I have been fortunate enough to have lived in many cities, having studied in even more schools and having had the opportunity to call many streets, neighborhoods, addresses and zip codes home. And unlike most who have moved a lot, who often get thrown for a loop when asked where they are from, I never did. When asked, I always say ‘Delhi’. Not ‘originally from Andhra but lived all over’, just a plaintive ‘Delhi’.
I don’t think any city has more to do with who I am than this one. For me, it was a city of many firsts. My first boy friend, my first very own drama post-break up, my first kiss, my first smoke, my first drink and my first real best friend.
A city rife with many contradictions, of grandeur that screams itself hoarse from rooftops and the unexpected grace that comes from vestiges of ancient times, of dignity in beaten down ruins. A city laden with character.
Autos that proudly proclaim, ‘haan yeh road mere baap ki hai’ or dhabas that proudly declare ‘lassi aur email, aur ki chaheeda’, ‘free wi fi hai ji’.
It’s a city that right away stakes its claim. Or you, yours on it. One can’t help but get caught up, and not calling it ‘home’ is unimaginable.
Whether it was those competitions like ‘Mr. and Ms. High school’ and ‘Cornucopia’ or the rivalry between Modern and D.P.S. Bunking school to go to PVR or in the later years meet up at TC for a drink. There always was an Oasis, Djinns, Mirage, or Someplace Else to go to... now only to be replaced by their swankier, hipper alter egos.
There were the great dosas at Sagar’s in Def Col, shopping for imported stuff at GK, shady but dirt cheap drinking joints in CP, shopping for export surpluses and rejects at Sarojini Nagar and hot chocolate fudge at Nirulas. There was 'Flavors'. There was Haus Khas, Santushti, later MG1 and MG2, now only to be replaced by Crescent Court and DLF Emporio. The silver stores in Paharganj and a million places to grab a bite. Coffee at Café Turtle in Khan Market.
All so Delhi.
A city of brusque Jats and garrulous Sardars. And all the Telugu and Tamilian folks in Munirka and R.K Puram. Of early morning walkers in the colony and laughter clubs in the park. Of the retired army types walking their dogs and the kids who grew up much too fast.
All so very Delhi.
Mostly I have this one very early memory of Delhi. This one winter evening my parents were having a party in our rather small Vasant Kunj DDA flat. Scotch was poured in crystal decanters and hors d'oeuvres were catered. Ghulam Ali played in the background and my sister and I were banished to our room. Expectedly, being curious, we’d repeatedly sneak out to see what was happening. I vividly recall the adults sitting around, the women in their silks, the men in their kurtas, the dress de rigueur those days, the conversation ranging from movies, politics, music, and crime to bathroom humor. Told with the choicest words. Even for my world-weary all of sixteen years I was awe struck with the hum of conversation over strains of music interspersed with clinks of ice in their glasses.
A moment when parents stopped being just parents.
A moment when as a precocious sixteen year old who could make a career out of being twenty one, right from the dark matte lipsticks and teetering in my mother’s heels or affecting a nonchalance over boys’ advances was reminded just how very young I was.
Realizing that’s who I wanted to be when I grew up. An adult.
And for that I love Delhi because for me it held the promise of adulthood.
Because as a city it is quick on laying its possessive claim on you. A city to which you either take an instant dislike or fall passionately in love with. But mostly because it lets you be, who you are today and whom you choose to be tomorrow.
Foggy winters, traffic infested evenings and curious by lanes.
Expletive spurting people. Old used bookstores, rickshaw rides in Old Delhi, a love for the theatre and the theatrical and unexpected surprises at the next turn.
All that which makes it home.
A place no matter how many more times I move will always be home. And when asked where I am from, will always first say, ‘Delhi’.