I’ve been on a roll as far as travel in 2012 is concerned. What began with Puducherry finally ended with a quick yet significant trip to New Delhi. There was Bombay, Chennai, Trivandrum, Ranchi, Madurai and Jamshedpur in between. To be fair, the year hasn’t ended and I might end up traveling yet again during Christmas. But, sadly, I don’t see that happening given my extremely tight situation. Financially, of course.
But, in a way, I’m glad that Delhi happened.
I have always believed that you know you’ve turned a pro when you start giving directions to other people in the city. I realized that within my first month in Delhi (I was in the capital for three years during my graduating years), by which I had, more or less, figured the workings of the Delhi Metro. Not entirely, of course, but still manageable. So, when a random person used to ask how to get to Kashmiri Gate, I proudly flaunted my [limited] knowledge of the metro routes.
Interestingly, while travelling in the metro this time, I was again asked a similar question by a random stranger. He seemed lost and wasn’t sure if he was on the right platform. When I gave him the directions, he thanked me embarrassingly and confessed that he was from Bombay and hence new to the “Delhi way of life”. Without a second thought, I smiled and agreed, introducing myself from Bombay, too. It was a reflex. Or may be it was just the excitement of having found someone from Bombay in Delhi–someone who’s lived in both cities and has a vague idea of how they function.
I was in Delhi for about 5 days this time, which helped me explore more than I had bargained for. I met a bunch of my friends and a couple of my relatives, all of whom had the same question for me: “So, how is Bombay different from Delhi?” To be fair, I’m neither a Delhiite nor a Mumbaikar. Or rather, I found it fashionable to call myself the former while I was in Delhi and the latter is my new identity now. It’s a statement I resign myself to as I find it easier in comparison to my nomadic existence.
But, it’s amusing how the two are almost always pitted against each other. While Delhi revels in its historical supremacy, Bombay flaunts its Arabian Sea. While the former boats of exceptional education, the latter believes in turning people street-smart. While one thrives on the metro, the other lives in the suburban trains. It’s easy to make these linear, simplistic comparisons. But, isn’t it too reductionist? Isn’t Delhi more than just the metro, the capital and the University? Isn’t Bombay more than just Marine Drive, local trains and Vada Pav? A city is what you make it out to be, how you register it in your memory, what kind of images it conjures in your mind when you think of it. For me, a city is about its food, its people, its weather, its character, its roads, its lanes and lastly, its attitude.
I remember being completely enchanted by the way Metro functioned in Delhi. The long trains, the enormous population boarding it, the clean, well-maintained stations. I feared being gobbled up in the crowd at Rajiv Chowk, one of the busiest stations in the Delhi metro network. I face the same fear in Ghatkopar today. Of too much crowd. Too many people. The struggle to find space in the train. The fight to somehow reach my destination without being molested, without being dishevelled, without being hurt by being stamped on my foot. Perhaps the cities are similar in that sense. But what did make a difference, especially this time, was the death of a political leader in Bombay that jeopardized everything in the city.
I landed in Bombay from Delhi on Sunday morning only to find absolutely no public transport running in the city except the local. Normally, I wouldn’t have minded a local train travel, but I was travelling with a heavy suitcase and a bag and had hoped to get a taxi back home. Of course, that couldn’t be so as the city was “honouring” the recent demise of a political bigwig. I dragged my luggage at 5.30 in the morning from Dadar to Kurla and finally to Chembur. As there was no rickshaws running either, I dragged my luggage further down the road from the station to my home, which is otherwise walkable sans any luggage. By the time I reached home, I was drenched in sweat on a relatively cold morning, thirsty, tired and extremely exhausted of the intense labour I had just performed.
I later figured that none of the shops were to open for the day. They were instructed to stay shut lest they be attacked by rival parties. I nibbled at my train journey leftover food for lunch and munched on an apple I had bought from Delhi to satisfy my very annoyed stomach. I was more worried at the tantrums it might throw in the evening as I had absolutely nothing left in the room for dinner. My flatmate and I, obeying the demands of our hungry desires, set out in the evening to spot at least one tiny shack that sold some eatables. And may be water, if we’re lucky.
Walking on the deserted streets, I could smell fear. Fear that had been unfairly imposed. Fear that was not protested. Fear that just could not be rebelled against. I had never seen anything like this in an otherwise very vibrant and voracious city. It was hard to believe that the death of a man had led to the death of the most mundane activities that suddenly seemed important like never before. I saw policemen helping out people to find their way to the nearest medical shops. I saw apology in their eyes. Like they felt sorry they couldn’t do anything about the fact that city had been forced to come to a standstill.
We did finally manage to spot a shop that sold enough essentials for our survival for the night. On our way, we did stop by at a medical shop-the only one open in a 1.5 km radius. I overheard a little girl complaining to her father that she wanted chocolates. The medical shop, of course, did not sell them. It was strange enough that the chemist was also selling drinking water and bread that night. It was heart-breaking to hear the father explain his reason for not being able to buy her chocolates. “When people die, you should bury yourself in sorrow; you shouldn’t make merry and have chocolates. Do you understand?” I couldn’t. Do you? RIP.