Khushwant Singh on why he loves (and loathes) Delhi
[Book extract] It is nice to live among a people who have a sense of belonging and pride in their city.
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There are seven reasons why I love Delhi. There are many more reasons why I loathe having to live in it.
By strange coincidence there are seven old cities of Delhi. I love all the seven — or whatever remains of them. More than the seven, I love the eighth, New Delhi, in which I have spent most of the years of my life and where I expect to be buried when I die.
Let me elucidate. A city without a history has no character. The older it is, the more loveable it becomes. You can have your Canberras and your Calcuttas (a mere 300 years old) but give me Athens, Cairo, Baghdad, Rome, London or Paris — cities that have antiquity and unique personalities of their own.
Delhi is one of the oldest of the old cities of the world. It is nice to live among a people who have a sense of belonging and pride in their city. A city with a peripatetic citizenry who live in it without being emotionally involved with it are not worth knowing.
Delhi wallahs have pride of belonging in ample measure. That is the second reason for my loving it.
Delhi is the greenest capital city in the world. It has more trees to the square kilometre than any other. There is not a time of year when some tree or the other is not in full flower: silk cotton, flame of the forest, coral, siris, jacaranda, gulmohar, laburnum, lagerstroemia.
On India, by Khushwant Singh, Edited by Mala Dayal; Rupa; Rs 195.
Delhi is an ornithologist’s paradise. Delhi is a very pleasant place to live in. If you are an old resident, it can also be the cheapest as far as housing is concerned. Delhi caters to the millionaire as well as the hippie on a shoestring budget. That is my fourth reason for liking it.
Another plus point in favour of Delhi is its food. There are few cities in which you can eat as well and for as little. Of course, if you want to pay through the nose for your food, Delhi provides for that too in many of its fancy five-star hotels with their French, Italian, Chinese and Polynesian restaurants.
The great thing about living in Delhi is that if you know the ropes you can get at least one good meal with good wine free of charge every day. We have over 120 embassies, high commissions, legations and consulates. Every one of them celebrates their national days and throws parties to welcome a new ambassador or bid farewell to him when his tenure is over.
The final reason for loving Delhi is that it grows on you. The longer you live in it the more difficult it is to get away from it. There are innumerable people who would rather continue living in Delhi than go elsewhere on promotion and better prospects.
If there are seven reasons for loving Delhi, there are more than seventy for hating it. They can be summed up in three words — nothing really works.
In the heat of summer taps run dry, air conditioners die on you, lights go off without warning, telephones go dead. It is a heavily polluted city. During winter mornings smog spreads over the city, flights are delayed or cancelled. Traffic is chaotic.
Buses and trucks belch smoke, three-wheelers rattle like machine guns. And every driver honks his horn for the sheer joy of honking.
We are a noise-happy people. But you soon get used to the noise and the dirt and the frequent breakdowns in essential services. That’s the magic of Delhi.
(Reprinted with publisher's permission and courtesy of Mail Today.)