Romancing Delhi: The city that can never be monotonous - Hindustan Times
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Romancing Delhi: The city that can never be monotonous

Hindustan Times | BySudhir Mishra, New Delhi
Apr 25, 2020 11:50 AM IST

A lawyer shares his relationship with the Capital, from the time he read about it in Ghalib’s poetry, to the time he discovered it in his own verses, and got mesmerised by its glory, pace and energy.

Reading Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Bahadur Shah Zafar write about their beloved city, in their unforgettable Urdu couplets, I could never really understand what they meant.

A sight of Old Delhi’s popular eatery, where the author loves to relish achaari biryani. This place used to be abuzz with visitors, almost throughout the year.(Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)
A sight of Old Delhi’s popular eatery, where the author loves to relish achaari biryani. This place used to be abuzz with visitors, almost throughout the year.(Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)

Mirza Ghalib famously said:
Ik roz apni rooh se poocha... ke dilli kya hai
Toh yun jawab me keh gaye ‘Yeh duniya maano jism hai aur diili uski jaan’

And I wondered to myself, can this be really true? But, I was an optimist. And so, I believed in Ghalib. With notions of romanticism in my mind and dreams in my eyes, like several thousands of others, I arrived in the city in the year 1989. It was only a matter of time, that long college queues and rejections, dispelled my faith and belief. I grappled to understand as to how this cold and ruthless city could be the ‘jaan’ in the words of Ghalib.

But I survived, a college admission at the tenth hour was a miracle! Little did I know then that, it was a start of a long journey with the city.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but soon the city started warming up to me and me to the city. As a student of History in the University of Delhi, studying Mughal history with its magnificent monuments and relics, had its charm. It seemed like we were transported to that era. The infectious compelling energy of being positive is so unique in the air of Delhi and the consistency has been maintained for centuries.

I, slowly but steadily, started catching up on the sentiments of the renowned poets.

A Sunday would not be complete without the ritual of having nagauri halwa at Shiv Misthan Bhandar in Chandni Chowk, a walk through the old book stores in Daryaganj, lunch at Kareems, a walk to Asaf Ali Road to have gulab jamun and then walk to the Supreme Court parking to drive home exhausted, on my scooter. I started to understand that the city with its glory, pace and energy, can never be monotonous or boring. This city belongs to the gutsy, the willing, the energetic and the seekers. After studying history, like several thousands who come to this city with a dream to crack the Indian Civil Service exam, I was no exception but I could not fulfil my dream to join the civil services. Though by then, I had developed a different connect with the city. Every now and then, I would take a bus and go to Chawri Bazar and walk down to Jawahar for that achhari biryani, and so leaving the city would have been a nightmare.

Sudhir Mishra, environment lawyer.
Sudhir Mishra, environment lawyer.
“While in lockdown, many a times my mind wonders — what is the charm of Delhi; what is so unique which makes your eyes moist — the flavour of tandoor, the happy mischievous faces, vibrant markets, soulful monuments, the youthfulness and never say never attitude of the historic city.”

This is when, Delhi gave me another dream and passion of being a lawyer.

Today, with my challenging schedules, I may not be able to follow the rituals of the yesteryears, however, time has given way to newer rituals. If I have a tough day in court, a Khan Market lunch at Khan Chacha or China Fare can work like medicine; if I have a terrible day, a smoothie and chocolate mousse at Big Chill can instantly lift my spirits up; if I have made a big splash success at work, a fancy set of glasses at Drishti will be a compulsive buy; and no celebration or festival can be complete without getting my suits tailored at Sanjay’s unique middle lane shop in Khan Market.

But then, with the disruption the world has faced with Covid-19, Delhi and myself, too have suffered a disruption.

I live in Noida and had left Delhi on 21 March 2020, not knowing that it will be quite long before I will meet the city, which has indulged me unconditionally, allowed me to be outrageous and a dreamer. These 33 days have been the longest that I have been out of Delhi where my every day on normal times was a celebration of life. I now seem to understand what Bahadur Shah Zafar meant, when he lamented till his last days in Burma that how cruel it is for him not to even get few square yards in his beloved Delhi rather than to travel all the way to a foreign country and die there. Whenever I will go back to the city, I will have that glee and glow on my face as if I have returned to my favourite playground. Delhi to me is what a cricket field is to Virat Kohli or a badminton court is to Saina Nehwal.

Delhi for thousands of years in it’s various avatars, from Indraprastha to Shahjahanabad, had the characteristics of Lord Shiva, which alone drinks the poison on behalf of others. In the present situation too, which has kept me at a safe distance from Delhi, the number of Covid patients are high in Delhi, not because Delhi did not respect social distancing or lockdown, but it’s because the city took the entire load of all the international flights coming its way since February 2020.

Delhi had a compulsive grip over my daily existence. While in lockdown, many a times my mind wonders — what is the charm of Delhi; what is so unique which makes your eyes moist — the flavour of tandoor, the happy mischievous faces, vibrant markets, soulful monuments, the youthfulness and never say never attitude of the historic city.

Mir Taqi Mir so aptly said, “Koochey nahin dilli ke, auraaq-e-musawwir hain , Jo shakl nazar aayi, tasveer nazar aayi.” which translates to “These are not Dilli by lanes there are artistic canvas... every single sight I see looks like a painting.”

With the Delhi borders sealed, I had never imagined that I will not be able to visit my mother who is in Delhi. Though she is in her seventies and all alone in her home, she is still in high spirits and says that we must respect the lockdown. She was a NCC cadet and then a teacher, so I believe it comes naturally to her, to be tough and resilient.

It’s sad to think that Delhi, which brought me up and has always protected and rooted for me will become such a distant land.

I stay in Noida and as a law abiding “duty” conscious citizen, I have not stepped out of my house. Yet so, when all of us are following the “constitutional duty” of protecting ourselves and our fellow citizens, it is painful to witness other equal citizens indulging in an auspicious Karnataka wedding and even more painful to see equal citizen being ferried in buses from Rajasthan. Ones’ sense of being in duty of state is so overwhelming that you respect each decision of your Prime Minster and support him for saving a large population from the wrath of this virus, however, to several others it seems meaningless.

Nonetheless Delhi, you have my mother, my place of work, my friends, my well wishers, my mentors and my dreams. The city never gave up on me and I am not yet done romancing with Delhi, which has become my extended soul.

Dilli you can’t be so “be dil” not to call me back soon and to continue being in romance with me.
Can you?

The views expressed are personal. The writer, Sudhir Mishra, is an environment lawyer.

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