You, me and the streets of Delhi
Your clandestine affair with the city of Delhi has given you more than one memory to reminisce. It has also given you countless ounces of pain, which you wear so bravely on your lips.
No matter how desperately you despise the city, you know that you have discovered your life and have found people who matter in it, amidst the tumult and cauldron of Delhi.
You've found friends, you've found love, and you've found ambitions. You've travelled to places you'd never forget, you've seen faces that you would not like to forget, and you've borne things that no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to forget.
Let's start from December 8, 2014. You were supposed to join Infosys in Mysore. A week prior to that saw the end of your first, and supposedly your longest stint with the place. Four years of college, from the hot, sultry, plagued, yet beautiful streets of your hometown, to the noise and din of the nation's capital. A small girl with a big heart and an ever bigger baggage walks out of her homely comforts with glittery eyes and a heart already ravished and stormed by a hurricane that she was about to become. I still remember you telling me how your father had asked your roommate to take care of you. I understand why he'd said so.
So from the chilly mornings and evenings, on a cold December morning, you left a part of your heart, albeit nonchalantly, behind, and set off for a place you hadn't known much about. I often try to visualise the state of mind you would have been in. The baggage was even heavier, the heart perhaps too light and numb to feel anything at all, but the eyes, oh those eyes, unquenched, thirsty, and focused. A new place, perhaps a bit more peaceful, new friends, not so many of them really, but a few added feathers to make up for the ones lost during the transit, and a new workplace, perhaps a bit closer to, and yet, miles away from the vantage point.
Back here, I was embroiled in a cauldron that was completely a self-gifted affair. But such is human nature that we cherish the pain inflicted upon us by our own selves. Delhi, for me, for a larger part of my life was an unknown land. I used to fantasize about the city, with rich people, skyscrapers, green autos, and the Red Fort clouding my mind. Now, Delhi is a phenomenon. It has ceased to be a city. The alleys I walked through, the subways I've been to, and the shops I've passed by live inside me. And so does the person who made the city come to life.
The steep slope on the road that has 'Welcome to Indirapuram' banner over it, the hordes of auto-rickshaws outside the City Centre Metro, and the narrow streets while travelling from the City Centre to Shipra, resembling Golghar for a certain distance, and the entrance to the mall, all of them have been etched permanently on my mind. I visit people's homes and find white pillars. I relate them to the countless such figures at Connaught Place and how we, the two of us, encircled them aimlessly. Auto drivers yelling Vaishali Metro, the twin stations of Vaishali and Kaushambi, and the trains running over our heads - their glittering lights revealing the dreams that their on-boarders carried - make me feel as if I known them for years, as if they've been right around me, busy with their pain, yelling it out to the world, and in the process, making me a part of it.
I remember your college's campus. One visit there, yes, but I had photographed those 24 hours and kept them safe. For those 24 hours brought me unbridled happiness, happiness that was pure and untainted with the vices that I have now developed. The small garden-esque area in front of your hostel, the playground behind it, and the backdoor entry gate, through which we had entered, for some reason, keep appearing in my dreams. The main gate, the small room for the security guard next to it, the college's name imprinted on the banner, and the alley that led to the campus seem like familiar places to me. A small portion of the boys' hostel, which had a large verandah, and the stairs leading to the porch at one corner and permeable walls adjacent to it, through which sunlight was peeping in that morning, now feel like a familiar places to me.
I remember the road just outside the GIP, and the traffic that had almost terrified me. I remember the blue shoes you'd worn on that day and your sweater. And I remember the moment you'd held my hand for the first time, catching me unaware, and almost nonchalantly, took me past the buzzing vehicles. I wish you could hold it again and take me past this life as well.
I remember the railway station, the platform wherein I saw you only for the second time, the small staircase we climbed, the three bags that you carried, and the ancient brownish pillars littered with pigeon poop that separated the railway tracks.
On countless occasions have I been to the station thenceforth, and each time the train has entered Ghaziabad, I have peeped out of the window to check if it is the same platform. I glance at the set of stairs, that turn and open into a bigger set on Platform No. 3 and imagine us climbing it, with nothing but innocence in our eyes. And if the train indeed stops there, on that platform, I make sure that I step down and try to smell the air, that I believe, still has moments from that day.
I remember the auto-rickshaw ride that took me from your college to the railway station that night. I remember the lady who I shared the ride with, amongst other people, and who was, presumably, talking to her lover, arguing over their relationship status. I remember her complaining about the fact that they had to meet while making sure that nobody saw them. I felt sorry and lucky at the same time.
I remember the local train that I took the same night to rush to the Old Delhi Railway Station. The green coloured one, with face-to-face chairs. I remember the face of the old lady who travelled with me, sitting on the adjacent seat. I remember the moments of panic, wherein I, panicking and panting, hoping that I do not miss the train, rushed through the alleys of Old Delhi upon arriving, and hired an auto-rickshaw to New Delhi in a haste. I was low on money, so I asked the driver if I could share the ride with other people. And I remember the warning that he gave about the dangers of the city, especially at night. About 30 minutes later, I was seated on my berth, still panting, but with the kind of satisfaction that I had never received in my life, and haven't ever since.
Fast forward to the next year, and I still cannot stop thinking about the black top, the sling bag, the heeled sandals that had an orifice for only two of your fingers to be visible, and your hair. I've always liked them open. I remember the moment you took me aside, when I was about to leave, still wondering what was it that you had to say. And I remember you face slowly disappearing into thin air, as I descended the stairs at Rajiv Chowk, Gate No. 5. I remember those few minutes that I spent, sitting in the open parking lot, just outside the gate, and those few seconds for which you'd half-hugged me.
I remember the auto rides that we've had, and your swollen face on the day when you almost cried in front of me, sitting in the same cafe we'd tried hookah for the first time a year back. And I remember the hour that I spend sitting by your side in the park, just in front of your PG, and how, for those sixty minutes I had the pleasure of sharing your grief. The purple kurta and the salwar, the totally mismatched slippers, the tiffin that you'd washed and returned, and the girl in the red dress who was running around the park, come back to me time and again.
The same day, you'd left your purse in my bag, which had the keys to your room. I came back to return them and saw that you'd changed to blue jeans and the top that I'd seen, before that day, only in pictures. I remember how I placed my hands on your head, and how you, laughingly, bent down to touch my feet. I remember your face and your smile and I'll cherish that day throughout my life.
I've often tried to visualize your college life. The early days when you were jailed behind the walls of the hostel, the fests, the stage, the mic, the dias, your specks, the fights, the sorrow, the love, the friendship and your purple trousers. I've often dreamt about the classrooms, the light blue shirts, the desks and benches, and somewhere, amidst the scores of people, you. I try and visualize your room in the hostel and your cleaned up table at the corner with posters on the wall. I find it hard to know why, but faintly remember an instance from school when you'd stood up to answer a question.
See, I have lived you, and I still do. No matter how far we drift apart, you'll always live inside me. No matter how poorly you rate me now, or how badly I fight and hurt you, you'd always be my best friend and my home. I fight with people I love, else, I don't fight at all. It's a gift. You would live inside me and so will the city that you have immortalized. The city isn't haunted, like I'd earlier felt. It's just laden with memories I can't relive, but can't live without either.