Till a decade ago, all New Delhi received were backhanded compliments - a stately but staid city; a city of grand boulevards and wide open spaces, but bereft of any chemistry. Most people believed the Capital was not quite a melting pot of cultures the way several celebrated cities of the world - such as New York, London, and, to some extent, Mumbai - were.
But that was a few years ago. Of late, celebrating New Delhi has become the norm. In fact, recently the World Cities Study Group at Loughborough University, UK, rated the Capital as an 'alpha-world city' while the National Geographic's 'Traveler' described it as 'one of the ultimate cities of a lifetime to visit and explore'. Moreover, a report by the Institute for Competitiveness and Confederation of Indian Industry listed New Delhi as the best city to live in. And according to the global HR consultancy, Mercer's Worldwide Cost of Living Survey 2009, it is the most expensive city for expats to live in, ahead of Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
This transition from a staid to a buzzing Capital began only in the late 1990s. Today, the city has a gleaming Metro rail network, glitzy malls and multiplexes as well as grand hotels and restaurants. The city boasts not only of a glorious past, but also of a fascinating present.
"In the past few years, the city has acquired a buzz and liveliness. I feel Delhi Metro has been the largest vehicle of change. Now New Delhi is truly a cosmopolitan city. It does not belong to any one group. In near future, it would the centre of the world like London once used to be," said Sam Miller, author of 'Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity'.
Adds author and diplomat Pavan K Varma, "The fact that New Delhi is a global city is unquestionable. Its current physical size of 2.2 crore alone would justify such a description, quite apart from the fact that it is the Capital of the world's largest democracy. From a Punjabi-dominated city, it has gradually acquired a cosmopolitan profile."
The first major step in undergoing an image makeover came in December 2003, when the Metro chugged its first maiden journey. Not only did this rail network make commuting easier for Delhiites - who until then were dependent on the not-so-fancy DTC buses and the notorious Bluelines - it also made them take pride in their city.
Moreover, this was the time when New Delhi's suburbs came into their own, bringing to the Capital city a corporate culture. Gurgaon and Noida emerged as hot destinations for many multinational companies. The entry of multinationals in the 2000s meant people from across the country, and the world, flocked here to work. This influx brought to the city varied cultures, making New Delhi global in every sense of the word.
Today, New Delhi is fast becoming a melting pot of people and cultures. "I came to the city eight years ago. Since then, the city has changed very fast. From a sleepy political Capital, it has become a more open-minded and vibrant city. Its infrastructure has improved. Places like Hauz Khas village boast of restaurants frequented by expats. Life is never dull here; it's a different experience every day," says Jack Leenaars, a Dutch who started, Delhi By Cycle, a company that conducts cycle tours of the city.
In fact, contemporary Delhi's charge is not just led by food, culture, shopping and street life, it also scores high in terms of urban infrastructure - which got a great boost last year, thanks to CWG. Today, it is unarguably the best city in the country in terms of infrastructure.
For instance, the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport is bigger than the airports of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore put together. In fact, the swanky Terminal 3, which opened last year, is the eighth largest terminal in the world. The airport is connected to the heart of the city by a no less swanky Airport Express Metro.
In the past decade, Bollywood too has been making a beeline for New Delhi. The city has also inspired dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that evocatively capture the texture of life in contemporary Delhi.
"Delhi gives you a sense of history like few cities do. Passing through it in a taxi is like being in a time machine - within half an hour you can see the Lodhi tomb, British bungalows, Mughal forts and sprawling post-Partition colonies and markets. Where else have you got Mughal and British cities sitting side-by-side in juxtaposition with call centres and malls?" asks Tarquin Hall, the author of 'The Case of the Missing Servant', a novel set in Delhi.
Pavan K Varma aptly captures the spirit of New Delhi as it turns 100: "What fascinates me about the city is its raw energy, its incredible resilience and 'survivability'. Perhaps there is no other city in the world which in 100 years has grown from a population of less than 1,00,000 to 2.2 crore. And yet, New Delhi has survived, and lives on, and will hopefully live for hundreds of years more."