I have had a bumpy, ending-in-a-heartbreak kind of a relationship with Delhi. I recall, as a child, I was excited to be 15-16, just so that mom would allow me to go out alone. I would finally get a chance to be a ‘traveller’ in my hometown.
I foolishly waited to breathe in Old Delhi’s air and take in the smell of kachoris and samosas being fried at every nook and corner. I couldn’t wait to sit on the steps of Agrasen ki Baoli and ask a stranger to take pictures of me. My mom had narrated quite a few times, the comical story about Qutab Minar and its magnificence – the beauty of the Mughal times. So, I had an inkling that once I would step out of my house, I would be dissolved in the mitti of this land, which I was sure, hid the footprints of all those who conquered, loved and reared it.
This story sounds as though it has been taken out of a fantasy book, right? Well, maybe because it has been. I found it to be a fantasy too, though in the most atrocious way.
Let me just start by saying how there’s no admiration in my heart for Chandni Chowk’s Parathe wali gali. Before I could begin to marvel at the narrowness of those streets, I had to learn to be sexually harassed. Crowds and tapering, small places started to scare me and I grew indifferent toward the celebrated food or glorious past of those streets. I really prefer to eat Rabri at home now.
Then, I remember my first metro ride and how I could not wait to see the Hanuman mandir passing by. I, too, had seen Paa. Little did I know, gradually, the same metro would haunt me if I somehow missed boarding the women’s coach. I did not want to get groped as my friend had once been. There was little we could do about it since there were hundreds of people jammed within one single reeking-of-testosterone-coach. Now, I cannot help but always be on guard, keeping my bag in front and constantly scrutinising everyone who passes by.
I always look for the pink board with flowers, fuck punctuality.
But you know, funnily, I still tried to love my hometown. I tried going to Humayun’s Tomb with all my girls. I tried visiting the Kitaab Bazaar in Darya Ganj. I tried Hauz Khaz and any other acclaimed place you can name. I tried it all, always hoping to see the “brighter side” of things.
But Delhi, unsurprisingly, constantly failed me.
All travels included being stared at or being sexually harassed. And you know what’s the most bizarre thing I had unconsciously internalised? That these two things were not the worst that could happen, so be grateful.
It was only when I began to question myself less and society more, that I realised that none of this was supposed to be passively taken. I was young and petrified to even bring this up or talk about these instances. Now I know better than to carry the shame, to know that it isn’t mine to fetch.
This is how I grew up to detest all things that people love about Delhi – visiting India Gate at night or eating at Jain Chawal Wala in Connaught Place with friends.
Even though I’m 20 now and my mom doesn’t restrict me from going out, I hardly ever wish to do so since there is a whole protection kit I need to prepare before I do. Wear armour. It is not travel, it’s war.
So, I scoff when people tell me romanticised and glorified tales of Delhi and how they are blindly in love with the air of it – which is extremely unhealthy, by the way. Poeticised images and lyrical portrayals of Delhi are exclusive and overrated since I have never had access to any of it.
Swarna Jain is a Philosophy student at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.
Featured image credit: Swarna Jain