Singapore Day 1

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Delhi Is An Item Girl

Being in New Delhi is like being in the bed of a Bollywood actress; not one of those A-listers always adorned in designer pallau’s and gold who have to reflexively be given a Filmfare Award every year for something, even if they have to make up a new category: “Best Comedic Performance by Someone Playing an Aunty.” No, New Delhi is a more cruel starlet, a glorified item girl, usually found standing outside a producer’s office (bedroom) in a torn skirt, no longer even bothering with the pretence of innocence (no laundry powder or biscuit commercials for her). But I just don’t care how damaged she is, because she’s going to seduce me, strip me down completely and show me her beautiful, sexy, flawed, tragic, and brilliantly mad world.New Delhi is my item girl.

The stress of getting through Indira Gandhi International Airport, a place as dysfunctional and inefficient as the India created by its namesake, is enough to make me question the wisdom of the trip in the first place. Arriving at 3 o’clock in the morning, landing delayed an hour by fog, senses assaulted by a cacophony of the usual ‘arre main bade baap ke beta!’, ‘jaldi jaldi jao!’ by impatient jet-lagged NRIs all demanding a place at the head of a succession of lines. Neither the customs inspector nor any of his four chins are in awe of this fellow’s MNC job in Atlanta or that girls’ Armani Exchange jeans, sales tax paid in full. However other mysterious figures for whom ‘VIP’ is title like Mister or Doctor are quickly expedited through by garland carrying sycophants.

Yet in some matters, Delhi will not discriminate; Whether you are number one superstar of Hindi fillums, or a wide-thighed dancer anonymously planted behind 20 other extras in a ridiculous outfit—public utilities will be as unreliable as Koena Mitra’s plastic surgeon. I wake up wanting a shave and shower, turning the faucet open to find nothing happening. “Sir paani nahin aaya, bijili nahin aaya!” “What is it today caretakerbhai? The electricity and water mafia punishing the constituency for not electing their candidate at the polls? Or just the Soviet-era power system unable to meet demand?"

So no shower, but really, I didn’t want to wait an hour for the geyser to heat the water anyway. Why miss out on a peaceful Delhi morning, sitting comfortably in a well maintained Rose garden with the scent of freshly watered flowers and tree lined boulevards gently touching my lips. I lay back in a chair, undisturbed by the circus of never ceasing car horns from the neighboring road because I am drowning them out with duets by Lata and Kishore, while reading ‘The Times of India.’ Time for some proper Desi news. Lets see, the bowling failed again, Kaun Banega Crorepati has become Credit Ka Bukha, and farmers are going broke because Tamil Nadu ex-supremo Jayalalitha has gone on a hunger strike for Sri Lankan Tamils, causing food prices throughout India to plummet overnight.I can’t spend all day loafing about Chachaji’s house asking about this aunty and that mamu, whose plethora of nicknames I can never keep straight. I want to buy a kurtha, some cheap books, and a kati roll, and I know exactly where to go to avoid being ripped off by the same sort of uncles who open Indian stores abroad which sell blackmarket camcorder quality prints at BluRay prices. This is a skill that can only be learned with time; Travel books on Delhi tell you as much about the city as an interview in Stardust. Having an item girls poster on my wall and fantasizing about her quasi-indecent gyrations doesn’t help me get to know the real her. I’ve got to physically go out myself.

But my God, beautiful as my item girl is, she does stupid things, and it seems sometimes like she’s trying to hurt me on purpose. These bloody layabouts and eve-teasers dressed like Govinda in one of his flops, they casually piss on national monuments like Red Fort and Qutb Minar. Minister’s nine car Z+ security details are constantly running everyone else off the road so they can hurry up and get to their black money stash on the other side of town; and as if Jan Path wasn’t jammed up enough already with 100 buffaloes stampeding through, the latest clown candidate from the Bharatiya Socialist Yadav Sri Ram Mohammadein Sena Lok Dal (I-Amitabh) Party—a hashish dealer with a dozen robbery and murder charges pending, is holding an election rally which has gridlocked the roads. He shows up in a white Ambassador car and tells his musclemen to pay 20 Rupees to anyone who will come and listen. Will I ever get to where I’m going driverji? This crazy city, how does anyone cope? This mad item girl and her never ending nakras.

Yet there’s the other part of me, that desperately wants to see past her misbehavior. ‘Pal do Pal’ by Mukesh comes on the car radio, eventually the traffic clears up, and I get to a dhaba near Lajpat Nagar for some real Indian food. I don’t know whether it’s my Parsi or Punjabi genes which appreciates the tender seekh kababs and makhan daal more, though both will be feeling the Delhi belly affect in the morning. Dear God the water better be working then, or its back to the bucket and pail like the 1980s. I try to read a few lines of a Tagore book I picked up for three dollars in South Extension, but it is hard to concentrate, for in the neighboring seat there is a jeweler on his mobile handing out ‘saala’ and ‘BC’s’ words like sweets at a wedding.

Everything in Delhi is a beautiful contradiction like this. I walk upon the majestic red clay soil of Rajpath under the Indian sun, where a glorious parade of buildings devoted to Indian state power leads to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Only when I reach the gates, I cannot help but frown for I remember that a bank swindler and fraudster is living there, her numerous scams and murder cases swept under the carpet (or rather a Fereghan rug) when she obtained the title ‘Madame President.’

I need to pay my respects to relatives, but now how to get to Defense Colony with all this election bakwas going on? Relax driverji, get some paan, watch the streaming cricket broadcast on your mobile. I’m going to use the new underground Metro. Between 1950 and 1990, no less than 30 separate planning enquiries were carried out by the city for a subway system, then an additional fifteen years to build it, but it’s running. Hahaha Bombay (that’s right Bal and Raj), we did it first. This metro is a beautiful thing, a palpable sign of real progress in ‘the New India.’ Reasonably efficient, clean, and safe—no constant ‘brushing up’ or grabbing of midriffs by wasters and romeos with enough oil in their hair to power a tank. Of course if anyone dared to try, I would be obliged to charge to the rescue, but not before undoing my shirt buttons and putting on the nearest pair of leather pants. “Sharif aurat ko cher deyo kutte?” Chataash! Cue AR Rehman’s score—maybe I’ll meet my dulhan and Karan Johar will make a new movie called ‘Subway’ (actually if KoJo is directing it’ll probably be called ‘The Other Way.’)

51 weeks of the year I dream of my item girl; I dream of getting back to Delhi to get back in touch with my Indianness, only to get here on the 52nd and realize it’s a terrible place to do so, for all my non-Indian features become ever so more noticeable; My unschooled Hindi, Persian appearance, and inability to bowl a Doosra (though I’ve got ‘the nod’ down cold). Yet as I annoyingly fork over the NRI rate of 250 rupees to get into Rajghat, I realize it does not matter. Everyone else is just as much a foreigner as I am. Friends will want to take me out to a nightclub which plays Dutch trance music, broadcasts Australian rugby on the screens, serves Italian food, and offers liquor made in England. Delhi become a part of our lives by coincidence only. My Dadaji was born in Lahore, my Dadiji in Quetta—my mother’s family like all those Parsi refugees from Khorasan province in Iran washed up somewhere in Gujarat during the reign some taploo-paploo prince whose name can only be recalled by a pedantic Bengali PhD. Like many northies with a Punjabi branch in the family tree, my family just sort of wound up in Delhi, and I never bothered to ask why, because I love it so much. It’s a feeling, and Delhi matters to the people it matters to only for this feeling. New Delhi can drive me mad sometimes, but I can’t stay away.

I want to keep coming back to my item girl over and over, surrendering myself to her every night again and again. I know there are other girls with less baggage and from better families to choose from, but I don’t care to be with them in the slightest. I just want my item girl. I know people are going to gossip behind my back about how silly I’m being with her. She sleeps around, says hurtful things and acts out at times, and it seems like she doesn’t even care when she makes me sad. I cry my tears to her about all she's done and then see she doesn’t even realize when she causes me pain. 100 times I tell her "goodbye, I'm leaving forever, I can’t take this and I never want to see you again," and yet I always run back to her when she calls and says with misty eyes, "I’m sorry, I'm going to change, just please love me. Think of all we've been through together; you'll never love anyone else the way you love me." It almost bothers me to know how right she is. How could I love anyone else? And like a fool, maybe a brilliant fool, I go, ready for the next round of abuse before her kiss goodnight makes me remember what I’m doing there in the first place.