The city has embraced migrants for centuries, and become home to a huge variety of people. Not many can claim to belong to Delhi, yet, anyone who comes here, belongs to it. People who live here are known for their generosity. They welcome visitors with wide-open arms. This is perhaps the reason why the city has come to be known as ‘dill walon ka sheher‘*. It has embraced different cultures and has a long history – which is evident from the staggering number of monuments.
Over the recent past, its image has been that of an unsafe city. I believe this is because non-residents have taken the lovely people here for granted. But even so, it is a city that I call home. Despite its shortcomings, I love it. If I were told to move out of Delhi and live elsewhere, I would be devastated. And therein lies the problem.
For all my attachment to this city, deep down inside, a small part of me feels like I am a misfit. I need the typical South Indian cuisine, the tunes of Carnatic classical music, the sights and sounds of the intricately decorated temples. Perhaps its partly genetic, partly because its a novelty here, and partly because I do not know much about it. But mainly, because it forms a part of my own identity.
Even though I have grown up in Delhi, my childhood was dominated by stories about life in the villages. Anecdotes about hundreds of family members, whom I have never met, and probably will never know either. It used to be a small world. Everyone knew everyone else. There were so many traditions and customs that I struggled to explain to my north Indian peers. I hardly understood the local culture, and they refused to accept ours. Our native traditions and customs were more numerous and filled with elaborate explanations. I found those much more interesting than any of the local folklore. To be honest, I felt superior, and pitied my companions who did not understand.
But time and circumstances changed many things. The city of Delhi was evolving, and was beginning to accept people from all parts of the country. I began feeling alienated around family members. I felt like I didn’t belong there any more. I made Delhi my home.
The villages have nothing that belongs to us any more. The ancestral houses were either usurped or sold – I never set foot anywhere near them. We all have moved on to our own lives. But there are some traditions that we have held on to. The kolam** at the doorstep, the offering of food to deities, the keen interest in Classical music and art, the spirituality and sanctity maintained on festive occasions.
Indian philosophy demands that we move ahead – not get caught up in sentiments. And I believe I am one of the millions of migrants who belong to Delhi. But one day I hope to visit the ancestral village – to understand where my roots were – and perhaps quell the thirst for knowing myself.
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*dill walon ka sheher – loosely translates to ‘the city that belongs to large-hearted people’
** kolam – form of painting that is drawn using rice / white stone powder (full wiki article)