The queen of all cities. The city that captured the fancies of generations upon generations of kings. The bright, the colourful, the multicultural & multilingual metropolis. Dilwaalon ki Dilli. One of the most misunderstood, overburdened and abused cities, Delhi continues to shower her love upon and support the millions depending upon it. Delhi recently celebrated her centenary as the capital of India, and continues to be the pride of the country. Here, I present Delhi as seen from the eyes of a person deeply in love with the city, showcasing all the lovely quirks that make Delhi, Delhi.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

No, You May Not Have A Drink

The carefree haze provided by substance abuse is a lure for teenagers as irresistible as free candy offered by strangers to an 8 year old. Both are dangerous, both are forbidden and that is what increases their lure to levels which often surpasses the satisfaction they provide.
All things forbidden automatically become a must-have to any human being. It is basic human nature, even Adam & Eve couldn’t resist eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Teenage years are a time of change for all, with major personality development taking place at this stage. One of the most important and overpowering desires at this point of time is to ‘grow up’. Teenagers cannot wait to grow into adults who are taken seriously by society, to earn their own livelihoods, to live on their own terms and to entertain themselves as they please.
Alcohol consumption is an extremely wide-spread phenomenon in the country, with children growing up to the sight of their parents and other relatives drinking. In the mad dash to grow up, it is only natural for kids to try and ape everything that grown-ups do. Alcohol consumption is no exception to this rule.
The legal drinking age limit in Delhi is 25 years. That’s right, one is considered an adult here at 18, can smoke at 18, give consent to sex at 18, marry at 18 or 21 (females & males respectively), bear a child at 18. But no, one cannot have a drink till the ripe old age of 25. “One isn’t responsible enough to drink till the age of 25”, says the government. We are governed by a set of laws which consider bearing and raising a child a chore involving lesser responsibility than having a drink. If ever there was a restrictive, regressive and intrusive law, this is it. Youngsters, by their very nature, never wish to be told what they can or more importantly, cannot do. It is the sole reason for this law to be one of the most flouted ones in the city. Proof of this is painfully apparent outside each and every liquor shop in the city, with youngsters lining up each day to have their fill of hooch.
One would imagine the law would deter the sale of liquor to people under the age of 25, but this is not so. It is easier for a teenager to buy alcohol than to get an auto to go to home after 9pm. Neither does it stop restaurants and bars all over the city from appeasing the thirst of underage patrons. Almost all places with a liquor license in the city pour liquor to teenagers; often right under a shiny gold plaque announcing “Alcohol will not be served to guests under the age of 25”.
There are a lot of reasons youngsters in Delhi start drinking. While some claim they took to drinking as an escape from academic pressure or to cope with emotional problems or even family issues, the real biggest reason remains, as it always has been, peer pressure. Most teens have their first drink with their seniors at parties, just to try it. What begins as a harmless sip soon blooms into a couple drinks at social gatherings, to stealing alcohol from parents or other relatives to outings with friends dedicated to drinking. It starts for a fair number of teenagers in high school, with almost everybody becoming drinkers by the time they graduate from college. The stigma related to drinking lends it an irresistible status. The patronage alcohol enjoys among elder relatives leads teenagers to relate alcohol consumption to being an independent adult.
Teenagers in India today, lead a suppressed lifestyle, living under the pressure of being a generation growing up at a time the society as a whole is undergoing a radical change. Westernization is rampant in the Indian society, and India as a society is confused within, struggling to balance out the ethics and culture of an age old civilization with new age global ideas of socio-economic independence and self-realization. India’s youngsters today can, in a way, be compared to the flower-power American generation of the 70s. With each new generation comes a shift in thinking and an accompanying generation gap. Unfortunately, the current generation transformation is taking place under the stifling shadow of archaic laws laid out decades ago by leaders who believed in prohibition.
Alcohol consumption is not an issue that can be tackled by setting an irrational drinking age limit like 25. Youngsters anywhere, especially in Delhi, with their “we can and will do anything we want” attitude will always find a way to buy alcohol, irrespective of laws. The need of the hour is to revise the law and set an age which is more in tune with the pace of the changing world, acceptance of the rise of alcohol use, removal of stigma and proper education. Parents, teachers and society in general needs to wake up from its slumber and needs to take notice of the elephant in the room. The taboo associated with alcohol in most Indian households needs to go and replaced with an open forum where teenagers can freely discuss such things with their parents.
This is the only way to tackle the ‘problem’ of increasing alcohol abuse among youngsters, especially in a city where government approved liquor shops fearlessly sell alcohol to minors, protected as they are against raids by corrupt cops.
Only In Delhi.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Brahmin or Kshatriya, Sir?

The Indian government is in the process of conducting a census. Although it is officially census 2011, the work still goes on till date, in April 2012. The questions asked by the census officials are listed hereunder:
Number of family members
Head of family
Names of all family members
Status of ownership of occupied accommodation
Educational qualifications of all family members
Occupations of all family members

Of the 8 questions asked, the first 6 seem to me rational and important. It is important for a country to know its population, their educational, economic and professional status. The last 2 questions are a whole different story. It can satisfactorily be argued that it is important to know the religious make-up of the country and I can make my peace with that. The last question, however, seems too discriminatory for a rational mind. Casteism is an archaic system of social stratification, one which is extremely restrictive in its nature. Although mainly associated with Hinduism, Casteism has also been noted in some groups or Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. The Hindu caste system broadly divides the people into 4 castes- Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. These broad castes are further divided into several sub-castes. These castes were arranged in an order of supremacy, with people from ‘higher castes’ enjoying several privileges and those from the ‘lower castes’ facing continuous discrimination in all aspects of daily life. One of the most widely acknowledged evils borne out of the caste system is the concept of untouchablilty. The untouchables were not allowed to touch or even otherwise interact with people of other castes. They were ostracized completely from society and shunned by everybody.

In the present day scenario, however, Casteism isn’t very prevalent in India’s urban centres. But, the Indian Government officially recognizes historically discriminated lower castes of the society and has taken many steps to improve the socio-economic status of these people. Noble sentiments by the government; and it can be understood that the government needs to know the percentage of population, but to what extent must the government go to ensure this? Questioning census respondents directly about their caste seems a bit too harsh. People may not be comfortable sharing this information openly to possibly judgemental strangers conducting the census, and worse, they may not be honest with it either. There is an extremely high possibility of people responding with false replies to that particular question.

The relevance of that particular question in a census is indeed debatable. Aren’t we encouraging Casteism by asking that, even though we preach equality on the other hand? While we strive to transform Delhi into a "world city", we insist on entertaining archaic restrictive concepts which do nothing but choke opportunism and slow us down. The need of the hour is to cast aside restrictive ideas so that we can move ahead and grow as a society, not to remind ourselves of the mistakes committed in the past and be bogged down by them forever more.

Only In Delhi.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Strange Sighting

Surprises. Delhi is full of surprises. It is the one constant in the otherwise flexible and continuously changing way of life here.This single characteristic above all others lends Delhi its uniqueness. Delhi never ceases to throw up something unexpected in the face of even its well-versed inhabitants. Any mundane day can instantly be spruced up by a vision or incident that seems to twist the fabric of our ordered social lives and leave one wondering and thinking and marvelling at the sights this city keeps throwing up.
It is generally held in Delhi that Gurgaon, one of its satellite cities, seems to be in almost another world. Agreeably, there is almost a monumental shift in the surroundings; however it is not so departed as to be treated with some different sort of yardstick. Over the years, Gurgaon has become an intrinsic part of Delhi and for almost all intents and purposes, is regarded by most, as a part of Delhi itself.
As I crossed over into Gurgaon in the morning, I noticed an eerie phenomenon. The traffic was squeezing itself out of one lane, causing a slow moving build-up in the other two. As I cautiously moved into the empty lane, I spotted a procession of around a score of men walking down my way. I swiftly moved back into the traffic, for processions in Delhi are known to wreak havoc on unsuspecting and innocent commuters who happen to be in the wrong place in the wrong time. The procession proceeded proudly, opposite to the traffic, menacingly ordering traffic out of their lane. They bore no banners, shouted no slogans, only the Indian tricolour held aloft by one of the men. They seemed obviously upset over something but it was undeclared, they gave no indication towards the reason of their march. Processions and protest marches are quite a spectacle in Delhi. Loud, noisy, boisterous affairs which seldom remain peaceful. Most end in clashes with the authorities and come to an end without concrete conclusions. This one seemed different for this reason alone. However defiant it seemed it was different as it was subdued and it was this fact that made it all the more intriguing. As the procession continued, I spotted two men, around whom the rest of the people were obviously centred. Why this fact was so blatantly apparent is this: these two gentlemen were entirely nude. Devoid of any clothing or footwear, they carried only a hand held fan.
My thoughts immediately flitted to the revered Naga Sadhus. For those of you who do not know, the Naga Sadhus comprise a powerful sect of ascetics, devotees of Lord Shiva, who wear their unshaved hair in long locks but do not don any clothing. They spend their lives working towards the attainment of moksha – nirvana. However, the men under my observance bore no other similarities to the nagas except the lack of clothing. Nagas cover their bodies with ash and are not seen in the middle of a highway. Nay, these men didn’t look like nagas. They simply looked like two men who seemed upset with some aspect of their life and had decided to protest in this manner. The fact that they exposed the world to obscenities and probably scarred the minds of some little children unfortunate enough to spot them in the process obviously bore no consequence for them.
What their reason was for taking to the roads in such a despicable state is beyond my understanding. I leave it up to you to figure it out, with the hope that they are soon successful in their quest, lest they retake the streets and give unwelcome surprises and unnecessary pause in the lives of hundreds of unsuspecting, unwilling people.
Only In Delhi.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Just Another Day In Delhi

Of the hundreds visual stimuli presented by the roads of Delhi on my drive today, 3 remain stuck in my memory. Let me present them in the order of their presenting themselves to me.
Waiting at a traffic intersection, I noticed, most unsurprisingly, a few beggars conducting brisk business. I also spotted the slum perched on the rocky outcrop several metres high right next to the intersection. The Vasant Vihar Coolie Camp, as the slum is called, is spread over more than an acre of government land and has burgeoned from just a couple of houses to a slum sprawling into the woods behind in just a couple of decades.
Driving further, I had to make way for a group of motorcyclists, proudly astride their Harley Davidsons, showing off the gleaming chrome and flawless leather riding gear and instilling a deep sense of longing in other poorer commuters with the deep throaty roar of their engines.
Just when I thought I had seen enough display of opulent wealth, I was overtaken by a Rolls Royce Phantom, The Spirit of Ecstasy riding proudly on the hood, as a symbol of excellence and indicative of obscene wealth.
If you are to spot both of the last two of the three sights mentioned above on a single day, you can be quite certain that it is a Sunday. For Sunday is the day the bourgeoisie of Delhi come out in strength and bring out their most expensive wheels to enjoy them on the comparatively empty streets.
If you are wondering why I would shed light on this along with a mention of the slums, let me tell you that my intention was to share with you two opposing aspects of Delhi in terms of money. On one hand we have the uber rich citizens, indulging in sinful pleasure to a degree which would be considered almost criminal by some. On the other hand, however, we have citizens who live under the poverty line, a large percentage of whom are food insecure. People of both fiscal classes are as intrinsic a part of Delhi as the other and this city’s identity would be incomplete without either.
I met with an elderly gentleman a few days ago, a resident of Bangalore. He shared his observations of the large number of homeless people on the streets of Delhi and expressed his deep sense of discontent over their pitiful condition and his frustration towards the government for not doing anything to uplift these people. He also lamented that the extremely rich people of Delhi do nothing to help the homeless and continue to live their pampered lives absolutely guilt free. I sympathize with his feelings, but I would like to take the opportunity to highlight here the opinions of the average Delhiite. It is said that even God doesn’t help those who don’t help themselves. Although not much of a believer of God myself, I do believe this adage applies fully and truly here. Unknown to the gentleman from Bangalore, I can vouch for the fact that a vast majority of the homeless people of Delhi have resolved themselves to a life of poverty and are quite content with their lot in life. A lot of attempts are made to help and uplift them but are mostly futile. Alms distributed are spent buying hooch more often than food for the family, able bodied men give up any chance of finding employment in favour of a more sedentary and lazy lifestyle of begging at traffic signals. Attempts to relocate The Vasant Vihar Coolie Camp have met with stiff resistance from the slum dwellers, not entirely unexpectedly. Nobody wishes to uproot themselves and relocate once settled. As long as attempts to help the destitute continue to face resistance, whether from politicians, the opposition or the poverty stricken people themselves, there can be no hope for improvement.Delhi has always been and will probably continue to be a city where the poor and rich live in extremely close and oftentimes unsettling proximity.
Only In Delhi.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Tune in. Trip out.

It is an environment where anything goes -Pushing, shoving, foul body odours, profanity, bumps, jolts, shocks, stares, surprises. All in a day’s commute. Delhi’s public transport is an overburdened system full of faults, dragging its feet along to support the millions dependant on it. No matter how much the administration spends on the systems, the massive population manages to overpower the system each time. To get an idea of what I mean, try to visit Rajiv Chowk metro station during rush hour and the tide of humanity flowing in and out of the trains will give you a more than comprehensive view on the situation.
As I waited for the train at an underground metro station, my attentions were drawn to the garishly pink colored stickers stuck on the platform declaring “Women Only”, with the space being guarded by menacing looking women who would give men a withering look if they so much as put a toe across the line. It saddens me to think that we live in a city where we need such things as the women’s compartment for their safety and comfort. That a need for such a thing is felt due to the vile behaviour of the men is indeed shameful.
Uncharacteristically enough for anything in Delhi, the train pulled in on time, a rush of wind and a loud honk announcing its arrival. The gleaming white Bombardier train rolled into the station and glided to a halt, giving me a glimpse of what was to come before its automatic doors slid open and I found myself drowning in the flood of humanity. The metro is the pride of Delhi, a successful marriage of cutting edge technology and adaptability, to serve Delhiites with the joys of a rapid and efficient, albeit overburdened system of public transport. No rose is, however, without thorns.
Photograph Credits: Anika Aggarwal
Bracing myself, I entered the coach, and found myself squashed between a pole and an obese man. Trying to be optimistic, I figured at least I wouldn’t fall in the case of a jerk. My optimism was short lived. People in Delhi seem to have little enough inhibitions, and those that they do tend to dissolve away in a situation which affords them a cloak of anonymity. Some wise person or another apparently decided that the rest of the commuters were not in enough discomfort, for they happily indulged in the sinful joy of passing wind, plunging everybody into communal misery. Silent it may have been, but harmless it was not. A packed metro compartment is a cramped environment with a limited supply of air pumped through the ventilation system. At trying times like these, suffocation seems all too real. Scores of disgruntled commuters struggled to extricate themselves from their tight spots, but unable to do so in most cases, contented with covering their noses with their arms to avoid an untimely death by breathing in the obnoxious odours. Several queries toward the identity of the sinner were extended without any results.
On arrival at my destination, I tumbled out of the train and breathed a sigh of relief and a lungful of fresh air untainted by flatulence. I took a moment to stand on the platform and peep back into the train and realized it to be a world removed from the rest. A place where rules of privacy are temporarily suspended, the concept of personal space obliterated a mass of bodies behaving as one, with its hopes rising and falling together, based on the mercy of that single merciless flatulent commuter. It is an environment mirrored on a smaller scale in every bus that plies the streets of Delhi as well. Public transport is the medium of deliverance of an accepting, stifling hug by Delhi to all its inhabitants and visitors. It is meant to be acknowledged warmly and enjoyed thoroughly.
Only In Delhi.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Do You Know Who I Am

Delhiites are obsessed with being connected in high places. Cradled in the same family of obsessions such as good food, expensive cars and opulent houses is the fetish with ‘contacts’. One’s worth is not measured by one’s own individual achievements in this city, it is measure in terms of the people you know. Police officers, IAS officers, upmarket restaurant owners, concierges at 5 star hotels; all count. Everybody wants to be a somebody in Delhi, and one isn’t a somebody unless they know other somebodies.
Bump a car, cut someone off in traffic, and chances are that you will be hearing the words “Do you know who I am?” very soon, coming to you from a guy vaguely resembling an Australian frilled lizard striking a threatening pose. This is always a rhetorical question, as it is not possible for anybody to know every random person in traffic in a city of 14 million people. It is also a question which is best not answered by wise cracks. It is a question to be replied with an averted gaze or an even more menacing “Do you know whose son I am?” It is a common sight for Delhiites to witness such pointless arguments until a moment where either parties tires of the altercation and drives off in a huff, to the relief of the other party and the rest of the drivers stuck in the ensuing traffic snarl.
Each time anybody gets pulled over by a cop for violating a traffic rule, they step out with their cell phone in hand, determined stony expression set on  face and names whirring through the head as they try to remember which person would be able to get them out of getting a ticket. Denial, acceptance, phone calls and finally greasing palms are the 4 steps of getting back on the road. After all, only the least connected, dumb or incoherently drunk people pay the full fines for road violations in Delhi.
Not a single day goes without a Delhiite bragging about knowing some person of wealth or stature, or recounting tales of flouting one law or another and getting away with it because they know somebody who could get them off the hook. Driving back home late last night, I witnessed a man blind with rage, beating his fist on the window of a car in the middle of a crossroads. It looked like the driver of the car had haplessly blocked this enraged man’s way. Instant payback is a way of life here. The man probably felt completely justified for his unruly behavior, perhaps because he was connected in high places. That’s just how it is in the quirky capital.
Only In Delhi.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Bon Appetit!

Enquire of any Delhiite worth their salt where the best Chinese is served in town, and they will promptly tell you the name of some tiny van stationed under a tree in some market. Yes sir, the best Chinese isn’t cooked in the spick and span kitchen of any upmarket restaurant, but in dingy alleyways behind these vans. Just park your car up front, place your order, recline your seats and enjoy.
As soon as you approach one of these food joints, the senses are assaulted by a horde of stimuli. The flaming wok, the noodles tossed high up in the air, the searing heat of the naked flame and the cackling sound of frying chicken; enough to turn even the most satiated passer-by into a raving hungry man. Place your order, and a man with deceptively thin eyes will hurry to fulfil your wishes and sate your hunger, while another takes your payment and slides into a drawer the size of a pencil box you would never notice if unknowledgeable of its exact position. The food magically appears through tiny back doors within minutes and is served piping hot.
Word of advice though, don’t try to peep into the cooking area, you might lose your appetite for Chinese food for the rest of your life. Hygiene isn’t what these places are famous for, and it should not be expected. In any case, most Delhiites have the digestive tracts worthy of bears, able to digest anything and everything. A little dirt never does anybody harm. Carry with you an extra bottle or two of water as well or you might very well find yourself dashing to the nearest general store for one. The food served is not for those with delicate palates. Most preferred by youngsters because of the value-for-money food and quick service, they dish out all sorts of Chinese dishes, ranging from momos, chili chicken to five different preparations of noodles.
Be it the extremely famous momos of Lajpat Nagar, or those served at Hawkers in Vasant Kunj, one thing common between the two is the liberal use of red chili, assured to make anybody run for water. There is nothing within the borders of Delhi that has not been modified and adapted to suit the city and its dwellers better, and Chinese food is no exception. The chow mein has departed a long way from the original stir-fried noodles it is supposed to be. With generous helpings of Indian spices and paneer, it has now morphed into a sub-cuisine-Indian Chinese.
If you haven’t tried it yet, it is highly recommended that you do now, and treat yourself to a surprisingly pocket-friendly meal that leaves the taste buds tingling. Bon appetit!
Only In Delhi.