Jab tak hai jaan..

This past week I was in India on a small vacation with my family. When in India, my home is the Delhi-Gurgaon Metro area. I try my best to shuttle between the two and savor the contrasts and the uniqueness of each of these places. In a casual conversation with a loving Aunt, I humored her with the title of my next imaginary book, “India – The land of contrasts”. But I realize that India is way too large for me to summarize or comment on. And that it perhaps deserve a real book someday. So for now I shall focus my commentary on Delhi.

The thought about contrasts has lingered with me for a while now. And here I am, back to my cozy nest in Mountain View,CA, typing in the middle of the night, trying to recollect my memories of the cluttered madness, the foggy mornings, multiple rounds of chai and the simple yet contrasting lives of the people on the streets of Delhi.

My adolescent years belong to Delhi, but my childhood was spent in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. At heart, I am still a small town girl, who is always bewildered by the contrasting happenings around her. And Delhi has never disappointed me. There is something so annoyingly charming and dynamic about this place that even after spending enough time in the US, I am forever craving for a trip to Delhi. 

I have noticed that as I am growing older, I am becoming more and more fond of Delhi. The growing population and pollution mar its image. But when you love something so dearly, you also learn to love its negatives. Of course, Delhi has also grown beyond its limits over the last few years. And thus when I speak of Delhi, I speak of Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida, all in one category. (I understand I just mixed up three states, but hey, this is my space).

Somehow, when I am in Delhi, I am always wearing my heart on my sleeves. I have my eyes and ears open for the dialects and accents, egos and pride. I am like an open mesh of wire, ready to be sparked with emotion and finicky details of my observation. Simply said, my emotional quotient is at an all time high in Delhi.

I have been to some cosmopolitan places across the world, and also lived in a few, but Delhi is the melting pot for me, like no place else. Thousands of immigrants come to Delhi every day, in search of a better life, a better source of income and Delhi absorbs them all. When I see these people around me, I am struck by a feeling of kinship. These people, like me, left their homes for a better future. I admire all of them and respect their decisions. Each of them have unique mannerisms, sense of pride, attitude towards work and attitude towards life in general. I have listed a few of my experiences with such people below.

A Bengali driver who is aggressive in his driving, but extremely polite in his conversations. He understands that he is providing a service and hence respects his customer. But he also knows that driving in Delhi is no good man’s task. And so he strikes a fine balance.

A Bihari plumber who got offended when I kept reminding him that I want reliable work, and  in the end politely told me not to question his work. He kept listening to me all this while, but at one point I crossed his threshold and he told me in plain words, not to insult him.

A jaat auto driver who refused to charge less money over a short distance and retorted back saying, he has kids to feed and he cannot accept meagre amount for a trip in traffic. I paid him a little more at the end of the trip, but he refused to take it. And when I reminded him of his kids, he shyly took the money and put it in his pocket. I humored him perhaps.

A  housemaid who is working in Delhi, while her parents are raising her daughters in Jharkand. Her love for my nieces is commendable. After I found out about what sacrifice she is making to feed her kids, I wondered that night, if I could do something like that if I had to. I am not sure till date if I would.

And finally an artist from Bihar who had come to Delhi with a group of friends to sell Madhubani paintings in Dilli Haat. I could not haggle over a few hundred rupees with a man who reminded me that he too wants a true value for his skill. Just like I know my skill has more value and may be the right value in the US, he is in Delhi, demanding a fair price for his skill. The more I argued with him, the more I fell in my own eyes.

You can call me naive or maybe even pretentious. Your call. I am only reflecting on my experiences. All these people reminded me that I am like them, in another land, in another capacity. I am to US what they are to Delhi ; aspiring immigrants. I don’t know if it is my fortune or the misfortune of the people who live in Delhi, that they become immune to these emotions around them.

When I started typing this post, I wanted to write about the contrasts of India. But I ended up writing about something completely different and in fact quite opposite. While it is worthy to write about the contrasts. It is more important to acknowledge the spirit of looking ahead that is common across all the people I mentioned above. And that includes me.

May be thats why I love Delhi so much, it lets people be who they want to be, and may be even more.

We will talk about contrasts later. For now let us celebrate our commonalities.

And now for the title…although I did not like the movie, I knew from the beginning that I will borrow this title for my next blog post. Here is to my promise that I will continue to go back to Delhi, as often as life permits. In other words.. jab tak hai jaan..!

3 thoughts on “Jab tak hai jaan..

  1. While your narrative is heartfelt I was secretly wishing it was more about contrasts in cuisine and that the 'till death do us part' motive was on the part of the chaat and mithais and kababs till they send the BP haywire – eating those wonderful treats vicariously sitting in the bay area. Perhaps agli baar?


  2. I love Delhi too and long to be back despite it's odds. So when you say, “But when you love something so dearly, you also learn to love its negatives.” is so true about Delhi!


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