Lots of things to write about Delhi, but don't know where to begin. Wonderful friends met online become flesh and blood realities, Vijay, Rekha, Sairee, all disembodied names in the networked world become living persons, with personalities of their own.
When I called Vijay he said he was in Connaught Place and can wait for me to have lunch. I am something of a Metro expert now as a boy comes and asks me for directions. I board the metro but lose my sense of direction and go in the opposite one. Chavri Bazar? What's wrong? It should have been Rajiv Chowk. Slightly disoriented I get down and walk to the opposite side and board the next metro to new Delhi and Rajiv Chowk. Metro expert, indeed!
Vijay Nair, carries his lawyerly success with ease. He is dressed in a natty black suit and carries two mobile phones, one of which is a Blackberry. He shows me some of his poems on the blackberry. Yes, a lot of poetry is happening on blackberries these days.
We have Darjeeling tea, which reminds me of Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss" which I am reading now. There are a few Brits around, obviously attracted by the name "Oxford Book Stores." Vijay, a corporate lawyer, tells me that the prices of property has increased many times over. It's not only the backoffices that are shifting to India but the front offices too, he says. He should know, he deals in corporate law.
Vijay is unassuming, humble about his beginnings, and we have a common background in that we have been educated in English-medium schools run by Malayalees which have Malayalam as a subject. That's why we both can appreciate the Malayalam poetry of Sachidanandan, whom Vijay translates for the literary network Caferati. He tell me that Sachi lives in Delhi, which is news to me.
Vijay drops me to Greater Kailash II where I have an appointment with a publisher for my book on Kerala. I wait in a Barista coffee shop nearby as I am early for the appointment. I overhear the conversation, as is a habit with me. A man says he wakes up at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as he spends the whole night chatting. I wonder how much the internet has changed people's lives as I am here myself because I booked rail tickets on irctc.com, booked hotel accomodation, and even fixed up appoinments by email.
A group of girls sitting nearby turn out to be young moms discussing their first-born children. Their skins are soft and blemishless (what creams do they use?), and their excited chatter is about things like, "They are little budding flowers," obviously referring to their children. I am shocked, they don't look like moms.
Appointment over, I call Rekha. She is in Saket and says she can come to her Greater Kailash I office to meet me. Anita, Asmita and Sairee also work from that office, so I think I can meet the three of them. I while away some more time, as Rekha would be in the office only by 6 p.m.
Finally I catch a rickshaw after bargaining the fare and is left at Greater Kailash I M block market. Here I am at a loss as I am directed here and there for the address. I cross several lanes, all lined by neat bungalows of Kholis, Khannas, Gargs, etc. Some have watchmen guarding the door who seem helpful but are confusing.
Rekha, statuesque beauty that she is (we have been chatting and emailing for a long time now), is an interior designer and makes exquisite home furniture. Sairee is busy on her computer. Anita has left for the day and Asmita is in a client meeting. Rekha and I discuss family, Kerala, writing.
I ask her why she is not on the networks, and she says she writes for websites on interiors but do not get paid for it. I tell her to at least ask. She has been to Lebanon, Greece, Turkey and Italy and a website wants her to write about her "budget" travels in these countries. Of course, she doesn't expect to be paid for this. But I say "you must insist that they pay even a small honorarium which most publishers do." The joy of receiving a cheque in the mail for something you have written is unbelievable, I tell her.
Rekha gives me some tasty apple tea she has brought from Turkey. It is such a wonderful blend of tea and apple that I exclaim in delight after the first sip. Then I talk to Sairee who is still busy on the computer and tell her what a wonderful network NCR Delhi (which she manages) is. She says its the members who make it so and she wanted a network where members' questions are answered.
Meetings over, I walk in the chilling cold and am directed by a kind man who tells me it is safer to take a rickshaw and not a bus, as the bus stop can only be accessed through a jungle, "Kya jaane kaise log milenge wahan par."
A rickshaw driver takes me to Rail Yatri Niwas for Rs 60. The roads are bordered by trees on both sides and I can't see where I am going, as there are no landmarks. It's a bit like Jeddah, I mean, the well-laid roads and the absence of clearly visible landmarks as in Bombay.
Delhi is an affluent city with spare income and spare time, I reason, compared to Bombay. People spend less time commuting and waiting. I pay Rs 5000 for a first-class pass and commuting to work for which I can easily have a car and fill it with petrol and meet a lot of friends and participate in social activities in Delhi. Not so in Bombay. Even after spending that royal sum of money I am hard up for time, waiting for trains and buses and rickshaws, and generally fretting all the time.
Bombay is a planner's nightmare while Delhi's circular structure is a planner's dream. The posh Greater Kailash I visited is well spaced out and there is none of the clutter one sees in Bombay. New Bombay comes close to Delhi but New Bombay also suffers in infrastructure, activities and entertainment.
Young moms who discuss their wards over coffee, a man who chats the full night on the internet, a karaoke night consisting entirely of ryze.com members, conversations and friends who are politeness personified (people drop me back home after every do I visit), all constitute Delhi.
But lurking somewhere is poverty and dispossession that remain neatly hidden somewhere behind the trees and parks, signs of which can be seen in the rickshaw puller laboring on his pedals on the slight incline of the road outside my hotel room. He is only dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, trousers with a bedsheet thrown over his shoulders in this bitter cold. A photographer clicks me as I stand making some notes at Connaught Place and moves away before I can talk trade with him. He is apprehensive I would snatch his film roll or something. I am a photographer, too, you see, dumbo, and want to ask what techniques you use.
All said and done, Delhi is happening, and this being the twenty-fifth year of my first visit to it, I would want to come back, again, and again, and again....