We saw this man coming out of Barakhamba Metro station, Gate number 6, in Connaught Place. It was 9am, the rush hour. At first, we could only see his red turban. After getting off the escalator, the younger crowd got ahead of him. Tapping his walking stick with spiral detailing (mahogany?) on the cemented ground, he slowly emerged into full view.
The man’s white beard was arranged neatly; his body was frail, his posture erect, his grey eyes shielded by maroon-rimmed spectacles. The greyness of his criss-cross printed tie, worn with a double knot, was in harmony with the pale blue of his shirt’s wide point collar.
The checkered winter coat had a single breast pocket. The light-grey pleated pant ended at the tip of shiny brown oxfords. No one else was dressed like him. This man has lived many decades. Did he spend most of his years in Delhi? Was he in the city during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984? Is he a frequent traveller in the Metro?
The city is in the midst of a momentous change. New towers are coming up. Old book stores are closing, just like it had happened 50 years ago. Habitual customs are re-aligning with liberal sexual mores. Now lives are blogged, thoughts are tweeted. The men of the moment are Osama and Obama.
The challenge is to make sense of the new times and still be sane. This turbaned man was loyal to the traditional codes of life by being formally dressed, even as he rubbed shoulders with fellow commuters wearing jackets and pullovers, jeans and corduroys. He didn’t seem uncomfortable. The two buttons on his coat were casually undone. He looked relaxed. He was a gentleman.