"Yaadon kee narm dhoop aur aangan mein leit kar” — these lyrics by Gulzar echo in my mind every time I think of the city where I was born, educated and where I work. Delhi is the city of winter morning dreams, rainy day delights and beautiful spring experiences.
When I was born in 1970, my family lived in the Choori Walan area of Bazaar Sita Ram, which many describe as Old Delhi. This area was developed around the same time as Chandni Chowk, and is home to the real halwais who prepare the best chaat, bedwi-aloo, gaajar ka halwa and kulfi in this city, and which has so often been wrongly credited to Chandni Chowk.
As a child who grew up in a haveli, inside the narrow and winding lanes, I missed the gardens and open spaces that my cousins in New Delhi enjoyed. What I didn’t realise was that I was enjoying joys that my cousins would give their right arm for — like the rickshaw rides from Chitli Qabar to Golcha Cinema along the colourful Urdu Bazaar. On the way, you could stop and pick up small bargains and mouth-watering delicacies like mewa-gazak in winters or kesar-baadaam-sherbet in the summers. Or the sheer joy of having a bicycle race with a friend from Hauz Qazi
to Jama Masjid.
My alma mater, Happy School, was near Darya Ganj. One of the most popular institutions of its time, it produced brilliant results and some illustrious students.
A much-sought after school by denizens of the old city, this place taught me a lot, not just in academics but also in human values.
I graduated from Delhi University and went to join the advertising industry. That’s when I realised that the culture of Delhi is not restricted to the serpentine lanes and
bylanes of my childhood, but also in the newer colonies. It opened my eyes to the culture beyond normal tehzeeb; a culture where the sequinned salwaar-kameez was replaced by sexy skirts; a culture that included expletives that many Delhiites use as part of their everyday language, peppering their already colourful vocabulary. The chholey-bhatoore gave way to butter chicken, and the bhai-saheb gave way to Big-Bro. However, my love for Delhi continued to grow.
Whether it is cricket teams playing at the Ramlila Maidan or a family outing at the trade fair at Pragati Maidan, the crowds that would normally scare you, merge and mingle with each other as easily as water colours on a canvas.
The Sunday picnics at Qutub Minar or anyday dinners at the India Gate lawns, or just lazing around in the winter sun at Central Park in Connaught Place — which other city has so much to offer? Joys that don’t cost a penny, and yet give you so much pleasure.
Today, like many professionals, who live in an NCR town and work in South Delhi, I miss Delhi. I miss the fun of growing up and exploring this lovely city as a child.
I am afraid that my children will grow up not knowing what Delhi is really like. The simple life has given way to the business of eking out a living. Today, as a Delhiite, my heart cries out, “Dil dhoondta hain phir wahi fursat ke raat din…”