De-Coding Delhi: Montages of the Indian Capital

Photographs: Darshit Nakrani

"Every city has a sex and an age which has nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.'"
 - John Berger

What is Delhi then? 

Wandering through the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb, you wonder if he is a philosopher, contemplating the meaning of life and existence? Or is he a wordsmith, weaving verses that could transcend the boundaries of time and space. Perhaps Delhi is an architect marvelling at the legacies of his own creation. Or maybe a saint finding his solace by singing Sufi songs at dargahs. 

What if Delhi is a Bhansali movie character, who assumes a larger-than-life role? She is opulent. She is powerful. And she is the definition of timeless beauty where colours and traditions meet chaos and harmony. Venture into the streets of Old Delhi (Purani Dilli), and you’ll know why montages of her life are served on platter with age-old recipes from her Mughlai kitchen. If you stay a little longer in her company, she would tempt you with tales of fabled diamonds and jewels that once came her way. 

Or perhaps, Delhi is a sultry old woman, enveloped in the past as much as in the present. She wears layers of history, draped in tales of empires and conquerors. Her heirloom saree, paired with cat eye sunglasses and high heels makes her the centre of attention wherever she goes. Be it sipping vodka martini from a fancy Connaught Place bar or bargaining with vendors at Janpath. At times, she can be a little too loud, somewhat arrogant, yet fiercely loving when it comes to her own. People love her, people hate her, but they can never forget her. 

Venture into the heart of South Delhi, and you’ll meet a different facet of her. In the moments of repose at Hauz Khas or within the bustling chaos of tourists at Qutub complex you meet a historian, who doesn’t just wear her past on her sleeves, but flaunts it with a captivating narrative. Her conversations are a melange of dates and dynasties. And her anecdotes, the gems that she wears on her necklace.

In the boutique shops of Shahpur Jat and Khan Market Delhi is a fashionista, a trendsetter. Whether draped in a handwoven silk saree, a salwar kameez, or avant-garde styles, she knows how to flaunt her fashion sense with grace. But don’t be fooled by this side of her. In the streets of Karol Bagh and Rajouri Garden this fashionista becomes an ebullient dancer, matching her moves to the beats of Punjabi music. If you let her be, she could dance all night without getting tired.  

She may not be easy to define, but perhaps, that’s what makes her irresistible. So, the next time you ask, “What is Delhi?” All that I would say is, “Go and navigate through pages of her past, traverse its chaotic streets, negotiate with autowallahs, immerse in sounds and flavours or simply begin a conversation with her. And once you know her, come back to me and share your tattles.”

Lost? Coddiwomples in the Colonnades: How to Explore Connaught Place Like a Delhi, is your start to this incredible Indian Capital.

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