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WHEN IN ‘DILLI’

Last updated on February 11, 2019

Delhi is a city that one might not instantly fall in love with. But once you get used to it, it brings out a version of you that you never knew existed

As the wheels of the airplane skidded to a halt on the landing strip at Indira Gandhi International Airport, I started to panic. I had arrived in a different city — the capital city — and I felt positively overwhelmed.

The people, the sounds, and the general hubbub that seems to be characteristic of Delhi was evident from the minute I stepped foot outside the airport. Everyone seemed to move with purpose, and it was more than mildly unnerving to be the only clueless one in the vicinity. My mother, who had come to help me settle into a new city, was equally gobsmacked by the air that the Delhiites carried. It felt like a combination of well cultivated shrewdness and a healthy dose of pragmatism. From just one look at it, I knew I wanted to achieve that air of confidence.

It took me a few days to find a place to stay (once it had received the seal of approval from my mother, of course). Three days later, when that was done, and it was time for me to start living like a self-sustaining adult, was when the troubles started. At the time I was the only young, unmarried girl living in the building — which I can only assume made me an easier target for bullying — and all sorts of problems began to crop up in my flat. And whenever I tried to complain, the building owners and workers would brush it off, saying that it must be my fault.

For two months, there used to be frequent power cuts, and I was getting water in my flat for exactly 30 minutes every day at 7 in the morning. I complained multiple times, and every time I was either yelled at or condescendingly placated with a “I will send someone to check it out,” or a much ruder, “It must be because you leave the tap running for hours,” from the old owner. Needless to say, plumbers came and went, spending not more than half a minute and immediately declaring that there was no problem at all in my flat’s plumbing.

After two months of this back and forth, I had grown tired of being told that I was making all this up and was wasting my water by letting it run for hours. So, one weekend, I decided to start a fight. I walked down to the owner and let him know that I wanted my plumbing fixed immediately. He sensed my attitude and immediately started yelling about how I must be lying — “Nobody else is having any trouble and you keep complaining about the same thing. There is no problem with the water”. He shouted so much that a whole group of men had congregated there just to watch and opine on how I must be lying about my predicament. This time, I decided to match his volume with my own. I also started yelling about how I had been paying for all the facilities, but only my flat seems to have these water and electricity issues that nobody wants to deal with.

As soon as I was done with my tirade, and I was taking a moment to catch my breath, I noticed that those men around me, who had come to gang up with the landlord, had all gone silent. Apparently, they were not expecting my outburst. I huffed a little more for dramatic effect, and I walked off. Within the next day, the problems with my plumbing were identified and fixed.

I had always wondered how Delhiites are so distinctive, no matter which city or setting they are in. A Delhiite can be recognised from a mile away, simply because of their unique disposition.

This is a trick that I too have picked up ever since I arrived in Delhi in May, 2018. I have learnt that a true-blue Delhiite has two faces in their repertoire. One that they wear for everyday use — an expression that clearly states, “Don’t mess with me!” And another that only comes to the fore when they are approached — which is their real personality that is revealed only when a conversation needs to be had or they are in a known personal circle.

On the other hand, as opposed to my first unpleasant experience with my landlord, I was also surprised to find that it was people from Delhi who tried to help me overcome my next unpleasant experience here. I was in a cab, travelling for work, when right after deboarding it I had a strange feeling that something was missing. As the cab took a U-turn in front of me, I rummaged through my bag only to realise that my phone was no longer there.

As the cab sped off, I tried to wave for him to stop, but he didn’t. I ran across the street to a parking lot, and within thirty seconds I had made at least ten calls to my phone. I wanted to give the driver the benefit of doubt, in case I had accidentally dropped my phone. But the sim had already been pulled out, and the phone switched off.

I spent the next one and a half hours in that parking lot. And with the help of three other gentlemen who came to my aid, I had filed a complaint with Uber, called and informed my parents, and the men even helped me book a cab to get home safely.

At first glance, Delhi is a tough nut to crack with all its history of culture, as well as crime. But a closer look reveals a much more nuanced melting pot of cultures. When I first came to Delhi, within the first couple of months I was pick-pocketed, given wrong directions on the street, cat-called and even bullied by some auto drivers. Now, however, I don’t face any issues walking through the city streets. The fact that I am now regarded with the look that I used to save only for Delhiites makes me feel like I might be getting a hang of this city.

Delhi is beautifully paradoxical, in that, it takes a good while for one to get used to it, but also has a place for all kinds of people. There is minimal interference in your personal life, and even outsiders are afforded a respectable amount of privacy. Delhi has a mammoth personality that just takes some getting used to.

After all, “Yeh sheher nahi, mehfil hai.” (This is not a city, it’s a gathering) as the song in the movie Dilli-6 goes.