I’m reading a book called ‘Delirious Delhi’, the account of an American couple’s stay in the city. You may have come across them at ‘Our Delhi Struggle’, their excellent blog which made the book inevitable. If you have, you would know that the author writes extremely well, with a knack for observing the many absurdities of the city and its dwellers with a sharpness that perhaps only a stranger can possess. The same great writing continues in the book, which makes it a pleasure to read.
“Very well, but you don’t write blog posts to praise things. There must be something annoying you, right? Come on, out with it.”
That’s what you’re thinking, right? As usual, you have got it right, keen reader.
The book tries to balance its views on Delhi, and leans steadily towards the positive, countering the couple’s daily annoyances with their genuine fascination for its countless charms. It often succeeds in romanticizing the mundane (for the natives) aspects of Delhi and portraying the city as the incredible capital of an incredible country. All I can see, however, on page after page, is a long list of things that make me hate living in this awful garbage dump, covered with an impossibly ugly, pink-tiled structure, in turn covered with neon-lit billboards of fashion magazines.
The author’s wife is a vague acquaintance; she was an ex-colleague at my first job. Although I don’t know them well, I do believe they are impossibly nice people. Especially when contrasted with the city’s residents. I think it is their politeness, their general good nature, that prevents them from calling this city’s bullshit.
Writing about Delhi’s pee-problem, for instance, the author is clearly not happy to see the city drowning in piss, but apologizes for it with the common excuse of ‘it’s a problem of infrastructure, not culture’. I can’t say the infrastructure isn’t pathetic. But that is not the problem. (Women seem to cope perfectly well with the available infrastructure.) It is not that hard to control the urge for a few hours, or to time the outflows according to your journeys. But the irrepressible call of nature is not what makes men urinate freely on every street, barely making an effort to shield their dignity, or spare yours. It’s because they don’t give a shit. That’s all there is to it. If there’s one common behavior that unites the city, it is the absolute disregard for everyone else.
As the author notes, Delhi is not really a city, but a haphazard collection of insulated neighborhoods. It is, of course, true. Each one has its own huge, black metal gates perennially warning outsiders to fuck off, screaming the laughably counter-productive threat of tire-deflation. Each is self-contained and facing inwards (to its own Mother Dairy stall, Hanuman mandir and theka), protected by permanently jammed roads that form impassable moats around it.
This is what puts the city in the rare situation where it is not aware of being a city, where Hauz Khas doesn’t give the slightest shit about what goes on in Welcome Colony. In fact, it doesn’t even know where Welcome Colony is, and couldn’t care less if it did. Even the administrative structure of the city reflects this. Instead of centralizing authority and making an effort to unify the city, the MCD is now being divided into four separate corporations to independently dig up each corner of the city, and fight over whose job it is to fill up the ditches.
But it’s not just the colonies. The same idea extends deeper to every single house forming those neighborhoods. All Greater Kailash is, is a crowd of mismatched houses surrounded by spiked fences and dozing guards. Each house trying to intimidate the other with bigger gates and fancier cars, each threatening the other with its own deflationary threats, each ready to kill for that extra parking spot. This is not a city. It’s a zoo. It’s Jurassic fucking Park. It’s a mob, a murderous Genghisian horde which came to loot but decided to settle down, and now goes around looking for a fight.
I can see how a couple from New York might be fascinated by a brief stay in this madhouse, even fall in love with some of its quirks and wonders and truly believe it to be a great city full of friendly people. But to me, it just reminds me how much I want to jump the walls topped with shards of glass and run, before I turn into a raving middle-aged man and grow a paunch with the ability to open doors for me. Or get stabbed for stopping at a red light.
Yes, Christopher Hitchens has finally departed. I don’t think I can add anything to what’s already been said about him (as I once tried, unsuccessfully). Except that I’m happy his books, including Arguably, are stocked in stores here. Although to reach them, you have to climb over a fucking mountain of white (what else), hardbound copies of a biography of some guy who invented a music player or something.
May the inimitable Hitch never rest in peace.