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Delhi on my mind

Dear Delhi, 
Congratulations on turning 100 years old today. What a milestone! The birth of New Delhi was announced on December 11, 1911 and you became the new capital of the British Raj. But everybody knows that your history predates the Raj, predates the Mughals and so many dynasties before them. Built and rebuilt seven times over, plundered and lovingly recreated from 300 BCE, you, dear Delhi, has survived to tell many a tale. 

Like millions of others here, I am a migrant too. Of the 22 million population, how many can claim to be real Dilliwalas? The ones who were living here when Qutub-ud-din Aibak established the Delhi Sultanate? Or maybe those who were living here when Shah Jahan felt that too many migrants were getting into Delhi, so he built an extension and called it Shahjehanabad. 


Ageing gracefully: Delhi marked its 100 years as the modern capital of 
India yesterday 

For 100s of years, people from all over the region came to this city, made it their home and even became the ruling class. "Kaun jaye Galib, yeh Dilli ki galiyan chorr ke." I was a Bombay girl in Delhi and never left. I spoke Hindi differently, I couldn't speak Punjabi, and I owned no woollens. But Delhi gave me time to adapt. Renting an apartment wasn't difficult, as my family fit the bill. Madrasis are preferred tenants in this city. Mostly vegetarian, they are not noisy, pay their rent on time, do not party, rarely keep pets, no tobacco and for two months of the year they visit their native place. The only negative is that they burst crackers at dawn on Diwali unlike rest of Delhi, which celebrates in the evening.

I learnt to chomp on peanuts in winter evenings, while watching grand dames knit complex patterns on multi-coloured sweaters for grand children. Delhites take great pride in hand knitted woollens handed down generations. It is important to know the difference between Pashmina, Ruffle and Jamewar shawls and how to place a woman's status accordingly. Delhi has seasons and it is important to dress according to season. Eating seasonal veggies is also a very Delhi thing. But scotch all year around is what Delhi men drink. Delhi hosts the Republic Day parade at Raj Path and Independence Day speech by the Prime Minister from Red Fort. You are not a Delhite if you haven't been to either of these. We have all seen or met at least one Prime Minister, even if it is from afar. Attending political rallies or demonstrations is part of a Delhites DNA. 

Delhi is also where the country's anger is poured out. Mandal riots, Masjid riots, Sikh riots, Partition agony; there are many scars that Delhi has borne.  From Boat Club to Jantar Mantar and now Ram Lila Maidan, dissent is expressed on a daily basis in this city. It is a wonder that work gets done. There is a pace of work that is uniquely Delhi in nature, which is not as manic-fast as in Bombay nor as lazily slow as in Calcutta. Ho jayega is what you say even if you aren't sure if you can deliver and if everything fails then a karmic ki farak painda hai which is Punjabi for -- how the hell does it matter anyway. 

Punjabi is the lingua franca. It used to be Urdu or Hindustani but now it is Punjabi. Road rage or bargaining is best done in Punjabi. Meekness doesn't pay. Ask Anna Hazare, who seems more like a Delhite now than a Ralegaani. How long before he heads to Bengali Market to eat namkeen-shamkeen? Choley bhaturey (not the singular bhatoora), fiery papdi chaat (not dahi batata poori -- what a mouthful), gol gappey (not puchka or paani poori -- how literal is that), butter chicken (this is Delhi's export item) and 101 avatars of paneer. 

You are allowed to celebrate your ethnic festivals. Chhaat pooja at India Gate, Durga Pooja at Chittaranjan Park or Teej at Dilli Haat with your local MP who will join you for the perfect TV shot. Yes, almost all major news channels and newspapers are based here. The Delhi Press Club has cheap alcohol and latest political gossip. Or rub shoulders with politicians at the snotty gora-log clubs. Use jugad or setting to get membership or an invite. 
Delhi frustrates you and yet it grows on you. If you let it. I will never leave. 

Yours truly,Some time migrant 

Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter@smitaprakash

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