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Memoirs of an ex-Delhiite

Cancelled Without Prejudice - these three bold words on my US Visa, a mere terse statement of fact, were to lead to a chain of events that would have me blogging after hiatus of more than 15 days.

I was visiting Delhi after a gap of more than 75 days, the longest ever time I�ve spent away from the city. A city where I was born, grew up, educated, yet a city which has ceased to be anything more than a faint, unpleasant, distant memory to me. My friends and acquaintances in Delhi, detest me for my behavior as much as I detest their city (I refuse to call it "my" city any longer). I am called change-coat, traitor and other strong names but it does little to change my opinion (being born in a free country, I am entitled to one). I see a lot of things wrong with this city. Let's start with (and leave it at that) the weather - I have always abhorred Delhi weather - the summers are mercilessly hot and last for 7-8 months. That leaves you with 4-5 months to fill in with other seasons. One month is spent in adulation of quasi-monsoon showers (and struggling with problems they bring - water-clogged roads, dead telephones, dengue/malaria etcetera), the remaining shivering in chilly winters. Moderation of weather is not something that this place can ever claim to have known yet everyone refuses to understand my infatuation with Bangalore weather, and I quote my oft used phrase (a phrase recited more to Delhiites than anyone else) to illustrate just that:

"In Bangalore, if everything goes wrong, the weather doesn't"

In Delhi my friends, the converse holds true:

"In Delhi, even if everything goes right, the weather can't"

The entire country these days is besotted with the monsoons, and so Delhi too has seen the so called monsoon showers in last two days. But the timing of the showers has been so pathetic that I wonder if the weather too is conspiring to make my stay worse. It starts raining around 4:00 - 5:00 in the morning (when matters are pleasant with or without showers), the drizzle lasting a good 2-3 hours. Then the sky is clouded till 9:00 - 11:00 after which, the clouds surrender for sun to beat down relentlessly, leaving you to grapple with not only the heat, but also with intense humidity - a grim reminder of dawn's downpour. How can then one expect me to stay nice things about the city!

Work and fate found me on board jet flight 9W 812 to Delhi. It was meant to be a short trip - fly in on Wednesday night, leave on Sunday morning. I usually carry with me a book or two (along with 5-6 CDs) as a matter of habit - mostly novels which I am engrossed in deeply. This healthy addiction ensures that 150 minutes of flight is a redeeming experience, even if I am unable to inveigle a window seat. As for music, since Delhi was my destination, it seemed appropriate that I carry Beethoven's late quartet works (the western classical aficionados amongst you would be immediately able to spot the profound connection). The novel for in-flight reading this time happened to be Vikram Seth's first - "A Suitable Boy", and this is where some of the not so explicable things started manifesting themselves. To start with, on page 208 of the 1400+ page novel, there is mention of my college in Delhi! The reference to my college continued for another 7-8 pages, by when it was time to land. The temperature outside the plane almost had me vainly searching for the exhaust vent of the plane's engine (on many occasions in past, I've found exhaust from wing-mounted jet engines as the culprit behind sudden gush of hot air upon getting down from plane) which I could attribute such a blast of heat to. The blast of heat continued even as I moved away from plane - that was no exhaust vent - that was the perfectly normal temperature of 35 degrees Celsius on a clear July night in Delhi. (The suffering is usually compounded by power-cuts, one of which was just announced by a SMS from my sister but I digress).

For the first time ever I decided to grin and bear it. To not call a spade a spade - to not make cynical, odious remarks about the place I was born at (if not bow in veneration). After all, how much harm could a quick 3 day stay do to me. The veneer of calmness I chose to wear towards this city, was soon to be torn away by the news that my US Visa for an upcoming company conference was rejected and that I had to stay a little longer so that I could appear before the US Consulate for an interview in person. I found my new-found virtue of patience fleeting, unable to bear the calamitous prospect of an extended stay in Delhi. I, however, decided to make the most of the upcoming weekend but even that was not to be. Saturday morning found me in high fever and a throat so bad that I could rival croaks of hoarsest of toads. By the time it was evening, it was obvious that without medication any chances of reasonably speedy recovery would be obliterated - which automatically decided my course of action for the next day. Tardy, lethargic Sunday spent in bed, recuperating, in lieu of planned "Charlie's Angles".

Fever reluctantly bade me farewell towards late afternoon and I found my natural restlessness and vigor restored in measured quantities, enough to behoove a walk in the evening. I was yearning to be on my own, away from home, simply procrastinating. So I took a bath, dressed immaculately and rode in a rickshaw to the nearest barista for my daily dose of caffeine. The rickshaw was ordered to stop a little before my destination so that I could cover rest of the way on foot. Instead of hitting barista, I found myself sauntering to college - a rather awkward detour to barista - a detour caused by strange pull of unbridled flow of emotions that had had me captive as soon as I had hit north campus. It was 8 years ago, that life presented to me two choices. I had to pick a course for my graduate studies. It was a choice between Chemistry - a subject that was my first love, and Electronics - a subject that promised brighter career prospects. I chose Chemistry and so found myself in St. Stephen's college for the next three years of my life. College was not something that I could ever get myself to enjoy - till may-be late in the third year (and by then it was time to say your customary good-byes, unless you chose to flunk :-)). I was the sorts who would rush home after classes to escape college and here I was idling in science block at college, escaping home. I found this sudden love and longing for college hard to explain. Perhaps college marked beginning of a new chapter in my life, the transition from adolescent puerility to intoxicating youth. Perhaps being in the same spot, unexpectedly after 5 years is meant to be an emotionally stirring experience. The song "memories" from the musical Cats, echoed in my head with resounding clarity (a song that was played during the farewell ritual of "Graduation Dinner" unique to my college). When the torment of sentiments became heavy to bear, I decided to resume my planned walk to barista. On my way I saw familiar sights of Faculty of Management Science with the familiar red sign on the door forbidding students from parking their vehicles inside, and the rusted, dilapidated sign-board marking the pale green building as Institute of Economic development. The tumultuous roar of the Bus engine (Bus No. 816 - a number that would have otherwise been meaningless, made me nostalgic, for I have taken countless no. of bus rides in buses on that very route to home from college) was matched by the din of several devotees in a temple across the road collectively hammering the temple bells with chants of the evening verses.

Barista is my favorite haunt in Bangalore and odd as it might seem, today it also acquired a symbolic stature of being a connecting link between my past and present.

Sporadic beeping of my cell has just announced arrival of another SMS, its from my sis again, the electricity is back at home and the dinner is getting ready, just the note I would want to end my blog at!
posted: 9.7.03

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