Delhi to Bombay via Garib Rath

wappy4The guy on the opposite berth across from mine was lying on his berth but was lost in The Delhi Times. I turned towards the light which was powered on and now pricking me directly in the eyes instantly after my realizations.

He caught me looking at himself and removed the newspaper from between of us as it was blocking his view of me. He said, “You may let me know if the light troubles you”, followed by a grin.

“I will manage”, I replied with measured words. He smiled and said, “If you feel sleepy don’t hesitate to nudge me and ask for it”. I pinned him down with my glare and covered myself with the blanket.

Morning. The watch flashed 7:00 AM. A familiar smell wafted through the compartment, filling my nose and senses. I looked outside around the platform. It read: BORIVALI. Vendors were selling the amazing Indian burger or Vada-pao.

Wide awake, I was now seated comfortably on my berth and presently even the man on the opposite berth looked awake. In fact, he seemed ready to clarify last night’s misunderstandings.

“You turned quiet red last night?” was his opening line. My mouth went open in amazement and after two seconds was shut tight. Speechless! What was I to fathom of ‘turning red’? He continued, “Dekhiye Reemaji….”

SHOCKING! He called me by my name! For once I couldn’t believe a fellow passenger could know my name and without second thought I responded,

“How do you know?”

“What?”

“My NAME?”

“Arey wohh! Dekhiye Reemaji aisa hai ki hum aate jaate apni aankh aur kaan khuli rakhte hain. Bahar list mein humne apka naam aur umra malum kiya tha”. (Oh that! Reemaji, it is like this – I keep my eyes and ears open. Outside on the chart, I saw your name, and age.)

I was too baffled to speak. Cheap, I thought and had the urge to say, but I minded my language.

He went on, “This helps in building relations with our co-passengers”.

Build relations? In my journey from Delhi to Bombay? I couldn’t make out the head or tail of the conversation that this man was trying to make. Probably a Delhi retard.

“Aur Reemaji, It really doesn’t matter whether the lights are on or off if you are actually sleepy. Am being utterly honest. You couldn’t get sleep and so you blame the light which is not fair”.

I was looking at him. A very calm and composed look. But deep within I wanted to shout! This is how the Arabian Sea must feel, I suddenly conjectured picturing the quintessential image of Marine Drive in the monsoons, with the waves crashing against the rocks.

I was trying not to look at him to discontinue the talk but he managed to find some way of meeting my eye. No matter how hard I tried, this chap would not allow me retain my cool self and very soon I felt I may have to get rude with him to ward off his uselessness.

He starts telling me about his nightmarish flight due to which he had resorted to traveling by trains and how he doesn’t get sleep in train journeys ever. He hailed from Delhi but had been working in Mumbai for the past few years. Then he comes to the topic of his marriage about which he was least bothered but wanted me to listen. I hesitated but he insisted.

He was called to Delhi by his parents so that he would be able to meet and like the girl that they had chosen for him. So accordingly, on the appointed day, his parents and him set off to see the bride to be. It turned out that an unpleasant surprise was awaiting them. They were in for a shock when the girl appeared and announced that she already was married secretly with another man!

I wondered what I was doing listening to personal elegies of strangers in the train? I finally had to break my silence.

“Look Mr.”

“Call me Ripuhan”.

“Yes, I am sorry I have a headache. Could you please excuse me?”

“Of course not!”

“Sorry?”

“You should take a medicine. Wait, have this, a Disprin”. He extended the tablet towards me.

“Oh no! I don’t accept things from strangers. Thank you…”

“Stranger?? Come on Reema, just now I told you I am Ripuhan”.

We looked at each other. He held my gaze for a moment. Darkness suddenly enshrouded us as the train had moved into a tunnel.

Written by Shweta Dubey. Shweta hails from Mumbai, holds an M.Sc. in Communication Studies and works as a Content Writer. She actively participates in volunteering for underprivileged children and older members of society. When she is not exciting total strangers through her stories, she writes poetry. 

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The Elusive Gol Guppa

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I remember my first visit to Delhi very clearly. It was spent with my parents and brother in a taxi driving from one monument to another. I was nine, it was very cold, and I am from Bombay – I have had better vacations. Last week, I visited Delhi again after thirteen years. I was in the capital for a few short hours, determined to make the most of it. I wanted to have gol guppas.

I have heard a lot about gol guppas, but I haven’t yet figured out what is so great about them! I have mouth-watering, chatpata pani puri back home in Bombay too. What would be inside the puri? Would it be boiled potatoes, chana and yummy pani, as I know it? Are there some special, dilli spices involved? Would I get six in my plate? Fewer than six and it wouldn’t be worth it, I think. I think gol guppas are just hyped by my Delhi friends. Would I like it? And most importantly, would it be better than pani puri?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am over the Bombay-Delhi debate, and have been for a few years now. I have friends from both cities. I have a growing appreciation for the history and culture that the capital city exudes. I am in love with my silver earrings and my Indian dress material from Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk. At the same time, I love Bombay and cannot imagine living in any other metropolis in the country. I am so comfortable with the people, the traffic, the beaches and every new discovery in my city. I do like Bombay better, but I don’t like wasting my time in pointless debates. My interest is purely, one hundred percent, related to food. I have a penchant for spicy food. I just wanted the best gol guppa, by the best vendor, off the best street corner in Delhi.

But alas, I have an aunt who thinks time spent together is more important than satisfying my craving! I have no choice but to make another trip to Delhi.

Written by Namratha Rao. Namratha is from Bombay. She is currently pursuing her MSPH in International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a certified dog trainer and blogs about her experiences at K9 Trainer Tales. She loves animals, mystery novels and board games.

Reluctant Reflections

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“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

It was just around midnight, when I decided to step out of my room for a glass of water. Caught off guard by the total darkness that engulfed me, I paused mid-step, heart pounding wildly. I recall having deliberately left the light outside switched on. Suddenly, it wasn’t. The first and rather unwelcoming thought that jumped in to my head, was that I was no longer alone in the apartment.

It was a grimy, run-down apartment building, with only one other resident who lived a floor below me- an old college professor at Jawaharlal Nehru Univesrity (JNU) who traveled intermittently. I knew he was traveling that week, because of the big padlock hanging on the front of his door. The residential building next to mine was under construction, and save for the hectic shouts of male construction workers late into the evening, it remained completely empty.

I slept terribly that night. I was sure that someone had entered the apartment, and was lying in wait for me right outside. The ancient and withered lock on the door of my room offered me no solace – I wasn’t even sure it would hold. My only consolation was my best friend, who, miles away in Bombay in the familiar comfort of his own bed, stayed on the phone with me late into the night, attempting to allay my irrational fears. Just before the break of dawn, I switched on the television – still straining to catch any hint of footsteps outside.

It was my first week in Delhi.

Memories of my time in Delhi serve as a reluctant reminder to the glaring gaps in what had previously been a foolproof perception of myself as a seeker of adventure.

Four years in the small but charged environment of a liberal arts college, coupled with a year of interning at the United Nations in New York City, left me feeling exhilarated. My newfound access to multifarious populations, places and palates had me rapidly pocketing snippets of culture, curiosity and experience – all with the loose restraint of a kleptomaniac.

I was constantly stimulated by the newness of the people who surrounded me – by stories of their struggles and successes and by perspectives into the unique paths they had so bravely traversed. In that short, sweet period, poised perfectly on the brink of Graduation and The Real World, opportunity seemed mine to conquer.

Still, I did not do justice to Delhi.

The idea of returning to a place that I believed to be unchanged, after my own disposition had altered drastically, was not something I could stomach.

Moving back to my hometown, after hitchhiking across Mozambique, backpacking in Mexico and eight intoxicating months in South Africa, seemed too much of an anticlimax. I had grown accustomed to the perhaps mistaken idea, that in order for me to grasp at opportunities with both arms held wide open – to truly make the most of them, glean from them, and to maximize my growth and success as an individual – I had to consistently counter (and overcome) both challenge and change.

Returning to Bombay seemed too easy. It was simply not gratifying enough.

I moved to Delhi in November of 2012, drawn by the overwhelming promise of possibility. The prospect of Delhi- dynamic, diverse and relevant as the capital of India – was scintillating. Its robust civil society, sprawling Lodhi expanses, round table discussions and Jantar Mantar activism, seemed a perfect platform to begin a career in policy and advocacy.

At the outset, Delhi played the perfect host. Wading through the crowded streets of Sarojini Nagar and Janpath on weekends, I bought little, jingling trinkets of gold and silver jhumkis and brightly coloured bangles to match. I donned long kurtas, beautiful mojris, lined my eyes with kohl and felt very much like I fit right in. In the evenings, I became a regular at 4S. Sitting around a table that was far too small, in a darkened corner of the noisy, cramped bar, I participated in heated discussions about Indian politics and the meaning of life, over several rounds of beer and countless plates of honey chilli potatoes. Armed with my new set of friends who were both older and more established than I in the development sector- talented, bright and quirky Dilli-ites, strewn together with a healthy blend of expats who called Delhi home, I felt slowly reassured about my move.

One month later, in December of 2012, Delhi was shrouded in the shadow of a brutal gang-rape.

I wish I could write about my time there without any mention of ‘Nirbhaya’ or women’s’ safety, but as a young woman living alone in Delhi, the personal became the political.

“It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

The unyielding fog accompanying the onset of Delhi’s winter was everything I imagined it to be. However, the early sunsets and gloomy evenings that followed were daunting. They added to the unease I already felt at venturing out after dark, especially without the surety of a ride home. I was far too accustomed to being independent. I felt extremely discomforted at having to admit that I did not feel confident enough to travel alone by rikshaw post 11:00 p.m. Often, I would put on a brave face, heartily insisting that I could indeed make my way home- alone and at that hour. Those unforgettable rikshaw rides were fraught with anxiety, panic and fear, gnawing away at me insistently every time the rikshaw driver took a sudden turn, or made eye-contact with me in the rearview mirror. On numerous occasions, I declined to step out of my house, simply to avoid the uncertainty of getting back home at the end of the night.

In the secure light of day too, I continued to be challenged.

I had jumped at the chance of working with a big brand name. In an afflicting tradeoff, I remained but a nameless, faceless cog in a larger and more unstructured wheel. I pushed to be taken seriously, continually highlighted my willingness to learn and passionately demonstrated my ability to perform. Still, I remained largely unsuccessful. While the deluge of development-oriented events at the India International and Habitat Centers, Sufi music at the Nizamuddin Dargah, diverse documentary film screenings and the ever-winding roads of Delhi’s different markets had me captivated, my inability to contribute meaningfully at work was deeply disheartening.

A host of personal struggles influenced my eventual decision to return to Bombay. But I never quite found it in me to open my heart to Delhi completely.

I left Delhi a wounded soldier, retreating defeatedly into the shadowy darkness. This time round, victory was not mine.

My inability to make Delhi home often feels like a personal failure.

Was I not brave enough, like countless other women I knew, who managed to embrace the city as their own? Was I too sheltered? I always believed that I was vastly different from my upper-middle class counterparts, who seemed to look at the world through the opaque windows of their luxurious cars. Did I give up too easily? I struggle with the idea that I may have, in fact, been a quitter.

I know now, that the light outside my room in that old apartment building I inhabited during my time in Delhi, automatically goes off every hour. Still, I cannot shake the feeling of disappointment in myself – for being afraid of the dark in Delhi.

(This story was written by Mriganka Lulla. Mriganka is incredibly passionate about people and development, and she has lived and worked in Johannesburg, New York, Delhi, Kashmir and Assam. She currently works at Dasra, in Mumbai.)

Introducing: Bombay Delhi Stories

Welcome to Bombay Delhi Stories!

It comes as a shock to people when they hear that I am from ‘Bombay and Delhi.’ Anyone who is well versed with the eternal rivalry between India’s two largest metropolises knows that being a ‘Bombay-Delhi Girl’ is simply absurd. A paradox, if you will. As a fellow blogger aptly puts it: ‘if anything comes second to an India-Pakistan debate at a dinner table, it would be a Bombay-Delhi one.

In my social circles, I have come across many people who frequently travel between Delhi and Bombay. Some express a strong preference for one city over the other, while some Bombay-ites learn to love Delhi and vice versa. Each ones story is unique and provides a different perspective to the Bombay-Delhi debate, one that is more profound and insightful than the stereotypes that either city is quick to form about the other.

This blog is an attempt to uncover the stories of those who have experienced Bombay and Delhi from close quarters – whether it is for work, long-distance relationships, or whilst growing up. Call it a counter-narrative to your superficial Bombay-versus-Delhi argument!

 Stay tuned for exciting stories, and do write to us at bombaydelhistories@gmail.com if you have a story you want to share!