Does one ever know what to do in Delhi? Apart from look confident. The city is smarter than you and it keeps you hopping from one foot to another. What, this ramshackle old colony wala Dilli? Yup. Looks rough, but boy, can they pull the smooth one on you. Don’t believe me? Try asking for directions. Cmon, for my sake, just once. NCR included. I bet the person you ask will look perfectly unfazed. Then look ahead – as if fortelling great futures. And then pause. Note this, this will be important later. The pause. And then say – aap na, seedhe chale jao, vahan se right mud jaana. (You drive on straight, and then turn right). Right. Of course. As you say sir. Because where you are, it is a carriageway with bollards on the side, and your only option is straight. He was right thus far – that is good enough, isn’t it. See, I told you – tricksy.
Now that pause, remember that pause. I wish I had told you to count the seconds. No matter – you will remember whether it was a second or two, or more. If it was more- be assured – the guy had no clue. He was just sending you on your way. For the macho man of the road that he is, how can he admit to not knowing anything? You will find your way anyway, in the long run. Maybe a very long run. Ultimately, everyone is going to the same place – up above. So his directions are quite okay in the larger scheme of things. And his reputation is safe – though of course, you will never meet again. But he had an answer. He held up his side. Never say that you did not get directions in Delhi – you always will.
Of course, Delhi itself is quite the charmer that way. Literally. Like a magician. What was, is – but not quite where you saw it last.. Not quite like Venice, where the same road has two names or two roads have the same name. Can’t call them roads, for they double back on themselves- till we laughingly call the city the temptress, the vixen – because we have invested our dowry to get there. No, Delhi is not quite like Venice. Except in the monsoon. When you have the flyovers with charming pools of unknown and varied depth at the base. If not for silly traffic muddying the waters, one might even have seen the yon high road reflected in it. No mind, we have multicoloured oil spills – and they have always fascinated me.
Not just monsoon time- Delhi changes ever so often. It is said that Delhi is at least seven cities built one upon the other. And parts of old cities still co-exist with the new. A building where one wanted to turn left is now but a red brick wall. A tree that stood right in the middle of the road, marking the lanes (probably the only divider that works) for trucks and smaller vehicles – gone. Actually, that entire road is gone. Replaced by one above it. Just the same size, no extra lanes have been created. But no matter, this is progress. A four lane road now is two lanes below and two lanes above. See, so much parking, shopping and stopping space now!
Of course, a true Delhi person never stops on the side of the road. What side? There is no such thing! That is also true – there are no sides to many roads.. just a not so gentle leap to shops. And when you need to reach those shops, you stop the car right there. Such convenience! Where in the world will you get world class service like that?
Arre, Delhi is a city built for its people. We adjust. We have eyes, no? When a car is reversing right into your headlights, we understand – it missed its exit and has to go back. We can see it, we will also nudge away from it. So what if we plunge into the path of another vehicle, they have eyes, don’t they. Or they should not be driving. They will also skirt us. This is how we drive – or why do you have that round thing for the driver – steering wheel. Steer then! Simple people we are. Just see us driving on the wrong side of the road – you know why? Because it is the simplest way to get to our place. As if you think we will go a full kilometre one way, and then come back same road on the other side of road. You think we are mad – who will pay for the extra petrol? Clean Delhi, Green Delhi- we take the shortest road. Smarts.