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New Delhi- Our Present Day Wasteland
|by Ishaan Saxena|
There was a time in my youth when the very thought of leaving India’s national capital seemed like a preposterous idea. I used to reside in one of the poshest neighbourhoods in South Delhi. My office, health club, favourite eateries, the bar of course, were all in the vicinity. It seemed like a perfect life. My then girlfriend, and now fiancé, could not think of a life outside this comfort zone. Delhi, it seemed then, was where we wanted to start our lives together.
However, the frenetic corporate lifestyle was gradually starting to get to us. And by the summer of 2012, we decided to leave the city for a while and embark on a career in education. Our obvious first choice was Dehradun, often referred to as the school capital of India. The city is nestled among majestic mountains and has a conducive environment. It seemed like a romantic idea. We decided to make it our home for till we found our bearings.
After having spent almost a year in this city (some very fruitful months)- I cannot imagine myself relocating to Delhi. My first visit to Delhi after having moved to Dehradun was in December last year. We took a night train to the national capital. I was eagerly looking forward to the holiday season- so animated that barely caught any sleep that night. The humdinger parties Delhi hosts, the convivial environment, and my favourite restaurants were all I could think of.
A strident train horn woke me up the next morning. There was still an hour for the train to terminate. The stench, as one approached the city, was unbearable. The shanties and the dreadful sight of people defecating in the open were quite disturbing. “Is the money allocated to India’s poor reaching them?” I thought to myself. As the train came to a grinding halt I could barely contain my excitement.
It was a foggy winter morning and the denizens of Delhi had not yet begun to unleash their daily abuses. At first, I was looking forward to revisiting the city I once loved, but as the day progressed, I became increasingly disillusioned. The road rage, lack of civility, serpentine traffic jams, spitting on roads, hurling abuses, public urination, yet another allegation of corruption, and topping it all, the horrific rape of the medical student which occurred on that very day - all acted in tandem and made me question this morally bankrupt city.
The subsequent days were disheartening. The endless protests and the incompetent police forces’ attempts to curb these outbursts were a complete let down. Had they simply intercepted the bus for having tinted windows earlier on, perhaps the young woman would have been living a nondescript life amongst us.
The days that followed were harrowing. The cognitive dissonance many citizens experienced was agonizing. Party spirits, which usually peak during the last two weeks of December, were dampened. Society, it seemed then, was scarred indelibly and there was a hope that things would change for the better. That has not been the case. We are getting progressively worse.
An aficionado of Delhi will tell you that it’s the ‘organised chaos’, which is so remarkable about the capital. They will strenuously defend their city and condone the anomalies. That is what apologists do best. “Oh, the food is outstanding” or “Look at our world class infrastructure,” they will affirm proudly. Well, ask the restaurant owner how much bribe he paid to a ruthless health inspector to obtain a food license. And god forbid if he has a liquor license. Ask a vegetable vendor how much bribe he pays to ferry his cart in a residential area. Or ask my father what it takes to get an approval and a completion certificate for a newly constructed house! It’s horrendous. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) might as well be relabeled the ‘Most Corrupt Department’.
I think it’s time we stop romanticizing this squalid mess. We need to stop glorifying the appealing traits and underscoring the loopholes that have systematically undermined the reputation of the capital.
You get into a minor scuffle with anyone in the city and they would start spewing names of some apparent political doyen residing in Lutyen’s Delhi. Some miscreants would even dredge out a contact at the highest office –the PMO. Go to a night club, get intoxicated and drive home. Who cares? A cop stops you, bribe him. That’s the appalling attitude. Affluent society has money to splurge on exorbitant clothing but they do not deign to greet the guard who has been standing in the sweltering heat. He politely opens the door with a smile knowing very well that reciprocity is not the custom in Delhi.
What is unfortunate is that it’s the educated class which has contributed to this shocking trend. Can this moral decadence be attributed to the newly rich or the recent influx of migrants from neighbouring states? I can’t quite say. Delhi is whipsawed between the suave and the uncouth, both floundering to claim it. Let’s hope the former succeed and rebrand Delhi’s legacy.
My father tells me that there was a time when the city was dynamic and culturally evolved. Ancient history, theater, music, a wide array of cuisines, intellectually evolved and globally aware citizens, articulate politicians (well, at least in the 60s and 70s) is all what Delhi stood for. Where did this ugly culture and habitual delinquents creep in from?
Nationally, things seem to be at an all-time low – it’s disconcerting. Rampant corruption, nepotism, unbridled greed, a slew of scams, and the latest icing on the cake - the seemingly innocuous yet obnoxious tournament, Indian Premier League (IPL), has joined the list. No even a single politician condemned the betting allegations. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the IPL dispensation and our notorious ministers are in cahoots. Political parties are reprimanding the Chief Information Commissioner’s effort to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. It’s a mockery! The Maoists sitting in the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh also seem to be sniffing the malfeasance. They are getting more disgruntled.
The national capital should ideally lead by example and be a tourist and business friendly city. Ironically, New Delhi accentuates a disturbing trend and is an epitome of unscrupulousness. Mercer’s 2012 city rankings, which evaluate the quality of life in each city assessed, is an eloquent testimony of Delhi’s dismal failure. No Indian city, not even the national capital, is ranked in the top 100 cities. Delhi is ranked at 143. The most favorable Indian city to live in is Bangalore. Why is it that Delhi, despite its enormous funding and the virtue of being the national capital of the world’s largest democracy- some might prefer to use the term plutocracy- fails to be called a world class city? The citizens of a city make it or mar it. Unfortunately, the mass majority of Delhi has earned it a bad label. A city of reprobates where your daughter cannot venture alone at night because she might get raped, after which a corpulent and uncultured minister or police officer, instead of assuming moral responsibility, would lecture her on appropriate clothing. It is exhausting to even think of the abysmal depths of their mental aptitude.
They say that India’s burgeoning economy will propel it to new heights and one day the power corridors of New Delhi will dictate terms to Washington and London. I do not anticipate such a reversal. India is masquerading as a democracy which advocates inclusive growth but there is a lacunae. We lack the ideological leverage to lead. A large economy is not the only prerequisite to being a globally respected country. When we cannot respect and empathise with our own citizens, we cannot possibly command respect the world over.
Meanwhile, as I try to wind up this article, the winds wuther past the mango trees across my study room in Dehradun. The citizens of Delhi continue to endure the unrelenting chaos. In retrospect, I’m glad we decided to move. Relocating back remains a distant dream.
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07/11/2013 17:27 PM
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