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DESI VIDESHI

Delhi, despite being a city of extremes, has this incredible capacity to assimilate people from varied nationalities, ethnicities and make them feel at home

Delhi has a charm of its own and many fall for it. People from all over the world come make Delhi, a city of ‘glorious contradictions’ their favoured home. It’s almost paradoxical, they shun the comfort of a familiar and predictable life in Europe to live in a demanding city like Delhi, not out of any compulsion but for the love of the place.

Delhi is a city of extremes, be it population, pollution, weather, traffic, crowd or congestion. Despite, has this enviable ability to attract and assimilate people, and has, over the years, become a melting pot of people from varied cultures, backgrounds and ethnicity.

Not just the Nigerians or the Afghans, even French, Italians and Germans, have their own little hangouts — where rooftop parties are being held in the evening, where local cuisines are served with wine and beer flow, native languages are spoken.

“It’s a city of contradiction. And I love this fact,” says Giulia Ambrogi, the co-founder and curator of St+art India, that endeavours to ‘make our streets more interactive through the medium of urban art festivals across India.’

Giulia has got huge murals painted in the city’s public spaces, and now wants to replicate this project in other cities of India. She was 29 when she moved to Delhi, four years ago. “Delhi is horrible for a tourist”, she feels, “but if you know someone here, it’s a different experience altogether.”

Desi-videshi like her are of the view that if one likes to hang out with their fellow countrymen, why come to India? They might as well stay back in their homeland. Many, and Giulia is no exception, have Indians as lifelong friends. They consider Delhi their ‘second home’. For the city has had a profound impact on them.

Before coming to India, for instance, Giulia was a control freak. She had fixed ideas about how things should be done. But then Delhi, in its own ways, taught her to deal with the element of uncertainty. She realised that not all things in life can be controlled. “This city pushes people out of their comfort zones. When I’m pushed out of my comfort zone, I feel comfortable,” she explains.

Ina Ross comes from Berlin, approaching 50, she resides with her journalist husband in South Delhi. Adorning a straw hat, sipping coffee, she clairifies, “I’m not here for four years but four and a half years,” and bursts out laughing. Every day in Delhi adds something new to her great pool of experiences. “Working for the last 30 years in the field of art, I was fairly confident that I had seen it all,” she says almost apologetically. India offered her something radically new. “At first go, I even had difficulties in understanding,” she acknowledges. Over the few years, she developed a special interest in Gond art, which is mainly found in Madhya Pradesh. Ina is also a teacher at the National School of Drama. Back in Germany, she had the special ability to look at her pupils and understand them. “I could read them like books,” she says, “but I can’t read my Indian students because they are from a different background, had been brought up differently.”

At a personal level, she’s a changed person. “I’m more empathetic now,” she says and adds, “I’m a happier person.” “Adventure and engagement,” is how she describes happiness. Her stay in Delhi has “broadened horizons” about people and things alike. She was over-particular about certain things. She gives the example of her coffee drinking habit, it had to be of a certain brand and precisely roasted to her linking. “It’s not important now,” she says. Her stay in India helped her overcome the fuss about perfection. Now she takes up assignments even at a short notice, and delivers it in the best possible way in the given time frame. “These are all first world problems,” she adds with a smile. She’s not averse to staying in Delhi after retirement, though pollution remain a nagging concern.

Julia, a writer from Finland, spends half of the year in India for many years now. She’s interested in stories that touch the lives of people. She has this incredible ability to empathise from a distance. She is in her early 30s, tall, assertive and speaks Hindi. Her stay here has been an intellectually stimulating experience. Delhi challenges her, while the familiarity and the predictability back home seem monotonous to her. In Delhi, things are changing fast, all the time, “is a place where all the action is,” she says and asserts, “I feel I’m alive here.”

An easy well-paid job back home would be uninspiring, less fulfilling, while staying in Delhi helped “me put my own life into perspective,” Julia says, wiping perspiration from her forehead. To give an example of how Delhi eventuates before her, she narrates the story of a middle-aged woman who’s a help in her South Delhi apartment, whose husband left her and their toddler to become a monk many years ago. “These give me a perspective in life. When I stay in Europe for too long, I tend to lose this touch with life,” she emphasises.

Delhi is a place that grows on you, once you learn to deal with existential irritants like hiring an auto rickshaw without losing your cool, among other things. Thomas Ellis, from Marseilles, in his early thirties, has already lived in India for almost a decade. He wears many hats: journalist, documentary filmmaker and entrepreneur par excellence. His ability to get things done is admirable. Amongst many significant things he has done in the capital city of India, ‘Delhiiloveyou’ stands out. It’s an independent socio-cultural movement of love in the city, which is a heady mixture of history, environment, art, music and social initiatives, aimed at celebrating the city through an extensive programming of collaborative projects. It was his brainchild. Recently, when Thomas opened a new office in Paris, he hired a Brahmin to perform a Hindu ritual.

Clearly, Delhi offers a unique experience. Famous Urdu poet Ghalib rightly described Delhi as ‘life’, if the whole world is the ‘body.’