Part 4- Love, laughter, luxury: the metamorphosed Delhi

Dear Qi,

It has been long I know. Ever since I boarded that fateful flight on July 6, I haven’t had a second to reminisce. The earlier plan was to stop, see, go but Delhi enamoured me, most unexpectedly. As soon as I landed in all my hippiedom, the leviathan on my back, the daunting red stroller at my heel, I was gathered and buried deep in the arms of lush green & earthy brown.

The city after seven years looked like it had been manicured into a model for lavish living. Each red brick and cream coloured dome was breathing new history, writing a new future. If kindness could be measured, I’d be drowning. From renewing old sinews to weaving new wreaths, from the newly renovated “non-smoking” India Coffee House in Connaught Place to the mushrooming liberal East side.

I witnessed the urban underbelly in the graffiti adorned subway selling Tribal handicraft, I tasted Korea in their cuisine, soju (Korean vodka) & graphic novels in the seedy by lanes of garish “Punjabi” Pahadganj. I found an isolated English cabin called Sakleys in the midst of concrete buildings. As my friends kindly awarded me with the title of “cloud carrier”, we revelled on roads mirroring generous dark clouds.

There were pleasant incidents & experiences, then there were events that wringed my heart with regret for ever doubting the Dil (heart) in Dilli (Delhi).

My friend and I fixed an appointed hour to meet at The Monkey Bar in South Delhi. With my obsession for arriving on time, I was there early waiting for her.

A pleasantly smiling young man in the restaurant uniform walked up to me,”Do you play the guitar?”

I glanced at the tall black cover standing erect behind my chair, “I’m still training on my own”.

“I used to perform in a band in Manipur. I had to migrate to Delhi for money,” wistful glint of a smile.

“Would you like to play?” I offered. He jumped at the opportunity and played a local love song. His colleagues thronged to our table, lavishing attention & conversation as I waited for my friend to arrive. Next thing I know, word had spread far & wide till it reached the owner, coincidentally a friend’s acquaintance and I was on my way to getting pampered fancifully at their premium eatery!

After a brief stay with this friend in Gurgaon, I set out to brave the potholed, monsoon frothing streets. An eager cab driver pulled close, it was an Easy Cab with an aged, smiling face behind the wheel. I propped in with no knowledge of a cheaper means of commute.

 

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“How much would it cost me from here to East Delhi?”

“Roughly Rs.1100”, he said calculating quickly.

Sensing my disappointment, he offered, “I could drop you till the next metro station, it would be cheaper & quicker.”

He looked genuinely willing, but the skeptic in me wanted to smell a motive.

I smiled instead, “thank you”, the wheels set in motion.

“Are you not from Delhi?”

I decided to be honest, pushing my boundaries, “No I’m from Bombay.”

As though a switch flicked, “You’re from outside? Let me show you around Gurgaon”. Before I could protest he’d wheeled us into a less crowded lane which looked safe but desolate. There he began waxing eloquent of the skeletal structures which would soon turn into architectural marvels. He insisted I stop at a popular eatery for their unmatched Biryani. Had I not been attending to anxious friends I would’ve indulged.

“I’ll drop you to the nearest Delhi metro station. The station in Gurgaon is always crowded.”

I mutely agreed mentally calculating the money in my wallet.

After myriad stories of Assamese tradition (Did you know Assamese people add Tsri before their name to signify that the person is alive and Tsargiya for the dead?), his hometown in Assam & his 25 years of driving on Delhi streets, we finally arrived at Chhatarpur station.

“How much is it?” I enquired, partly pleading in my head to not exceed the currency in my wallet.

He chuckled, “I turned the meter off long back madamji. You are a guest here, you need not pay.”

How would you react if you were in my shoes? I was simply dumbfounded, even partly relieved. I still insisted to pay something for I had run out of words to acknowledge the goodness of his heart. He accepted a hundred rupee note and began to hand me back lose change.

I guiltily resisted but he politely insisted,”Keep it. You’ll need it at the metro counter.”

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I thanked him profusely and walked up to the counter. He was right! The change was more than sufficient, he had returned a lot more than the metro fare.

Over that one hour metro ride, I couldn’t stop smiling. Each time I felt there was a hint of a wayward glance or a wanton comment, I battled it inwardly with the strength of his kindness. It was like my Petronus charm.

I fall back upon your wisdom Qi. The world is a mirror, a reflection of your fiercest fears and brightest beliefs. I hadn’t just survived the city, I had conquered it. I allowed Delhi to cradle me to its bosom and in return, I’d found a new home.

My friend says kindness is like a boomerang, you put it out in the world and it finds you, no matter where you are. I promise to put it out without inhibition, I promise to harness the wisdom of affection, silently, unendingly. I promise to spread your legacy.

Until the next turn in the road,

PC

Priyanka Charan

 

 


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Magic

 

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Lisabeth

                                                     Artwork By Judit Szakter

 

 

Contemplating the road ahead – Part 2

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Author: Priyanka Charan

Artist:inkadelik


Dear Qi,

Do you remember that day when we waltzed down the village market nibbling on chocolate? There was a hailstorm in the forest that night as we shivered in the shade of a concrete lined tree. We stood staring for hours, our memories jogging back to that disconcerting amble down the familiar dirt track hidden in the lap of the mountain. You stood there in all your elaborations, tattered trousers with the seams giving way, browning at the edges after the sweat and toil in the dump yard where we planted fond saplings.

They broke through toxic lines of waste germinating with the hope of new life. You sucked deeply at the end of your local ‘bidi’ and remarked, “I’ve been working in this village for over a month now. The locals sometimes look at me in amusement, sometimes with familiarity. Some eyes welcome me quietly while others question my presence.” No matter how much you tried to fit in you always stood out, with your grey brown dreadlocks, your white tan that is our coffee brown one.

What you didn’t know was you were as much a stranger to this place as I was. You felt the need to keep your guard, wander with watchful eyes as curiosity singed your skin with sterile stares. I have always felt like a foreigner in my own country because I’m a woman. Maybe that’s why you haven’t yet been enamored with stories of female solo travellers singing praises alone of our hospitality.

Yesterday I called up a dear friend to tell her of my unplanned travel. She was livid and mortified at once as she warned me against spending too much time in the capital. “But you’re a woman! From Mumbai. You don’t understand how terrible the situation there is. I smiled, where is my neighbourhood then? Where do I belong if not on this planet. This poor ecstatic girl was unaware of how she sounded like a verbatim quote from some moronic media report, if not from experience.

I feel loved, cared for listening to her worry for my well being. I’m blessed that way you see. I’ve had the comforting cocoon of your wisdom equally matched by friends in Delhi who are at daggers drawn to keep me in the warmth of their hearth and their heart. I don’t even know how long I’ll look around in the ill reputed city that was once home to me in my formative three years. Maybe my feet won’t stop within the limits of this cemented skyline and I’ll gallop to the mountains immediately. Maybe I’ll stay, just to test waters, to sense how much this city can hate a free spirit trapped in a woman’s body. I don’t wish to accomplish anything at the risk of my safety, I just want to find one more place to call my own. A place where I won’t need a chaperone in broad daylight, where I don’t feel violated for being the person my parents cradled into this world, where I can walk like a man without ever looking over my shoulder or plugging the noise out with my cell phone. Maybe I will find home here to long for once I’m tired from trudging the hills. Be happy for me, my dear Qi, I know Delhi will be kind.

Your anxious story bearer,