A young woman showed us her film on getting to know/see Delhi. She said later, I was not interested in the dead monuments, those dead things. She looked at her dilemnas through her neighborhood, her neighbors, the sun, light and wind around her own house.
Perhaps when you live in a city, your dilemnas are too entangled in its fabric for you to be able to see it, without seeking some solutions, seeing it without complaint or opinions. When you visit a city, you can look at it, unencumbered by its daily life and problems.
A few days ago, I had an incredible longing to see the Qutub Minar. A rickshaw ride, a metro train ride, a walk in the rain with a broken umbrella, and the Qutub was more stunning than I remembered it from my childhood. I sat there, exhausted, gazing at it for a few minutes, before I set off on my journey back, because a lunch date awaited. In that bright, wet morning, I was happy, the other tourists looked happy too.
I like people who visit historic sites, take pictures, cross places off their list as seen, oh yes, I have seen that. These are people, I imagine, still excited about the small things in life, still not jaded by shopping malls, multiplexes, the multiple screens of our daily routine, people who think they will scratch their names on the walls of ancient monuments and will be remembered forever.
In the morning, before I saw the young woman’s film, I had my breakfast quickly, and walked out from the back gate of the India International Centre into Gate No. 3 of Lodhi Gardens. At 9.30 am, the gardens were anything but dead.
There were sweepers at every monument, stirring up dust. Rows and rows of pretty flowers, green lawns, old trees spoke of many other unseen hands.
A man slept in the sun on a bench. A man slept under the coolness of the dome of the Bara Gumbad. A young man did his stretches against the wall of Sheesh Gumbad.
A young couple giggled at my disturbing their solitude in the tomb of Sikander Lodhi. A young man stole a quick kiss from his girl in the middle of the lawn. Another young couple settled down to a long session of cuddling.
Women in salwar kameezes and sports shoes ambled along the jogging track. Determined men and women in running gear jogged. Men gossiped and talked shop as they walked.
A man read a book. A man read a newspaper.
A tourist couple took photographs. Two tourist women grinned with pleasure.
A dustbin that seemed to have Amitabh Bacchan’s face on it turned out to be a ‘Save the Girl’ painting.
Geese, crows and pigeons, parrots and mynahs for real, and lots of other birds on the bill board that were not seen. Three parrot feathers found and kept for Dhanno.
An old man was accosted by another, a friend he did not seem too happy to see. The friend started his conversation in a *theth Punjabi accent and a lilt that cannot be put down on paper, with *”Yaar bhi zaroori hain, rab bhi zaroori hain. Kaabe wali gully mein yaar ka makaan hain. Kithe karoon sajda dil pareshaan hain.”
In that moment, I would have done anything to have my home there, in Joseph Stein Lane, for the privilege of walking from this gate to the other, from now to 600 years ago, from 600 years ago to now, the privilege also of having such beauty before one’s eyes, as part of daily routine. I imagined the spirits of the people whose names are lost to history, rising from their tombs and sidling between the *chowkidars at night by a small bonfire, cheerful that they may be forgotten, but are not left alone.
*Theth – Pure
*Yaar bhi zaroori … pareshaan hain – I need my friend/lover. I need my God. My friend/lover lives in the same lane as the Kaaba. I don’t know which way to bow my head now.
*Chowkidars – watchmen