Delhi

This place is nostalgia-laden, with so much history, passion and traffic

It’s a new beginning. It’s a new start. I began my journey as a sperm donor in Delhi. Now, I’m back in the city as a victim of erectile dysfunction. How life comes full circle! Shooting for my next film, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan in Delhi is like a dramatic deja vu. No wonder then, Delhi is known for its extremes. It swings from 4.8 degrees to 48 degrees in temperature. It makes your head spin even without the good old Appu Ghar in Pragati Maidan. That place was the hot favourite for me whenever I used to visit the city in my vacations.

Yes, I’m not a Delhi guy, I’m from Chandigarh. My mom is from Delhi. But there’s always a quaint excitement in me whenever I visit Delhi. The fashion emanates from Delhi. The political quagmire catapults from Delhi. People are expressive, explosive, entertaining. I love Delhi just like I love this alliteration in my last sentence.

I truly discovered Delhi when I was on the radio. Speaking to the entire city, seated inside a comfy studio at Mathura Road. I used to party the whole night and slay the airwaves early morning. Delhi gives you that kind of rush of chi and libido. Maybe I was just 22, that’s why. Sigh. Delhi brought out the dormant show-off in me in full bloom. Blame it on the Mughals. When the last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar’s youngest son got married, he had no money for a big fat wedding. So he had to borrow a lot of money from the lenders in order to have a huge Mughal-style wedding. So now you know how we got this name ‘big fat Punjabi wedding’. Blame it on the Delhi darbar. Blame it on the Mughals. The city got destroyed seven times. And bounced back every single time.

In the words of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, “I asked my soul, what is Delhi?” She replied, “The world is the body and Delhi is its life.” Mirza Ghalib was a revered courtier in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s darbar. An ardent lover of the capital city, Ghalib was proud of his reputation as a rake. He was once imprisoned for gambling and subsequently relished the affair with pride. In the Mughal court circles, he even acquired a reputation as a ladies’ man. Once, when someone praised the poetry of the pious Sheikh Sahbai in his presence, Ghalib immediately retorted, “How can Sahbai be a poet? He has never tasted wine, nor has he ever gambled; he has not been beaten with slippers by lovers, nor has he ever seen the inside of a jail.” Probably, that’s how Delhi men got their reputation of being adventurous. Phir aap poochte ho ki Dilli ke ladke badnaam kyun hain?

The beautiful collection of cultures of this city has been neatly threaded together by the extravagant ways of Punjabi refugees from Pakistan. My forefathers were also one of them. They settled down in Delhi post-Partition. My childhood days — in the ’90s — with vacations spent in Delhi, were wonderful. Chandigarh, the smaller city, only used to get Doordarshan or DD1, whereas my maternal cousins in Delhi used to boast of a cooler cousin of Doordarshan called DD Metro. They were also more dextrous at kite-flying, which used to happen every Independence Day. The inter-colony competitions were deadly with ’90s Bollywood music playing on loudspeakers and kites decorated with hyper-expressive faces of Bollywood actors. Strangely, patriotism garlanded with Bollywood was not considered anti-national.

At times, I wonder: do children of this generation visit places of knowledge and art like the Doll Museum, Rail Museum or Science Museum? Or Ghalib’s abode in Balli Maran in Old Delhi? We’ve sadly left these places for expats and foreigners. We just throng the malls and theme parks, which are purely plastic sans any warmth and love. For me, love blossoms in the winters of Delhi. Especially, in Khan Market or Sriram Centre. Whenever I’m in Delhi, I try and visit NSD (National School of Drama) and have a cup of chai under that famous tree. This place is nostalgia-laden, with so much history, passion and traffic. The traffic speed at peak hour is so slow, that I want to scream out loud at the signals, ‘Guys! This kind of speed is only appreciated in bed.’

While shooting in the marvellous capital city, I really want to slow down like her traffic. Feel every single shoot location. Have local food. Thank God, I’m one of the fortunate actors who don’t have to make a muscular six-pack-driven physique. My real films demand a realistic normal body. I have a good metabolism. So, Delhi food will be relished. Coming back to the city, I have a spring in my feet; that, too, in the middle of the spring season.

It’s ironic, while writing for this article full of mirth, I got the gloomy news that a family friend’s young son passed away. I knew this happy Jat guy since childhood. Such is life, as unpredictable as the weather in Delhi. We want to believe we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we are not. It seems life is nothing but a collaboration of coincidences.

Khushwant Singh, once said, during one of his pensive moods, “That’s Delhi, when life gets too much for you, all you need to do is to spend an hour at Nigambodh Ghat, watch the dead being put to flames and hear the kin wail for them. Then come home and down a couple of pegs of whisky. In Delhi, death and drink make a life worth living.”

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