship, even though I had no intention of residing or studying there. I hated the city and would declare to every willing ear – “I shall never choose to live here.”
Fate would have it, that I had to spend an entire year living in Delhi (2011-12) and I now realise my statements and opinions were not inaccurate, but rather pre-mature. I realise why the phrase exists.
Delhi is not hostile or difficult. It is merely paradoxical. It is the city of extremes. The summers have long days and sweltering heat. The winters have little daylight and bone-chilling cold. It is the city with the highest per capita income in India but if you walk on a cold wintry night on the streets of some of the wealthier parts of the city, where pavement dwellers and tenements must scavenge for three pieces of firewood to stay warm and survive another night, one realizes this city also has the highest level of income disparity.
It is also one of those rare places where a person can walk down a street and for a moment feels that he or she is the King of the universe, and moments later feel completely powerless.
(Try stepping out of India Habitat Centre at 9 pm at night after a meeting with someone who is “so and so”, and then realise that you waved them goodbye in their luxury car and feel so important, but the road you are on does not have an auto in sight willing to take you home! Call in the cab and the Rs. 500 you desired to save that month for your friend’s birthday is gone in the 12 km route back to the corner of the city where you reside!)
There is no other city in India that understands the language of Power better – so confident am I in saying this that I think Bertrand Russell would have made this city as a base for his study and discourse.
And yet, this last year – my experiences with the Young India Fellowship and the people I met here told me another story of Delhi. How this paradoxical city has more humanity than it is credited for. How the spirit of the people here, mostly migrants who come from far and wide to our nation’s capital toil hard to give this city its heart. Why this city is where the past, present and future meet – with rich History, diverse identities, class consciousness, typical ‘Hinglish’ , the Metro, iconic restaurants, people and power centres is so representative of this young nation that is mine.
India is where Gen Now shall be part of a minor historical, cultural and political revolution. And Delhi is where it all begins – because every person out there walks and lives, not with misery or hardship, but a cartload of aspirations! Aspirations that again paradoxically are filled with despair and inspiration juxtaposed … but Yes … Yeh Dilli hai Dillwalon ki!!!