When I used to work in NCR (supposedly a part of Delhi), few months ago, we had many people from Delhi in office – seemingly proud people from Delhi. Interestingly, none of them was more than 1-2 generation Delhites. Perhaps this is the only historic city to have such a large number of ahistoric people. Well, Indians in general are ahistoric. We don’t give a damn to our history. For most of us, history starts from 1857 and ends in 1947. If by any chance your history teacher likes Gandhi although the chances are very slim, 6 more months are granted.
In ‘Last Mughal’, William Darymple, using the mutiny papers as primary sources for his research, showed how British killed the identity of Delhi. The writers, painters, musicians and great family of Shahajahananbad were scattered and in their places merchants and like people were encouraged to move in.
Since then, people are moving in to make money rather than making a city. Strangely, people who have no cultural or historical stake in this city like to be called as Delhites. I don’t know the exact reason for this, perhaps its the glamor attached with the idea of calling oneself ‘creature from the capital‘ or may be it is just that influence of ‘media matters’.
Bengalis came in large numbers when the capital shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, and later its economic growth brought people from other States. There is a thriving Tamil community, a growing Telugu community, a Marathi community and, of course, people from adjoining States – Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who constitutes its most of the work force.
Historically, Western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab were known for their ‘martial races’. These ‘martial races’ – as British used to classify them – are notorious – as expected – for their feudal behavior. In Indian Armed Forces, there are more than 50% people from these three states – at every level. Given a low level of literacy as well as little exposure to the other cultures, they tend to behave in not-no-pleasant ways. In addition, local vernaculars generally sound bad to a person who is new e.g. Haryanavi is perhaps one of the most harsh sounding dialect. You’ll never know if they are fighting with you or talking with you.
Lets leave the working class and come to the so called ‘educated class’ which likes to point fingers at the working class over every mess created here. In every two or three days, you can get the news that some people were driven over by some car. The parking space fights are anyway famous in Delhi. I really can not understand how Reader Digest got Mumbai as the rudest city on the planet.
You talk to any girl in Delhi, and she can tell you very easily how many of them, whether civilized white collar or working class blue collar, behave differently. This is perhaps the only place, where you can see people justifying ‘eve-teasing‘. They may go one step further that woman wears clothes provocatively and being a male, I have no control over my erection. Besides, they’ve got Times of India! If you look at this paper every morning, somehow you’ll be convinced that woman are really objects!
One of the reason why we need people who take pride in their culture is that these people can be easily controlled. All you have to do to make them aware that they are hurting it. People tend to protect whatever form a part of their identity. If culture become a part of your identity, you do every thing to protect it, just like your husband, wife, girlfriend, parents, Indianess, political ideology and whatever. They have to attach with the city not because its a city with glamor, because its their home.
The point is, as Bhaskar Ghosh makes here, ‘that an essentially Delhi identity or culture, or image, has not emerged. It does not exist now, and it may well be a century before something of the kind does. Because, remember, Delhi as a metropolis has already spilled over into Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where there are distinct and not-very-pleasant characteristics that surface even as bucolic, placid regions are changed to a mass of expressways, flyovers, slums and mushrooming buildings, all of them compounded by a shortage of water and power, and hopelessly inadequate sanitation and drainage‘.
I really don’t want to talk about not-so-humble public bureaucrats of this city. By the way, this city does not have the annealing effect which Chennai and Kolkata posses. If you stay long enough, you might develop this habit of being angry and irritated. You simply become like most of them. This city absorbs you. One of my public spirited colleague at office admitted it with melancholy that very few visitors like Delhi.
From the time of the Ghalib, who has famously said, “Who’d leave the streets of Delhi to visit other places” this city suffer for very acute inwardness, something like New York. Marathi people also have this kind of habits but they do not suffer from New York syndrome unless Raj Thackeray start beating the bush around them.
In some sense, that is how a capital must be like, belongs to no one yet you can find the whole country inside. But a city without a culture of its own! No wonder it is so susceptible to Westernization. The very definition of modernity for this city seems to be “whatever is not traditional“.
The place where I stayed during my time in Delhi was a retired army officer home, he used to call it,”It’s a big village, its not a city.” Being from a village, this offends me. Villages are too small to have a culture of their own, but they compensate it with the sense of community and families.
Their Chief Minister, Sheila is brave enough to think that she can change this attitude of people in record time and NGO’s and media are also running the campaign ‘Meri Dilli’ etc. Simply because those whose behavior needs changing will never identify themselves with the obnoxious characteristics one has mentioned. They will think someone else is “committing nuisance” in public even as they line up to urinate against the wall of a protected monument.
2. The Last Mughal, William Darymple. Its mostly about Delhi in 1857.