Before I go down on my now creaky-from-bearing-too-much-weight knees to declare undying love for Delhi, I need to make a confession. I wasn’t born a Dilliwali. I belong to that steadily increasing tribe of migrants to Delhi who flock to the city following one or the other instinct, only to develop a lasting relationship with the city. Neither am I going to lob the clichéd line that a lot of musicians regularly use before every performance — I perform in a lot of cities, but there’s no city like this one, and the music lovers here are special ya da da ya da… I’m not going to be a hypocrite and declare even for the sake of this article that Delhi is my favorite city in the world. In fact, like every other city anywhere in the world, Delhi is lovable in a myriad ways and simultaneously hateful for some reasons.
For a small-town person like me (I was born in Allahabad and grew up there too), Delhi’s grandeur, its stunning monuments and archaeological sites are a constant reminder of the fact that one is in a city as modern as it is ancient. Not that you don’t get the same feeling in other Indian cities. Take Varanasi for instance. You could be stuck in a river of unruly traffic that could dent a Humvee in a matter of a few seconds, but as you wade through the traffic you could also go past remains of old temples and monuments sticking out like traffic islands on the roads.
In Delhi, everything is a lot more grand than in other places. So as you scrape and bump through the traffic, you see the magnificent sweep of the walls of the Purana Qila or the Tughlaqabad Fort, grand even through the smog and noise of the Capital. Living as I do in Paharganj, I am flanked by the spanking new Metro station on one side, and Sadar Bazar and Bara Tooti on the other. The new and the old go hand in hand, not always in harmony but always reminding one of both tradition and modernity.
For someone who enjoys music and the arts, Delhi offers many delights that even my “cultured” Allahabadi roots would have to acknowledge. My hometown gave me exposure to music and the
arts and yet it is in Delhi that I was able to see and hear a lot more than would have been possible otherwise.
By virtue of its being the Capital, Delhi often hosts performances by artistes from across the world. That’s how I first watched a performance by Merce Cunningham’s dance company at the Kamani Auditorium years ago. The performance also introduced me to the world of John Cage’s music, a world that was unfamiliar for my young ears trained to appreciate the beauty of Hindustani music.
It’s here that I first heard Rukma bai at the Lok Utsav once hosted annually by the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The powerhouse Rajasthani folk singer stricken by polio arrived in a wheelchair, but as she started singing her voice soared towards the open skies full of passion, colour and indescribable beauty. Years later as I was invited to join a project that culminated in an album titled Mann Ke Manjeere, I suggested we invite Rukma bai to sing for the album.
And it was here that I met and sat at the feet of some of the greatest names in Hindustani music, often receiving their blessings in the form of a bandish taught to me during my years at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
The legendary Kumar Gandharva would visit Allahabad annually and perform there at the homes of his long-time friends and, like all music lovers in the city, I would not miss these exclusive baithaks for anything. But it was in Delhi that I first sat behind him on stage, playing the tanpura in complete awe.
It’s probably why I cannot and will not give up Delhi, even though my permanent address is now at my husband’s home in Mumbai.
So now for a huff and a puff and it’s down on those overworked load bearing knees that I declare unabashedly that I love being in Delhi.