It’s been 12 years since I left Delhi. Sure, it’s been an on-off relationship, with me returning in between for a couple of years in between – but overall, it’s still been a decade. And each time I return to this city, I’m painfully aware of how much my emotions towards it have changed over the years.
To be clear, I was never very emotional about it to begin with. I feel like I have the talent of moving on from places and people faster than most, and this definitely applied to Delhi as well.
But in the beginning, I did find myself talking about it rather dreamily every now and then.
You know, the beautiful roads, the insanely yum food, the delicious fog in the winters.
It’s difficult to forget the beautiful nights spent romanticizing the smell and taste of Delhi winters as a student living in North Campus. The memories of t shirts sold for thirty rupees on the side walks of Sarojini Nagar market. Of the momos and fruit beer at Dilli Haat. Of ice cream at India Gate. Of the buzz of politics and power as students got together, energized after Rang De Basanti. Of believing in things, and fighting for them.
And yet, over the years, each time my plane lands and I find myself in an Uber, half my mind on the Google Map silently open on my phone because it’s difficult to keep a track of all the new roads and not trusting strangers runs in every Delhiite’s blood; I find myself more and more detached from it. Not the least of it is because Delhi, like every city, has changed. I no longer know which is the best place to eat, or what might be open past midnight. Hell, I don’t even have the guts to be out past midnight anymore. North Campus has evolved, my college is now a heritage site, and air conditioned. I cannot for the life of me bargain in Sarojini Nagar now and the momos just don’t taste as delicious anymore. As much as I’d like to deny it, I’ve changed.
And with each trip I realise, that this city no longer pulls at my heart strings. The romantic memories are fading, replaced by rising statistics of crime and pollution. The only reason to come back is family, and now half my family has decided to leave the city behind as well.
And I suddenly feel homeless.
Which is weird, because I haven’t called Delhi home for a long time.
But, neither have I ever gotten around to calling Mumbai home. Mumbai to me has been this dream. One from which I’ll suddenly wake up. One which will fade away before I can quite remember what it was. Mumbai is where I live, and yet, not where I’ve settled down. Nor do I see it happening anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot about this city. But it’s just not home, yet.
I’m not sure if any place will ever be home.
And maybe, I’m okay with that.
Maybe home is in the chaos of the in-between.
Because what’s more romantic than being able to pack your bags and move whenever you want, leaving behind the bad stuff, taking with you just the glossed over beautiful memories, that one day will fade away into sweet nothingness?
P.S. On the other hand, A took all of two months to shed his Delhi-ness and start talking like a Mumbaikar. This time, our cab driver in Delhi asked him if he was a Mumbaikar, based on the way he talked (Chalega…Karega…), which we all know is the absolute final acknowledgement of your roots. I felt a little offended, though I have no clue why, and then remembered that I don’t even talk like a Delhi-ite, my Hindi is more of Lucknow than anything else, a city where I’ve never even lived. We’re all screwed up in our own ways I guess.