Sunday, December 27, 2015 6 comments

A TALE OF TWO CITIES



It is now over three months since I relocated to Delhi.   Yes, I will not say I did not have misgivings when I moved. But few of them had anything to do with the city. I was worried about other things- how would my husband and I  manage life without each other  until he is able to join me in Delhi. As far as the daughter was concerned, she was a bird who had flown the nest. She had to find her own horizon for flight. 

Three months later, back in Chennai now for a holiday,  I am finding it difficult to deal with friends who appear surprised every time I tell them that I have “ no problems” with Delhi…!!! I must say I am even beginning to like it now. I think Delhi has probably been vilified unjustly…!!  

People here ask me doubtfully“ You like it better than Chennai?” I do not know what makes people in Chennai think that Delhi should be inferior…. Let me put it this way, each city has  some things about it that makes one like or detest it. It is basically a lived experience. Unless you live somewhere you can never really say..!

So, now that I have lived in both these cities let me share my experiences. ….

I moved to Chennai in the early nineties. I was starting out on my career, wasn’t earning much and getting accommodation as a single woman was next to impossible!! My move to Delhi has been at a very senior level in an organization and I had all the support from them in helping me with accommodation. Besides, these days with technology, it is easier to access information about accommodation options. I was still a bit apprehensive about finding a place to live in within a week. Friends in Delhi told me that I was worrying unnecessarily.. and I realize they were right. I found a decent place quicker than I expected! The landlord had no interest in knowing whether I was married or single or in a live in relationship!!! He also did not care whether I ate meat or fish or vegetables so long as I was able to pay the rent. I cannot say the same about Chennai …!!!
 
In terms of rental value, I do not think there was much by way of difference except that landlords in Delhi want only two months rent as security deposit while those in Chennai fleece you with ten months!!! Besides, I was able to get a furnished place in an up market area which I am not sure I could have managed in Chennai.

With regard to day today life … I miss the early morning spirit of Chennai. Life in Delhi begins much later ,despite the fact that the schools start earlier in the day than in Chennai. I also miss the Chennai breakfast routine..!! Even South Indian restaurants do not open before 9.00 AM …!!  And of course I miss the filter coffee at Saravana Bhavan  that is just an auto ride away from our place in Chennai..! The very thought of having to walk to the metro station and board a train to CP for that cup takes the craving away..! But considering that I am not a coffee person like my father or husband, I can live with that..!

But  Delhi as I discovered, has its own morning routine...! I absolutely adore that park behind my house. I go there for my morning walk and I have developed now a nodding acquaintance with some of the elderly people who walk there. Our routine is almost similar- complete our walk, go up to the  Mother dairy booth to get our milk, buy vegetables from  “Safal” or the other road side vendors and get home. I am told this is pretty standard for all the neighborhoods of Delhi. Almost all of them have come up in a planned manner- you will find in almost all of them a park, a milk booth, vegetable shops, a provision store and a chemist store. I am not sure I can say the same for all neighborhoods of Chennai. Even if the shops exist the parks don’t!! I am one of the few lucky ones to live in an area that is near the Boat Club and the Nageswara Rao park. Those in Besant Nagar and Anna Nagar are also blessed because of the Theosophical society and the Tower park.

However what really upsets me about Delhi is the fact that there are no departmental stores…!! It was my most shocking discovery about the Capital! There is no store like Nilgiris or Spencers or any of those million grocery stores that we have in Chennai where one can pick up a basket or cart and buy what one needs. Even a very up market neighborhood like the one I live in   only has stores where people  have to walk up to the counter and ask“ ek kilo chini” , “do kilo atta” etc..! So, I am now back to my childhood days where I get my groceries in these newspaper wrapped parcels with strings! Most eco friendly… I know.. (Until I  have to line my dustbin)! I get a handwritten bill that I total mentally, silently blessing my father for my sharp math skills. Shopkeepers tell me that they can do a door delivery if I buy provisions over Rs 2000 ..!! But I am not sure I need to invest that kind of amount on groceries considering that I live alone for most of the month and travel a lot ..! 

The city of Delhi has in a way taken me back to my childhood  . Though most of my teenage days were in Kolkata, the Hindi language was very much part of my upbringing. I realized that was something I missed in Chennai!  Actually that was my first culture shock in Chennai in the nineties. I  found out I could not speak the standard Tamil of Tamil nadu. What I spoke was the Tam Brahm version of the language which I had been warned by my father to be careful about using with the general public as it would point to my caste and bring out  prejudices. Thankfully language in Delhi has posed no such issues.

With regard to the  people  in  these two cities  they are poles apart from the other. I dislike the Delhi motorist’s road rage and complete disregard for any pedestrian or anyone who is embarking or disembarking from another vehicle! People in Chennai are more accommodating of people who walk or use lighter vehicles. Traffic policemen in Chennai are very helpful while in Delhi they are almost nonentities. As I do not use public transport much I do not know how that experience in Delhi might be.  The auto experience has been as unpleasant as in Chennai. Though the prices quoted by the auto rickshaw drivers in Delhi might not be as atrocious as those in Chennai, that rudeness with which they treat passengers is the same.

There is a certain need to “show off” that one sees in the Delhiite while your average Chennaiite is someone who “underplays” everything. The craze for labels and brands in Delhi is so much that  people would rather be wearing a fake one than none!  They size you up and judge you by how you look and what you wear.  It used to put me off in the beginning but  now that I have accepted them for what they are , I see a human side to Delhi that the intellectually snobbish South Indian in me has begun to grudgingly appreciate. I see the kindness that Delhiites exhibit towards animals.  There are three stray dogs who sleep on the stair case in my building. They are fed alternately by the various residents. In winter I see all stray dogs in various localities bundled up in some sort of cloth to protect them against the cold. My neighbor has laid out two small mattresses on the landing for these canines so they do not have to sleep on the cold steps in winter.  I am yet to see similar kindness exhibited by a Chennaite towards stray animals. The few who do are taken to be eccentric or “cracks”!

 I have met good people and bad just as in Chennai. I came prepared to deal with rapists but what I see where men are concerned are the same issues as in Chennai.  While I may be too old for your average road side sexual offender, one has to always take precautions for safety just as in Chennai. I am told that post the “Nirbhaya” case the police in Delhi are more alert about safety of women.

Delhi is a city that I am still discovering…!! I try not to compare it with any of the other metros that I have lived in. Given its cultural diversity, every metro in India has its own unique flavor .. so it is difficult to compare.  The problem comes more out of people staying rooted to their own cities and preferring to believe in stereotypes about others.
 
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