Work exposed me to a new world. A world of posh offices and stylish people, where women smoked and discussed sex, where casual relationships were normal and pubbing routine. The first instinct was to label the people and judge their character, but after having spent eight hours with them everyday, I realised that one’s habits don’t essentially define his/her character. In no time, I became a part of the crowd too — although, with riders.
The fondness that I had developed for the city, transformed into a full fledged love affair when I met my husband. The charming Bengali took over from where the endearing Tamilan had left. With him, on his bike, I explored the city some more: the posh South Delhi districts, the congested streets of Old Delhi, the famous paratha walas at the airport, the elite hotels; he showed me every nook and corner — from the good to the bad, even the ugly. The fiery summer, by now, had turned into a crisp winter and I had fallen in love not only with the city but also with the man.
The discovery of the city ran parallel to the discovery of a woman: from a hesitant, self-conscious small-town girl, I gradually evolved into a confident young woman. My work, and the exposure it gave me, filled the void that my complexes had created. I was no longer lonely and jobless. I made some great friends, I did well at work — something I never thought I could manage, most importantly, I found love.
Growing up in the not so big cities, I had heard many stories about Dilliwalas — a term used rather negatively for the residents of the city: they were rude, selfish, ostentatious, loud; they had no social values, and cared only for themselves, the list was long. Experiencing the city first hand and thriving on the kindness and love of its people however, got me to realise that the prejudices were only that — prejudices. There surely were sections of the society that fit the description but then doesn’t every city have a few such people? As if only to prove the point further, the two women who went on to become my closest friends — and continue to be so — were pure Dilliwalas.
I became one soon after. In a matter of two years, I was married to the man and also the city. There were parts of it I loved, there were parts that I did not and there were some, I just ignored. In the next few years, the relationship got stronger and the comfort grew deeper. The city had by now given me everything I had ever dreamt of and more.
Too much comfort and exposure however, not only brings boredom, but you also start to take the relationship for granted. It is as true for a relationship with a place as it is for a relationship with a person. After having spent seven most beautiful — and most productive — years of my life in Delhi, I longed for a change. The city — and my life, had become predictable and repetitive. It was, perhaps, the beginning of the seven-year-itch. That is when Bangalore happened.
If Delhi was a happy marriage, Bangalore was a passionate affair. Like any new relationship, it brought excitement and adventure; every day was a new discovery. In a complete contrast to the stressful life of Delhi, Bangalore’s laid back attitude rejuvenated my exhausted soul and soothed my frayed nerves. It had also showed me a new world — the beautiful south of India — a world where traditions were sacred, where relationships were treasured, where what you wore did not make a difference, most importantly, it taught me never to address a Kannadiga as a Madrasi. It was a beautiful liaison — Bangalore and I. It gave me the confidence to quit a job that was sucking everything out of me, it also gave me the strength to work on my own, and, it gave me a beautiful daughter. But how long can a relationship last on passion and excitement? Sooner or later, when the passion fades, one longs for the comfort of home. And home was far away, in Delhi.
I remember being sceptical while moving back: would we be able to settle in? Will my daughters be safe? Will they find the place — and people — too loud? The anxiety that my friends and neighbours had developed added to the apprehension, “Isn’t Delhi unsafe?” “Aren’t people there very rude?” “They are big show-offs, no?” “How will you adjust to the heat and the cold?” Their concern had added to my concern and I had forgotten that one does not need time or effort to settle at home, good or bad, home is home, Delhi welcomed me back with open arms.
Two years after my return and thirteen years after I made this city home, my husband, while driving through a congested migrant colony, asks me to write a story on them — the migrants of the city. I did not have to look far for the subjec