Staring at the dim yellow rice lights dangling from my balcony door, I was hit by a realisation at 2 am. It comes to me time and again, and almost takes my breath away — I'm very romantically involved with Delhi.
I grew up in a small town in UP, in a supremely protective house. Even though we had big locks on the main gate, I did not have the permission to lock my room ever, even while sleeping. I barely knew what freedom tasted like or what it felt like to make your own decisions.
But when I came to Delhi, I was suddenly doing seemingly small, innocuous things that went on to mean the world to me: taking auto rickshaws, going to watch movies alone and moving into a flat with two other girls — where I was allowed to lock my room whenever I felt like it.
I taught myself how to make eggs of various kinds and how to not make eye contact with strangers when walking down the street at night.
I also learned the number of phone calls you need to make to the ac repair guy before he finally decides to repair your ac; how to live without a single rupee in your wallet for weeks (because surprise gift demonetisation); and how to not get bullied by your landlord — “Uncle, we give 1500 a month for water but where (and what) really is the hallowed WATER BILL?”
North Campus was a safe space. Noisy, cluttered, expensive, but safe.
A sardar ji ran an all night grocery store behind my apartment. Hence, we would never run out of coffee or cup noodles during the all nighters we’d pull before exams. And we never had to struggle for chakna when one of us excitedly brought home a bottle of booze from the famous Hudson Lane theka.
Once done with undergrad, I moved to Noida — with its traffic, pollution and tall towers. Not a very rewarding change but I was busier than the busiest person I knew, living out of an old faded Chumbak bag, and stressing unnecessarily over most things. So I had no time to be unhappy.
Unike popular perception, Noida too was quite “Delhi” for me. It was not North Campus, but it gave me the same freedom. Probably more, because now I had also started working. My salary was crummy, but it meant that I could save up and buy that lipcolour from ColorBar on my own — well, sometimes at least. It also meant that someone, somewhere, wanted to pay me for what I did and that filled me with a huge sense of gratitude.
If Mumbai is the city of dreams, Delhi is that love affair that keeps you enraptured but also sets you free. It does not give you unconditional affection, but it charms you into believing in it.
You find yourself falling in love with the India Gate at 2 am, then Jama Masjid at 5 and Connaught Place on a November morning. But as with all love affairs, Delhi can also break your heart. I’m fortunate, however, that we’ve been going strong since the past four and a half years, in spite of intrusive aunties, snooty restaurant managers, and a lack of adequate sense of security.
Amid the hoch poch, the hustle bustle and the odd-even (which I’m frankly grateful for every time it happens), I have found a soul in Delhi. A soul with a golden aura and a vibe that matches mine, mostly.
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