You can call Delhi many things. Many unkind things too. But you can’t call it boring. And you can’t call it provincial. Today, it is perhaps the most cosmopolitan place in India.
In Delhi, you can go to the grandest Durga Puja you’ve ever seen and eat the best fried fish you’ve ever had. You can see the women dressed up in the finest saris they have, and the men wearing new shirts and smoking Navy Cuts.
In Delhi, you can see a Ramlila whichever way you like it. Excruciating acting skills to excessive make-up. Men with hairy arms dressed as Sita to elegant classical dance renditions.
In Delhi, you can eat Korean, Russian, Afghan, Iranian, Cantonese, Burmese, Tibetan and Italian. You can eat at the restaurant where Butter Chicken was invented, or one where our British overlords used to dine. You can get Malabar Parathas and Iddukki pork, Banana-ice cream pancakes and paneer samosas, Thai curry and Hyderabadi biryani, and shit made out of Yak cheese, all on the same street.
In Delhi, you can drink Pilsner while dancing to a Punjabi song. You can go to a pub which has had the same playlist for the last 10 years (Eagles, Oasis, Metallica. Sweet Child O’ Mine. You know the list.) You can go to an Indie night with a pub quiz organized by a British couple, and lose to a team with a Dutch guy on it (where one of the questions is about Kumar Sanu).
In Delhi, you can find a Bentley maneuvering around a cow, trailed by a Nano with neon lights glowing under it. You can find a couple holding hands besides a man-made lake, made by a man called Sultan Alauddin Khilji 700 years ago. You can find old men discussing politics and children playing cricket outside the tomb of a medieval king. You can find more history in a street corner than you would find in entire cities.
In Delhi, you can hear five different languages in one metro coach. You can take an auto driven by a man who fled his ‘Naxalvaadi’ village in Jharkhand. You can call a cab driven by a Sardar whose grandfather came on the train from Pakistan. You can hail a rickshaw pulled by a refugee from Bangladesh who knows the streets of Daryaganj like the back of his worn down hands.
In Delhi, you can still meet people and have them ask you where you’re from. And find them disappointed, or disbelieving, when you answer ‘Delhi’. Everyone’s here from somewhere else, on their way to somewhere else. No one belongs to Delhi. And Delhi belongs to no one.
There is a slight nip in the air tonight. In Delhi, you can feel the winter coming. The foggy nights. The sweet, burning smell. The orange glow of the streetlights.