No matter where in the world I am, Delhi is one place I always come back to primarily because this is where my parents are but also because this city holds some very special memories.
It was in Delhi that I shot my first film, a documentary; it was in the classrooms, hostels, the shops, lanes, rickshaws, food and everything comprising North Campus that I experienced college life for the first time. A significant part of my youth was spent here. Some of my best friends that I made during those years are still in Delhi. So do I belong to this city? Of course I do.
I am more of an Old Delhi person. The crowded by-lanes, the havelis, the old, reputed eateries, the chaat... everything breathes history. It even has its own lifestyle and values. If you remember, in my film Monsoon Wedding, which portrays a typical Delhi wedding ceremony, one of the characters, Dubey ji is from Purani Dilli. And he comes to do his decorator's job in an affluent house in the 'new' Delhi. Although the film is essentially about love in various forms, for me the interaction between the products of the old city and the new city—the two worlds— is very interesting.
Humayun's Tomb remains my most favourite place in the city. Apart from the breathtaking beauty of the structure, what I like about the place is the serenity and tranquility it offers. I used to visit the tomb quite often. The same goes with Hauz Khas.
Another favourite spot was the Jama Masjid. The pigeons, the sound of the azaan, and everything about its ambience attracts me.
However, it is not like my world in Delhi was all about historical monuments.
Being a DU student, I have done everything a resident of North Campus is used to doing. I feel sorry for Mrs Thangam, the very strict warden at our hostel, as we, from Room Number B-8, never missed a chance to hoodwink her. The back gate of our hostel was quite the hub because that was where all the girls would meet their boyfriends and sneak out. One of the great parts our life in the campus was the hitchhiking. We would just wave the thumb for a lift. The rule of the thumb, as we called it, was quite a popular mode of transport. As for good food, the Keema Pao at the St Stephen's canteen was something to die for. After leaving DU, I had once revisited the Stephen's canteen seven years ago. Not much has changed there.
In our days, before the malls, multiplexes and the likes came about, shopping was not really our idea of 'time-pass'. For us, movies were a big deal. Plaza and Odeon for the Hindi flicks and good-old Chanakya was there for Hollywood treats. In fact it was in Chanakya that we watched Love Story (based on Eric Segal best seller), which became quite the rage among the youth of our time.
My Delhi has changed, as everything does with time. I understand the city is growing with new town plans being put in place. But I would love it if the old can be accommodated in the new. In Delhi, the old has always co-existed beautifully along with the burgeoning new.
The city's greens, which form a vital part of Delhi's character, too, must find a place in this growth, as they always have in the past. That is where the soul of Delhi lies.
I am not a great fan of Gurgaon for the same reason. It is a booming city with just concrete and malls and chrome. Where is the soul? I would not like my Delhi to become like that.
Having lived in New York, Bombay, Calcutta, London and a host of other major cities, I have realised that all these places have their own charm. So, instead of getting into comparison, let me just put it simply: I will grow old in Delhi.