Thursday, September 25, 2008

Travelling in India - Delhi

We have finally left Mumbai and come to Delhi. New Delhi, more precisely, and put up at the Le Meridien, on Janpath. So, I can look into the Rastrapati Bhaban out of my window, and can take a morning stroll on the Rajpath.

The contrast between Delhi and Mumbai is so prominent that one of the fellow mission members could not stop pondering, in the bus, why we went to Mumbai at all. I am sure she was doing a mental comparison with the stream of humanity outside the Lower Parel station, and tree-lined streets and roundabouts on Janpath. There were comparisons made of the roundabouts on Delhi streets and the roundabouts in Craigavon. Delhi appeared calm, well-composed, planned and beautiful, a different world from the frenzy of Mumbai.

The difference was even more pronounced in the evening. The reception was hosted in a farmhouse in Basant Kunj, instead of a city hotel. While the road to the farmhouse seemed leading to nowhere, and we covered miles of unlit road to turn into a mud-road eventually leading to the place, inside the gate, it was just unreal. I could not stop making the comparison with the garden in the movie Meet Joe Black, the one in the closing scene where Anthony Hopkins finally depart the earth with Brad Pitt. It was a social evening, and while we got only snacks in Mumbai and closed by 9:30, an elaborate dinner was served and guests were still arriving when I left the venue finally at 11:30p. As we were forewarned, the Delhi event was much more social and formal than Mumbai, most of the invitees coming with their spouses, and by late evening, the place was filled with ladies in glam dresses than suited businessmen.

Interestingly, I had a couple of Mumbaikars with me, as our partners from Mumbai decided to come to Delhi. They looked distinctly out of place, with their strictly matter of fact outlook, vegetarian dining habits and 'no alcohol' policy. In fact, one of them commented that Delhi-ites have this particular penchant for parties, and people will not leave till midnight, because they get easy money by signing papers while the Mumbaikars have to toil for it.

The other difference in Delhi, I noted, that everyone knows someone. Prime Minister features into our discussion often, so does Senior Bureaucrats and Judges. As it will be an offence not to know the names of latest Bollywood stars in Mumbai, it will be as out of place in Delhi not to know who the Cabinet Secretary is, and who is controlling the power in Foreign Ministry. It is a very different world, drunk with its own power, the nerve-centre of the republic.

I had another feeling while in Delhi. Everywhere else in India today, the government seems like an irrelevant entity. You hear the people on the street, and speakers in the conference circuit, you hear the same message : India will attain its goals despite the government. Not in Delhi - not on Rajpath - where the Government of India is present in all its colonial glory. This is one place where India does not seem independent, despite the flags and pomp. As I stroll around the streets, hear people talk, I know we are a nation governed, by Indians, who are Indian by birth and colour, but distinct and different in taste, beliefs and thoughts. I look at Nehru's creation in wonder - an Indian colonial state, with its attendant power, glory and failings. Without coming to Delhi after all these years, I would not have felt this so clearly.

I have worked hard for last few days, and feeling that I deserve a holiday today. I am planning to go to Old Delhi tomorrow, if possible, go and see Red Fort actually. I want to see and feel India, which, in my opinion, isn't in the early colonial cities like Mumbai or Calcutta, or late Colonial cities like New Delhi; but, which resides in the old Indian cities like Old Delhi and Old Hyderabad, and the new post-independence towns like Chadigarh, Bhubaneswar, Durgapur and all.

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