Is Phebe Bay, a 20-year-old girl from Singapore, unusually adventurous? This management intern in Gurgaon does what most girls of this city rarely dare to do: walking in Old Delhi bylanes, alone. I met her one day in Turkman Gate.
Just four months in the Capital and Bay has seen more of Shahjahanabad —another name for the Walled City — than most south Delhi girls I know. Eating shami kebabs in Matia Mahal bazaar, strolling aimlessly in Turkman Gate alleys… she has done it all. On her own.
Bay speaks only three Hindustani words — kitna, Namaste and shukriya. Is it wise to be alone in the Walled City when you don’t even get the language? Is it okay to stroll there in jeans and a T-shirt, not the most popular apparel for women in that part of the city? “To experience the culture of great cities, you have to venture into their ancient parts,” the Singaporean girl says while shaking hands with a child. But isn’t Delhi unsafe for unescorted girls? “Be careful,” Bay says. “Don’t stay out late. Make sure no one’s following you."
Any nasty experience? “Sometimes, men bump into me,” Bay says. “I’m not sure if it’s intentional but I get angry.” And what does she think of south Delhi? “Too proper,” says Bay. “See Old Delhi... it’s a completely different world. The smell, the sights…look, a donkey! The stuff that you find in shops here is different. People, too, are friendlier.”
But being from Singapore, where spitting gum on the road is crime, doesn’t she get horrified by Old Delhi’s insanitary conditions? “You need to be quite agile while walking down the alleys, carefully hopping over the cow dung cakes,” Bay confesses. Pointing at a crumbling haveli, she exclaims, “Look at that wall… so old, so pretty… you don’t see that in Singapore.”
What about Gurgaon? Aren’t the malls of that Delhi suburb truly world-class? “You Delhiites are really proud of Gurgaon’s tall buildings,” Bay says. “But it has the same malls, the same buildings, the same kind of people...” Is there anything about Old Delhi that bugs her? “Loos,” Bay says. “Searching for clean, usable toilets is so difficult here. If it’s an emergency, I’ve to walk to the Café Coffee Day in Chandni Chowk, or take a Metro to Connaught Place.”
So how does she commute otherwise? “From Gurgaon, I take a bus or a shared cab to Delhi, and from there, it’s usually the Metro,” she says. Evening is setting in. It’s time for Bay to return. Her parting words? “Bye bye, Namaste.”