In Critic and in Defense of my home, Delhi

A still from the Surajkund Mela held in Delhi, February 2013

Today I have failed.

But perhaps, not? I mean, it took almost three months for this incident to happen and finally, finally, wake me out of my procrastination to finish this draft.

An incident that entirely changes the objective with which I wanted to publish this. This was not going to be about the all-time-high-rape cases in Delhi that has made people shiver country wide, this was not going to be about Delhi-is-so-cool because we have the metro. This was going to be a story by a typical Delhi girl, who wanted to let you know- Delhi is not that bad!

You are from Delhi?
Yes, I’m
But you don’t look like one.
I’m born and brought up in Delhi; 
I’ve spent 20 years out of 22 in Delhi, I can’t be more “Delhi” than that.

PS. I am one of those “south Delhi” chicks and that too a Punjabi. (can’t get more stereotypical than that).

This conversation happened almost every time I met someone who was ofcourse not from Delhi. My instant reaction would be, what kind of people do you think there are in Delhi?

I mean, we all have our stereotypes, but how bad can it get, really? We north Indians stereotype South Indians to be all about idli-sambhar, but I have never thought of them as arrogant, narcissistic and ruthless, unlike how Delhi is perceived (that is the kind of feedback I have got from my non-Delhi friends). And I am not even going to comment on other culture, because it is none of my business. And, more importantly, I am here to defend my home, Delhi.

I went around telling my friends in Pune and Mumbai, for whatever time I was there- Delhi is not that bad!

In the heart of beautiful Delhi, I met someone today, a friend of a friend.

We were walking and there came a point to cross the road, just when the signal turned green. He decided to show his hand in a manner of “stop” and cross the road. I stood still and said let’s cross once the signal is back to red. He just asked me to cross quickly with him. I shouldn’t have.

He showed his hand in a matter of “stop” to the traffic, which legitimately had a green signal to drive while he and I crossed the road and I kept on repeating- “we shouldn’t, it is green! the signal is green, we shouldn’t cross the road”.

I am paraphrasing what he said next: 
When they’ll know who my father is, they will all stop.

His powerful hands stopped the traffic while we crossed the road on a green signal.

I argued, we have subways, we should use that. His answer- they are not meant to be used.

I have no idea what his father taught him, what family background he comes from. He has his mother’s name tattooed, must be someone with family-values. So much so, that he is shoving that into people’s face.

I told him, “tum jaise log dilli ka naam kharab karte ho”. I must be really traumatized because I don’t remember what he replied, but something certainly to the affect that he doesn’t care.

Good thing actually, because we shouldn’t care what other people think, right?

I can’t remember the last time Union Territory of Delhi — the capital city of the multi-cultural and diverse country of India, had a good repute.

Delhi became the capital of India in 1931.

The old Delhi, also called Delhi-6, was a small part preexisting the development of Lutyen’s Delhi called the New Delhi (that went into construction in 1911).
Delhi per se had no identity. It didn’t have its own language, festivals, culture, zilch. What became of the city is what became of the people.

In 1931, Delhi invited India to be part of its growth story, its developments & promises of being the land of opportunities. Colonies began to settle. Partition led to a massive inflow of Punjabis from Pakistan. Other colonies included people from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal, what have you!

In effect generations of Delhi-ites could be culturally, anyone. For their heart lay in the city, where people created livelihoods (maybe even from scratch).

My both set of grandparents, due to Partition, settled from that part of Punjab that is now in Pakistan. I found that while many of my non-Delhi friends had a village or a ancestral place to go back to, all I have is Delhi. The very home which my grandfather bought 50 years ago, has sustained all the generations ever since. Adding to the stereotype- I am the “typical city girl”.

My point being that, the whole essence of Delhi or any place in general, lies in their people and their stories. These are the very people, who when they go out and interact with someone from another culture are representative of their own culture. So, when I went to Pune as a “Delhi-ite”, the minute I say anything mean- all Delhi-ites are snobbish and the moment I am nice to someone- oh you don’t seem to be from Delhi.

Delhi has a population of over 16 million, we all can’t possibly be the meanest and the most unkind people. Interestingly, while, there are stereotypes pertaining to every culture— Mumbai is so safe, Calcutta is very laid back, people in South India eat idli sambhar. But then what is it so peculiar about Delhi, that there is growing resentment for a metropolitan which offers the best of everything — opportunities, historic culture, metro ❤, street food!

In 2013, I happened to help a man who was new to Delhi. He had lost his way in the intricate streets of Lajpat Nagar, so I guided him through the market. Before he thanked me, he said I was the first person who offered to help him in Delhi.

Owing to my limited interactions with people in Pune and Mumbai, I figured that Delhi’s crowd is stereotyped into two kinds, one who are narcissistic, loud,bitchy, rich-brats, all about the money and clothes and second, the rapists (besides literally, also implying criminals of all types).

Somehow, I feel that these stereotypes (true or not) are undermining some level of tolerance or maybe even building up rigid opinions in people. The friend who went to Kolkata took a few months to settle in. She shared that, the fact that she is from Delhi somehow influenced how people perceived her. That means, she was being “judged” for being from Delhi. And the mere fact that our roots become the reason for others to become judgmental is quite the fault line.

The one who went to Bengaluru had people turn their back on him. What I learn from all this is, that maybe south Indians are hateful? If my BFF weren’t a Telugu, I think I would have taken back a hint that maybe people in south India are ruthless (in that case, I am glad I met the Pune autowaalas, no one can beat them at being ruthless :P)

Are we also resented because we are perceived as intimidating — is it because we belong to a city, where opportunities come in abundance, we are exposed to new cultures and new ideas? That just make us more informed and maybe broaden our horizons. But certainly, neither superior nor nasty.

Delhi is attached to everything global. But the only thing it doesn’t have, it is its own identity.

Let’s acknowledge and try not to forget that it is easy, very easy to form opinions of someone without actually getting to know the person.
“Note that in the absence of any other information about a person you encounter, you tend to fall back on her nationality and background as a salient attribute”, writes the great philosopher Nassim N. Taleb in the book, The Black Swan.

If we are being perceived as rude and arrogant, while we all are not (because I know for a fact that my friend who went to Bengaluru or Kolkata or any other friend from Delhi doesn’t fit the stereotype) then by not breaking the ice we are proving those perceptions to stand true.

“The way to avoid the ills of the narrative fallacy is to favor experimentation over storytelling, experience over history…”, adds Taleb.

My neighbors were south Indians and they were the happiest to have us over for lunches and dinners. Another neighbor a Sindhi, another one Sikhs and another from UP.

So, if you meet someone who is a friend of friend, like I met today, or you see someone pull out a gun at an auto driver who is driving the auto you are sitting in (happened with a friend) or you get mugged as soon as you are at New Delhi railway station, remember, there are people like that world over. It seems Delhi somehow has grown to have people like those in higher proportion (don’t have the stats with me right now), but all of us are not like that.

Delhi stands for being rich in culture and being helpful. Atleast at one point of time, it did. And I’d like to continue to believe so.

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