There are very few people who, if they are honest, do not have a love-hate relationship with Delhi. It is a city of such contrasts and always has been. Mughal Gardens at the edge of the desert defying the summer loo. Sadar Bazaar (old city wholesale market) and Gurgaon (Bay area recreated in highrise). Beautiful cars and rubbish drivers. Crass language and classical music festivals. Blended whisky and refined sherbets..the list is endless. You think you have the city figured out, and it sends you spinning again.
How does one deal with a city like Delhi?
With a trace of stoicism, a dash of defiance and a sense of entitlement.
There is always the unexpected to be dealt with here. In addition to the uncertainities. Jobs may or may not get done, shops may or may not have what you want, traffic may be easy or horrible. The people may be helpful, or they may murder you. You can never be sure. What suffers in all of this is a sense of trust. Which is a bigger loss than any, if only we realised it. I am learning to be loud, mistrustful, patronising and aggressive. Maybe I will survive.
My first week in Delhi was this and more. Landed at 6 on a Friday morning, to host a breakfast for relatives. Luckily we have a running household and the flunk did it all. I just had to be hospitable. They are lovely people and it was a pleasure to meet them. Straight from there, it was time to get on the road and go to my kid’s school. He had admission (to a school I love), but we had heard nothing from them and it was supposed to open just after the weekend. Schools in Delhi are the ultimate fortresses, and the volumes they deal with makes for a very slow process. Four hours later, admission complete, one set of uniforms in hand and a bunch of school books in a pink bag acquired, we headed home for a flunk prepared lunch.
That is the pace Delhi sets for you. You are with other people all the time. Things that could be streamlined take ages, for power structures must take precedence over efficiency. There is no point to efficiency anyway, no true Delhi-ite would ever be able to reach an appointment on time. And then, when you think that you will have to trek dirty markets, past hours of traffic jams, they put everything in a single packet in the school shop! It does teach you not to get too worried about time. Things will happen, just not the way you thought it would, certainly not the way you were told it would happen.
Then of course, there are the opinions. Everybody here is terribly helpful. They would run your lives for you, but for now, you will have to do with streetside consulting. Everybody advises everybody, and you have to admit that while it is irritating, it can be very useful. It takes a while to develop the right filters, but once one does, experiential data is available for the asking.
Family weekend later, in the first week here I have packed in hosting a dinner party for interesting new friends, an open air concert with excellent performances, a book launch with interesting and eminent panellists, lunch with friends, coffee with new acquaintances, slum market shopping and a birthday party for my mother. Oh, that does not include starting school for the child with support services thrown in and nursing a husband back to health after overdoing adventure sports in the sun – with the water supply cut off!
Welcome to rock-n-roll!