Saturday, April 22, 2006

In Which Rude Delhi Gives it Back to Those Ones

I'm irritated about the fact that I'm such a sucker for trolls. I'm one of those persons stupid enough to bite flame war baits every single time, which is why I try to avoid internet troll hotspots. But this time, the irritation is both personal and academic. And it is this Outlook cover story that triggered it all. The cover headline screams "Rude City". The lead article is titled "Mean Streets...All HQ, No IQ". The accompanying collection of sound bites is titled "Why Delhi Sucks".

Ok, I get it, sort of. Trashing a city allows you to be daringly politically incorrect while avoiding charges of being a bigot. "Why Delhi Sucks" just does not have the same ring or the same provocative potential of say, "Why Bengalis Suck". But strangely, despite the fact that I'm a nostalgic, parochial fool when it comes to Delhi, it is the shoddiness of the cover story per se that really gets to me. I'm a scholar of urban studies, and at earlier stage of my life as a PhD student, I had even considered writing a dissertation on 19th century Delhi. I still research urban development and urban spaces, and hence from that academic position, most of the writing on cities in the Indian media appalls me.

Despite the fact that the Indian media is overwhelmingly based in urban areas, and concentrates on news that occurs in urban areas, there is a severe lack of understanding of how cities grow and evolve, what impacts urban space, how urban political consensus is formed, how urban logisitics works, what is our vision for our cities, etc., etc. Instead, what we get are a few well-worn cliches - Delhi is rude, Bombay has traffic jams, Calcutta has terrible work culture and Bangalore's infrastructure is in shambles. And these cliches get repeated ad nauseaum in article after article till they lose whatever information value they might have originally possessed.

Ok, not to be a pessimistic whiner, there are exceptions. I thought the stories done by CNN-IBN and earlier by Outlook on religious and ethnic discrimination of tenants in Bombay were very competent. Last Sunday a Hindustan Times story on fast food restaurants in Indian metros mentioned that because Bombay and Delhi have different zoning laws, restaurants are allowed in residential areas in Bombay but not in Delhi. A-ha! Now that's something I didn't know of, so very nice indeed. But merely for the purposes of illustration, not to compare, something along the lines of stories in LA Times and LA Weekly in Los Angeles, and NY Times and Village Voice in New York would do wonders for awareness about our cities.

Addendum: Here's one more interesting journalist to be optimistic about. And ironically she writes for Outlook! These are a set of some very competent pieces written by Chitvan Gill, where she brings a finer, more complex understanding to what ails the modern Indian metropolis. She's obviously someone who is well aware of urban debates, though this probably makes her writing a little less accessible to a lay reader. But she's definitely worth a read.

But back to the Outlook piece, because I'm itching to do a hatchet job. So the lead story begins with a quote by the Delhi media's favourite dial-a-quote academic, JNU sociologist Dipankar Gupta. Now Dipankar Gupta is a fairly fine scholar, but not exceptionally so. One of the prime reasons why he pops up all over the place is because he's a bit of a hottie, and having a TV friendly face does help. So anyway, here's what he has to say:

Delhi’s grown from sleepy town to metropolis, incorporating a rural population of independent and aggressive small landholders over whom the urban influence is still very shallow.... Delhi is also the seat of power; everything here is a power play...negotiable and up for grabs. Even among the educated, who’ve been to the right schools, the first instinct is to break the law.

That does not make any sense whatsoever. Almost every Indian metropolis made a very recent transition from sleepy town to metropolis. Even Bombay, which made the transition earlier than most others. And Delhi has had an unbroken history of an indigenous urban culture for nearly 500 years now, ever since Shahjahan decided to abandon Agra for good and shift base to Shahjahanabad.

And do not miss the condescension to small landholders "over whom the urban influence is still very shallow". Without even defining what it means to be urban in the Indian context, we've already decided whom to exclude. Very fine academic insight indeed!

And here's Mukul Kesavan holding forth:

Contemporary life in great cities is documented in close, loving, obsessive detail by writers and by filmmakers, its neighbourhoods are invested with magic, not just for those who live in them, but a wider world beyond. That has happened to London, to New York, to Mumbai, to Calcutta, but not to Delhi. We need to ask ourselves why

Thank you Dr. Kesavan, for letting me know that all the works of Bhisham Sahni, Nirmal Verma, Rajendra Yadav and Krishna Sobti amount to nothing. Poets like Gulzar whose Delhi nostalgia oozes forth in songs like "Logon ke Ghar Mein Rehta Hoon" and "Kajra Re" amount to nothing. Filmmakers like Romesh Sharma (New Delhi Times) and Pankaj Butalia amount to nothing. The creative outpourings of Jamia Millia's MCRC amounts to nothing. Oh right, you're not aware of any of them, because their medium of expression is Hindi/Hindustani, a language that sort of flies under the radar of Delhi's resident intelligentsia. And then over chais and samosas they can have their whinefest over why there is no creative documentation of the city, splendid!

The reason why I concentrate on the quotes by the academics is because the main article is just so poorly written that it cannot even be dignified with comment. Fudged facts, hyperbole, lack of even a shred of nuance, it is a pathetic reflection of what passes for cultural commentary in contemporary India. I look in vain for some insight, some causality, some background to what is being described, how did things come to such a pass, how to fix responsibility, etc. But the article flits from one shock value fragment highlighting Delhi's rudeness to another without pause, breathless with delight at finding yet another piece to fit into the convenient narrative.

Ultimately though, what strikes me is how pointless this sort of article is for any sort of constructive thought to emerge. So now that we've established that Delhi is indeed a nightmarish, impossibly rude, post-apocalyptic city, what do we do about this? Depopulate the place, raze it to the ground and start anew? There's historical precedent for that, the British did something similar after 1857, angered by the city's resistance to British forces. Or do we do require residents to take etiquette lessons and anger management courses? How do you encourage civic pride and responsibility, when the city's intelligentsia happily pours scorn over the rest of the unwashed masses, while presumably being above it all and very suave and urbane themselves?

How do we fix the city's apathy to high culture performances (never mind that an organization like SPICMACAY began in Delhi, and Delhi has its own well established gharana of Hindustani classical music). Indeed, try squeezing in to the Nizamuddin Dargah during the Urs celebrations, when qawwali performances mesmerise audiences for hours on end. One of the biggest and most consistent patrons of Indian classical arts are the Shri Ram family, the most well-established business entities to emerge from Delhi. The yearly performance of the Ramayana at Ramlila Grounds in Delhi plays to packed audiences, who stay up all night to watch a story they've known all their lives. That's living, breathing, dynamic cultural expression, but perhaps it does not fit into what our chattering classes would like to think of as "culture".

What we are left with then, are a bunch of silly soundbites, some by established intellectuals like Gerson da Cunha, whose statement, though hyperbolic, is something I can still sort of nod in agreement with. Girish Kasaravalli's statement is a personal impression I can certainly understand. Lutyen's Delhi can be a bit visually confounding, because there are rows and rows of white bungalows without any landmarks between them. The other commentators though, are not so cerebrally gifted. There's Shobhaa De, flogging whatever's left of her 15 minutes of fame when she wrote bad sex in her books in pre-cyber savvy India. And Jogen Choudhury, whatever his artistic merits, makes disgusting, rude comments about people from Punjab, UP and Haryana, which just goes to show how "cultured" he really is.

And now after reading this entire piece, it seems almost as if I was consumed by the cover story for days, which is not true. I wrote out the post in two sittings, and between them, I attended two amazing Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations. The first was in the church as usual, and after the boys bungled our post-midnight dinner reservation, we randomly got invited to someone's house party. This person turned out to be a fellow student from our university, a very warm and hospitable host who kept plying us with food and wine. We stayed on till nearly 4:00 a.m. talking and laughing, oblivious of the time.

And today we had a grand Easter picnic, with lots of friends and acquaintances, and the cutest old couple ever. When the weather got a little chilly the old man, ever attentive walked off to get a jacket, which he proceeded to lovingly wrap around the woman's shoulders. There it was, all my desires for the perfect relationship summed up in one gesture: companionship and regard in old age.

So as you can tell, I've already started losing interest in what I wrote, because ultimately the Outlook article is more comical than anything else and my attempts to seriously analyze it make me look like a Don Quixote charging at the windmills. But I typed all that nonsense up and my fingers hurt dammit, so read it if you must.


Anonymous Sanity Starved said...

Yeah, if some Mukul Kesavan had written that about my city (Ahmedabad), he would have had it.

Yes, don't take articles that seriously. They are just reporters making some quick money with little money and a lot of it is just that - for reading only. But, it seems the media is very interested in branding Delhi so. Saw some video/article in the BBC on tv the other day about the lack of urban planning. Was surprised why it concentrated on Delhi.

Had been visiting Delhi far and between and I loved how it evolved. More so coming from a small city, it always amazed me. I was always most disapointed with Cal, since it always seemed to stay just like that, stagnant. Haven't been there since New Alipore and all, but hope things there are better now. I didn't mind much - it was home in many ways and food was always brilliant. I am happy if food is good :)

Oh, btw, last post reminded me. I am still not being pushed into the matchmaking process. If you are starting it, then will send my profile. Too much fun to be missed.


10:57 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

How do you encourage civic pride and responsibility, when the city's intelligentsia happily pours scorn etc.

You know what gets me most? They keep talking about how dirty cities are, and while they're tlaking they're chucking their cigarette ashe and butts all over the plcaes, throwing food wrappers on the footpaths and roads, taking leaks down quiet lanes. And then they laugh because I choose to fold my wrappers and carry them in my pockets till I happen over a dustbin.

Yes, municipal garbage collections mostly suck and there aren't enough dustbins. But we were all taught better than to use the streets as one.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous amlan said...

Wish I could be as passionate about Calcutta as you are about Delhi! Every city has its share of good and bad... just depends on whether you want to drink off the full or the empty half of the half-filled glass... Critics get paid for critisizing, so I wont be too upset about the Outlook article...

Speaking about Delhi - I read this book by William Dalrymple called the City of Djinns... describes your city very intimately... take a read, if you already havent...

11:25 PM  
Blogger Cheery Cynic said...

Nice post. I looked at the article. Very upsetting. Very low journalistic standards these guys seem to have (there sweeping unsubstantiated generlaisation of my own)!

Happy easter. Hope you got the msg too.

11:56 PM  
Blogger dhoomketu said...

This seems be the flavour of the day these days.
Yesterday's Sunday Tabloid of India carried a survey on this. I thought I would let people know about the questions they have asked people to come up with their results. Can't find the link on their site today.

I guess Outlook doesn't take the responsibility of writing on "some insight, some causality, some background to what is being described, how did things come to such a pass, how to fix responsibility". Hence, all we have is soundbites..

12:14 AM  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

Brilliant effort. Well researched and articulated. Agree with sanity-starved - don't take these articles seriously. Our media's obsession for the sensational is pathetic. And pls don't even mention Shobaaaaaaaa De. She's complete crap.

I agree with your stance on Delhi (particularly liked the Gulzar quote) and admire your passion. Thanks.

12:40 AM  
Blogger K said...

Brilliant Madam. But on another note, guess where CNN-IBN got the inspiration for that 'ghettoisation' story from? ;-) I even provided the phone numbers.
And as usual India Today copied it after two months!

1:02 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

"Delhi disproves the popular Tamil saying, 'The way to Madurai is in your mouth'. My roadside enquiries on Delhi's streets always resulted in the scratching of the balls and being shown the wrong way."

Did you miss this gem, or did you just choose to not highlight it?

Either way, nice rant. Meri Dilli, meri shaan, I say. And buri nazar waale, tera muh kaala. Horun plese, OK Tata.

3:01 AM  
Blogger Gamesmaster G9 said...

I realise why the story got your hackles up, but I have to admit that I agreed with the gist of the article entirely.

I lived in Delhi for two years, and unlike your usual parochial Bong, I didn't just walk around C.R. Park - I explored it in great detail, like I do with any city that I spend time in - Calcutta, Bombay, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Chicago, or even New York or London. Each of these cities has a unique vibe to it - a pleasant memory that remains with you. In varying degrees I have loved every city I've visited or lived in, with the exception of Delhi.

I can't explain it, I can't give you objective reasons that you won't easily find logical holes in. And I refuse to believe that I haven't tried to like it. I don't hate it for obscure reasons like "Its not home". I try and put it down to North Indian feudalism, but then remember Amritsar fondly and it passes. I try and explain it because of the huge migrant population, but in that case why has the same thing not happened in Bombay. I think the reason is that Delhi exudes hatred. It may seem like a sily thing to say, but that's the best I can come up with. There is no welcome, no sense of belonging - just suspicion, irrational anger and constant abuse.

I have wanted to do a post on Delhi for a long time, but I fear it will just turn into a long rant, and that will just lead to a slanging match. I don't want to be drawn into this Bombay vs Delhi thing (though to my mind, Delhi can't even hope to match Bombay in a hundred years). I'm not going to go into this my-city-is-better-than-yours. I am willing to accept, for example, that I'd rather live in Bombay than in my hometown of Calcutta. Finally, I realise that most people have an emotional attachment to the place they grew up in, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but i just HATE your city. And there are very few things that I would use that word for.

P.S. - Outlook did publish an issue about why Bengalis suck about 6 years ago.

4:12 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Sudip, thanks! As for Cal, you should definitely visit it sometime soon. One of my professors grew up in Cal and he's been visiting Cal every other year for the last 30 years. He says he hasn't seen this pace of change before, and is very excited about it.

Sue, our opinion-making classes are a bunch of hypocrites. Don't tell me the likes of Shobhaa De don't pull rank when they have to. And yes, a campaign for more dustbins and regular garbage collection would do wonders.

Amlan, thank you. I believe this too. There are pros and cons to everything, and most of our cities are very poorly run. And there's much to be proud of about Cal :).

Cheery, I did. I was at the picnic, so couldn't call back. I'll call you today. Are you going to comment using this handle from now on?

Dhoomk2, I just don't get it. First the media employs hyperbole to build up a certain non-existent image for a city (Delhi fashion capital, yeah right!), and then viciously demolishes it. This yin and yang mindset is puzzling.

Bombay Addict, glad you agree with my assessment of Shobaa aunty. I just don't understand why anyone would take her seriously. And hey, your passion for Bombay inspires me!

K, to woh tum they? Hmmm...and they didn't even as much as acknowledge. That was a great story, and reading your Moving to Bombay, I'm sure you've got many such up your sleeve.

8:24 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Tabula Rasa, yes I did read that, and honestly, there was just too much to write about, so had to ignore the gem. How do folks come up with stuff like this? Talking about truck signs, have you noticed the shayari that's written on the backs of autos these days? Here's a sample:

100 mein see 99 percent pareshaan
Phir bhi boley mera bharat mahan

9:59 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Ani, I thought at first that I wouldn't respond in detail, but then I felt I should make a few points.

Not to over-analyze, but have you perchance looked back at your time spent in Delhi and wondered what it was that made you so unhappy in the first place? Perhaps you never wanted to be there, you missed your friends, you were nursing a broken heart, there a million ways to project personal anguish on a place that may have nothing to do with the place per se.

You speak of there being no welcome, and yet I know 6 persons who actually moved back to Delhi after moving to another city, often at substantial cost to their careers. Even after I moved to LA, when I visit Delhi, the warmth and affection from even people like my favourite mithaiwala, music store clerk, newspaper vendor, postman, etc. brim over.

You said you hate my city and ask me not to take it the wrong way. Of course I won't, because my Dehlavi tehzeeb taught me to respect contrarian opinion. Which is why you could have the irony of a Delhi-based magazine trashing a city most of its staff calls home. Try doing that anywhere else!

10:19 AM  
Blogger Urmea said...

I don't have any opinion on this (which is pretty much how it should be seeing as how I have spent a sum total of 6 hours in Delhi in all my life!) but in general - good smackdown/rant!
The shallowness of media in general (I am actually thinking TV news in the US here but yeah I am generalizing) and our willingness to put up with it is mindboggling!

6:27 PM  
Blogger Gaurav said...

Loved the way you took apart the article.

About Delhi itself, while the article itself is being unfair and shoddy, there is a grain of truth in it. Delhi does have some problems which are mentioned.

But it is great to see a Delhiite passionately standing up for the city. A couple of years back I made a post about how I don't see many Delhjiites defending their city(lemme try to dig it up). Great job!

8:09 PM  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

Thalassa - Thanks. And back at you - your passion inspires me !

A small aside - I had this thot on our cities as seen through movies. So, do indulge me here as I list some movies that made me swoon over your city

1. Monsoon Wedding
2. Trishul
3. Silsila (Lodi Gardens..aaahhh)
4. Masoom
5. and of course Rang De Basanti

I want to add Chashme Buddoor to this, but somehow I'm not 100% sure if it was shot in Delhi. Also I'm not sure if those campus scenes in Hazaaron were shot in Delhi.


12:01 AM  
Blogger Old Spice said...

I know what you mean about personal anguish. I went to Dunedin (a sleepy town in the deep south of New Zealand with little to commend it other than the promiscuity of its student populace - and I'm not even sure that's a good thing ...) late last year for a competition which I really, really wanted to win. I spent three or four days competing without sleep, got to the final, and lost. I then got very badly drunk and lost my contact lenses and sense of balance. I never want to return there, as long as I live.

Does this mean Dunedin is a hole? In all probability, yes - I'm not the only person who thinks this way, I've realised. But is it likely I find it hole-ier than most others because of my bad experience there? I'm almost certain I do. It doesn't make a difference to me - I still hate Dunedin.

I love Delhi though - probably more than Bombay, where I've spent more time in India. But that may be because I like the people I met there more, or because they had more cash to splash on us. Perspectives work both ways.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thanks -- yes, i'd seen that one, enjoyed it, and forgotten all about it. and now that i try to recall others, i find i can't remember any. i guess that makes it more fun rediscovering them every time i go back :-D

12:40 AM  
Blogger terah745 said...

From Indraprastha to Gurgaon.

The stretch is short.

But the time is long.

Ulta-pulta Nitin is on.

So are the engines.

It is the Great Delhi Car Race.

The speed limit is fixed.

Not the price of the cars.

There is a sense of understanding.

An odd feeling.


No one can screw this city.

The city screws them all.

You love it- it does the same.

You hate it- it does the same.

The ultimate destination.

For the largest democracy.

And the like-minded.

Who live here.

With "Dilli hei dil walon ki"

The ultimate survivor.


At human desires to own.


From Shah Jahan to Sonia.

From London to Tughlakabad.

Five thousand years.

Too short a journey.

From Gurgaon to Dilli.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Ambar said...

I have absolutely no idea about Delhi, having gone there once for a 2 day trip when I was about 12.

However, I think you misunderstand the point of such articles. They aren't meant for Delhi-ites. They're really meant for people in other cities. I've been seeing hazaar such articles about my beloved Bangalore, and they used to get me all riled up earlier. Not anymore. The overly broad generalizations, the ill-informed quotes, the opinions of 'experts' with their heads up their asses are meant for the consumption of someone who doesn't live in the city in question.
Its a near catharsis for the reader. When I read the Outlook article dissing Delhi after fighting Bangalore's peak hour traffic, it makes me feel good about my city. So is the case with the Delhi-wallah reading about Bangalore's infrastructure woes after enduring, well whatever the average Delhi-wallah has to endure.

Hey, whatever sells!

5:26 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Urmi, we have to rectify this. I mean, you have to spend more time in Delhi sometime, and my parents would be so happy to have you over!

You're right, and given the state India Today is in, and the demise of Sunday, I wonder what it is with falling standards of newsmagazines in India. Not that they are faring any better in the West (Time becoming increasingly irrelevant).

Gaurav, thanks! Well here I am, and I'll defend Delhi as passionately as I defend LA, as I was doing last Saturday to a New York transplant, who was lamenting how much he hated LA. I'm as contrarian as they come :).

Bombay Addict, thank you so much! That's such a great list, and indeed Chashme-Baddoor is all about Delhi. And it is so interesting that a pucca Bombayite like Sai Paranjape made the film based in Delhi that I love the most :).

Some others:

1. Sirf Tum
2. Chandni
3. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum
(Do you see a pattern, Yash Chopra loves Delhi)
4. Kabhi Kabhie (partly Delhi)
5. The campus scenes in Hazaron were definitely in Delhi and capture the dynamics of Delhi University very well.
6. Fire (Deepa Mehta's film)

But was Trishul based in Delhi? See I never paid attention, because I was so caught up with the Sanjeev Kumar-Bachchan dynamics. Now that was a fabulous film!

10:53 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

The Graduate, indeed perspective does work both ways. A friend of mine was miserable for years in LA because she was in a long distance relationship and missed her boyfriend. Finally, we managed to make her aware of what she was doing, and she really started enjoying LA. Now she lives on the East Coast, and misses LA all the time!

Tabula, this reminds me of a line by the Pakistani comedian Umar Sharif:
"Shayari ke liye kitabein nahin padi jaati bawley, truck pado, rickshaw pado, uspe sabse achchhe sher hote hain"!

Terah, very nice, though biting. Shouldn't the last line be "From Dilli to Gurgaon", since that's the way everything is headed these days?

Ambar, I think you're absolutely right, and I certainly sensed that right away. But that still doesn't excuse bad journalism.

All those pieces about Bangalore are so absurd, not one deals with urban government reform, revenue sharing, and ploughing back some of the wealth generated by the city into its infrastructure. Not one discusses the question of why Bangalore Police appears to be understaffed.

I sense some schadenfraude, almost a glee at Bangalore's discomfort, as if to say, oh they so had it coming. There's just too much opinion these days, not enough facts.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

Extremely well written, babe! And being a latecomer here, most of my thoughts and views on this have already been expressed by the people here! So i'll just add my two bits :p
That Outlook list really is most juvenile! And Shobhaa De of all people. Would it help if i say that i've seen Mumbai ministers do the same at Mumbai airports? And what's with the BMC? Are they secretly digging for oil? At least construction and road digging work ends on time in Bombay either it continues forever or is left unattended forever!
And in the list of films shot (in parts)in Delhi...I must add Sarfarosh, Lakshya, Dil Se and Run. And of course the forthcoming Fanaa.
And the reason there are more films made on cities like Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai is simply because they are the centers for the various film industries. So, it's not only easier, but also cheaper for Bengali filmmakers to shoot in Calcutta and nearby. Similarly for Bombay!
And as someone who lives between both Delhi and Mumbai, i can tell you that Delhi is certainly more cultured, erudite and aware! The quality of books and the sheer number of bookshops proves that. Not to mention the easy access to art, theater and loads of film festivals. I dont think any other city has a place like the IHC and IIC. Or even Dilli Haat.
The wide open spaces in Delhi actually make it possible for one to pause for a moment and smell the flowers and feel the breeze. And Lutyens Delhi is AWESOME! If it weren't then all those hundreds of people wouldn't flock to the Lodi Gardens and India Gate everyday for their walks, icecreams and a generous dose of lush greenery.
And when will people realise that all of Delhi is not politicians and relatives of politicians?
End of the day, these people just show their loser mentality. I mean, as the capital of one of the world's fastest growing countries, Delhi does have some sort of pressure on it as well as certain privileges. If its the seat of power, it will have ministers and politicians, and no matter how horrid they are, they still need a house to live in!
It's a well known fact that the Mumbai Govt is partial to South Bombay as compared to the rest of the city. How come no one mentions that? Or maybe ppl like Ms De don't see that from their Cuffe Parade penthouses!
I'm still angry, but i'll shut up!

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Ketan said...

I wonder if this "Delhi is rude" thought process comes about from it being the capital of the country and hence associated with corrupt, self-serving, lazy and duplicitous individuals. I live in Washington DC and I see the same feelings present in other Americans who live in other parts of the country. They think anything/anybody that lives around the Beltway cannot be trusted an inch. So even though this city has cultural events regularly presented by the likes of the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center of Arts, World Bank/IMF and various Embassies, it is always looked on with suspicion.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

very cool. (where do you come up with these?)

re: perspective, a close friend of mine, also now an acclimatized angelino, makes this really good observation that desis who land up in the states tend to fall for the place they first land in. on the whole, i think that's a pretty good generalization. i'd consider myself a new yorker through and through, and you're welcome to stay in LA if you'd prefer :-)

8:51 PM  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

@ Thalassa – a movie buff passionate about her city? Whoa ! may I add you to my blogroll ?
And yes, isn’t it great about someone like Sai P. making Chashme Buddoor ? Thanks for the additions. Yash Chopra does seem to be a Delhi lover. I don’t blame you for being caught up in the Sanjeev Kumar-AB dynamics. Trishul was a fantastic film and yes, for sure (bar the opening mines scenes) it was shot in Delhi for e.g. – the kidnapping scene of Sachin was in Talkatora.

@ Vijayeta – thanks for the additions. Agree on Delhi being more cultured, erudite and aware, but given that I’ve just come out of a debate on Bombay v/s Delhi, I’m not going to delve on it all over again here.

Ok, now that we’ve got a list of 15 movies, my top 5 would be
1. Chashme Buddoor (ah the open spaces, the fun, the madness and Ms. Chamko)

2. Hazaaron Khwaashien Aisi (the campus, the fury)

3. Silsila (as above – Lodi Gardens, aaaahh)

4. Tie between Monsoon Wedding (just for the first scenes of the Rabba Rabba barsaat song. And Declan Quinn did a fantastic overall job) and Lakshya (Agar mein kahun - where is that song shot ?? lovely!!)

5. Rang De Basanti (India Gate, a Gypsy, friends, beer and the night. With Paatshaala in the background. Better than heaven.)

9:30 PM  
Blogger Vijayeta said... point getting deeper into this debate. One really cant come to a conclusion here :)
That song from Lakshya was shot at the Tughlakabad Fort and the Qutub Minar.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Vishnupriya said...

i agree totally. i read the article, and it was just an "impression" piece, where everyone gave their opinions and made broad generalisations. but outlook has done this before. there was this really condescending article about "young people are so stupid", where they went to some theater in delhi and asked some people about mahatma gandhi, and they couldn't answer it. so they wrote a whole article about how this generation is so stupid.

1:01 AM  
Blogger Essar said...

Thalassa, two things here. The Outlook story you refer to is pretty much representative of the trashy standards set by the media. For instance, the absence of culture it refers to is more to do with the lack of media REPORTAGE about culture, which is quite a different thing.
Yet, I completely agree with the gist of it. Delhi is a rude city, you cannot get past a day without having your head bitten off.
The only places of which I have fond memories are DU and JNU - both campus areas, islands in themselves, really not representative of the city as such.
I read your reply to Gamemaster - since I had pretty much the same arguments as he - yet you know, this is my city. I've lived here all my life, any dislike I feel for it has nothing to do with the friends or family I miss.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

thanks for writing this excellent rejoinder to Outlook's rabid, vapid piece. They so need that.
Btw, slightly freaked that you know my Lucknow connection. Have I mentioned that on my blog?

7:29 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Vij, thanks! And thanks for the addition to the film list. You're right about politicians, in fact I've long felt that a lot of resentment and anger with the central government is projected on to the physical space of Delhi. I mean sure there are enough home-grown political fixers, but an overwhelming majority of them move to Delhi from other parts of the country.

Ketan, precisely. The parallel is quite accurate. A lot of people think of DC as nothing beyond a web of lobbyists and cronies.

Tabula, that quote is from the Pakistani play "Bakra Qishton Pe", a cult favourite in the 80s. And what you described is scary, so if I had landed in Hicksville, Midwest, I would have fallen in love with the place? Naah, LA is special, you NYers are just jealous of the weather :).

Bombay Addict, please do and thank you for doing so. Yes, I love, love Chashme-Baddoor. It is hard to believe Sai never lived in Delhi, she's so dead on with all the Delhi University dynamics!

In fact Chashme Baddoor was actually shot in DU, unlike RDB, which was shot in India Habitat Centre (very amusing, that place has nothing to do with DU). And I loved Sai's "Katha" as well.

Vij, after reading this I looked up the Lakshya song. Ooooh, the fort looks so pretty.

7:37 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Vish, years ago I had a discussion with an Indian economist where she lamented "economic analysis" pieces in Indian newspapers which relied on insights from the reporter's doodhwalla and mother-in-law. I guess that sort of journalism is alive and well in many different areas.

Essar, agree about poor standards of journalism. Which is not to say that everything that appears in Outlook is trash. About your personal opinion, well, we agree to disagree :)

Anand, I do remember you mentioning it in your blog somewhere. Can't remember which post though.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Gamesmaster G9 said...

Not to over-analyze, but have you perchance looked back at your time spent in Delhi and wondered what it was that made you so unhappy in the first place? Perhaps you never wanted to be there, you missed your friends, you were nursing a broken heart, there a million ways to project personal anguish on a place that may have nothing to do with the place per se.

Sorry, thik holo na. My time in Delhi was extremely enjoyable - I was dying to get out of home, and I spent two wonderful years at the ISI. My dislike of the city has nothing to do with my state of mind. So thanks for the pop psychology, but no thanks.

You speak of there being no welcome, and yet I know 6 persons who actually moved back to Delhi after moving to another city, often at substantial cost to their careers. Even after I moved to LA, when I visit Delhi, the warmth and affection from even people like my favourite mithaiwala, music store clerk, newspaper vendor, postman, etc. brim over.

See, Swati - this isn't really the kind of argument I expect from you. I will see your six people and match them with six of my own who just couldn't take it anymore and left. I could add to that many others who are forced to stay there because of their jobs but for whom every day is like a personal hell.
This trading of personal anecdotes doesn't prove anything. Obviously, there will be people who love it and people who hate it. Our respective parades of supporters and detractors cannot clinch the argument either way.

You said you hate my city and ask me not to take it the wrong way. Of course I won't, because my Dehlavi tehzeeb taught me to respect contrarian opinion. Which is why you could have the irony of a Delhi-based magazine trashing a city most of its staff calls home. Try doing that anywhere else

Again, sorry, but thats a lot of mush. Calcutta-based publications routinely trash the city and are often backed up by readers. So thats not really Delhi's preserve.

Let me reiterate my point, which seems to have got lost. Here's my stand.

1) The Outlook article was terrible. Articles need to be backed up by facts not perceptions.
2) Perceptions do exist, however, and need to be addressed. Why do so many people feel that Delhi is a rude, offensive and worse, undafe place? This cannot be answered by your-city-is-worse arguments or by I-know-someone-who type anecdotes.
3) Few there may be, but there ARE facs backing this up - the number of rapes in Delhi is scarily out of proportion. That is serious cause for concern. Why does this happen in Delhi and not, say, in Chennai? Again, an analysis is called for, not blind defense of the its-mine-and-I-love-it variety.

You're free to take potshots at my city too. If they are justified, I will even agree with you. But lets be reasonable, please.

3:48 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

" if I had landed in Hicksville, Midwest, I would have fallen in love with the place? Naah, LA is special, you NYers are just jealous of the weather :)"

funnily enough, i have very close friends who have done just that. the key specimen being one who pitched base in springfield illinois, runs a mile at the thought of times square, and now lives in and calls denver a "happening city (you must come visit)".

and jealous of the weather? sheesh, try again -- at least we have a topic of conversation! :-D

6:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rajeev goswami died in 2004.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Gaurav said...

Tiny correction. Paranjape would count more as a Puneite than a Bombayite. Huge diff. :)

11:40 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Ani, ok, my bad. So I guess whatever angst there was wasn't contributed by friends.

See I'm not trying to circle wagons around the issue, but I just don't see how you can move this beyond cliches and personal anecdotes.

Since you're an economist, may I ask you what is an objective way to measure rudeness? How do you factor in cultural context into such a measure? Let me tell you an anecdote (again anecdote!):

The first time I visited Greece, I was appalled to find people around me speaking in angry tones and annoyed with something that I couldn't fathom (I didn't understand any Greek then). I asked my boyfriend about it, he laughed and said they weren't arguing or angry but just talking in a normal way!

So yes, it's contextual. What is normal speech in Jat or Gujjar societies would be considered very impolite in Bengali middle-class circles. And someone from upper-class Lucknow would be horrified at the Bengali's lack of refinement (in fact my mother and aunt felt gauche when they visited Lucknow, and they are both very polite).

Aah, the rape statistics. Ani, if you would believe NCRB data, then West Bengal has a higher rate of rapes/pop than both Bihar and UP (1.8 compared to 1.6 and 0.8 respectively). The highest rate of rape/pop (4.8) is for Tripura!

Given that a majority of Tripura's population consists of ethnic Bengalis, what does it say about them, I wonder. Pune has a higher rate of rape/pop than Bombay (1.7 to 1.1), something I find very, very hard to believe.

The fact is that NCRB data is drawn from police station statistics of reported crime. In fact what I'm curious about is the very high level of reported rape in cities like Bhopal, Jabalpur and Indore, and indeed for the whole of Madhya Pradesh. And the very low level of reported rape in cities like Chennai and Coimbatore, and Tamil Nadu as a whole.

12:33 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Tabula, I know, I know. My uncle who lives in Hicksville central (the Missouri-Kansas border) always talks about how delightful it is, and how happy he is there.

And see the difference is, you guys talk about the weather, we just go out and enjoy it :).

Anonymous, thanks, I stand informed.

Gaurav, thanks for clarifying. Of course, huge difference. Are you a Punekar too. I often tell my friends that no city in India has got anything on the amazing array of restaurants on Junglee Maharaj road in Pune. Simply fabulous!

12:37 PM  
Blogger Leo M said...

i was born in bombay and have lived here all my life. ive travelled a fair amount - across india, across the world and there's no city i'd rather call home than this one. having established my credentials as a true blue bombayite, i'd like to say that i really, really like delhi. i think it's a great city with a brilliant quality of life, some very nice people (and some awful people, like every other city in the world) and a lot to do.
Also, india's metropoles are too far apart and populated by peoples too different for comparisons to make any sense. you can compare pune and satara, cochin and kottayam. these are cities from the same background. not bombay and delhi. that's like comparing chennai and calcutta. that's just stupid.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Anti-establishment Inc said...

Even among the educated, who’ve been to the right schools, the first instinct is to break the law.
...That is a psychological condition and has definitely nothing to do with a specific city. Somebody in jhumritallaiya might be equally inclined to break the law and for all you know, grow up to become a rocket Scientist.

Peace out.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

the mo-ks border?! not "manhattan kansas, the little apple"? :-D stockholm syndrome or what, eh.

and see, now that *we* are talking about the weather, how enjoyable it is to do so? (unless you, predictably, think not -- in which case let's just agree that delhi weather is the best and leave it at that.)

4:55 PM  
Blogger Pareshaan said...

Fantastic article, sytematic, cogent yet retains a passionate edge - Killer!
And lovely though the post is; the fact remains that Delhi needs nobody to speak for her defense. You either get Delhi or you don't.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Shreemoyee said...

Every city has its pluses and the to be hidden away under the saree pallu lows. And much of the perception also has to do with personal experiences. I can't see an objective piece about the topic. But you write very well.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Gaurav said...

Yep, am a pakka Punekar. Love Bombay, but not even close to as much as I love Pune.

Your observation about JM Road is bang on. My god woman, is there a city in India you haven't visited????? What's more, you seem to put your finger on the most potent observations about these cities at once!

8:03 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Leo, thank you for your nice words. And you are right, comparing metropolises is tough, and ultimately boils down to what appeals to us as individuals.

Anti-establishment, so true. Sigh, if only education was an antidote to crime.

Tabula, I'd definitely chalk it up to a Stockholmian resolve to make the best of what you've got. Aah, but this is where my heart relents, because LA does have better weather than Delhi, much, much better.

Pareshaan, thank you!

Shreemoyee, thanks!

Gaurav, I'm very ashamed to admit that I've never been south of the Vindhyas. Soon, soon this will be remedied. But I spent an amazing week at a conference at Pune, though I missed out on Chitale's bhakarwadis. I did make it to Vaishali though.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Smith said...

Nice hatchet job, and while I agree with you that the Outlook article was a poor piece of journalism, I can't help but agree with its basic premise that Delhi is a rude city!

I've lived in Cochin, Bangalore, Mumbai and am now living in Delhi, I call Chennai home as well because my parents live there. Except for Cochin I've been pretty much an outsider in the other cities, not speaking the local language, starting out in the city all on my own. Never have I experienced the hostility, the inconsiderateness and the sheer rudeness of Delhi.

The manner in which people drive demonstrates the lack of consideration; the disregard for traffic signals (which is present, but to a much lesser degree in all the other cities except Mumbai) the disregard for fellow motorists and the incredible propensity to drive on the wrong side of the road with hazard lights flashing, all demonstrate a kind of mentality I've not seen elsewhere.

I've plied my broken Hindi in Mumbai and Delhi and I've never had a problem in Mumbai, while Delhi would laugh at me, be rude to me, and try to cheat me, because my Hindi was evidently south Indian.

Statistics apart Delhi also appears to have a tremendous cultural tolerance for violence against women, which is hard to fathom, rape almost seems like an acceptable thing in Delhi.

Anyways, I do concede that it is possible, as you said, that I am projecting my personal unhappiness onto the city, in my hatred for the city, but the above points are the few empirical bits I could distill from the hatred. I also have a couple of non-empirical points I want to state:

The weather in Delhi is the worst in the country, swinging from cold wave to heat wave. Why would people voluntarily stay in a place like this (when they don't have professional compulsions like I do)

I'm sure I'll get flamed for this, but the man on the street in Delhi also appears to be a lot less intelligent than his counterpart in Bombay, Bangalore or Kolkata.

Finally of course there are some good things about Delhi, the wide open spaces, the availability of inexpensive accomodation, the think that's it!

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Saurabh said...

This is a very very late comment for a very interesting conversation that I was forwarded to by a friend's blog. But having been a Delhi-ite for about 22 years, I think I can touch on a couple of things that no-one mentioned. I am not sure of the histories of other Indian cities, but I think there are very few that have been razed to the ground and risen again as many times as Delhi has. From Indraprastha to Lutyens it is said that it has been rebuilt 7 (or is it 9? not sure) times. Now all that pent up aggression has to go somewhere. Maybe it exists at a very basic level in the form of a severe xenophobia in the people of the villages that exist(ed) in and around Delhi. Thats my theory for the rudeness; fairly simplistic, but then I have examples to back it up. My family is from one of these 100 odd villages that have been swallowed by the city in the last 30 years or so, and I have lived most of my life on the outside looking in, and it is not a perspective that breeds endearment.
Doesn't Bombay have something like that as well? I heard 'ghati' is a derogatory term for rustics there. But the thing is that the 'ghatis' around delhi are the Jats, the hot-blooded, foul-mouthed, ferocious yet simple people of this region, who take little nonsense from anyone else. So if you had the bad luck of running foul with one of these, then its just your bad luck. But then if you can't take the heat I would say please stay inside your air-conditioned car and hotel room and not venture out on the streets. Odds are that if you tell someone in Delhi that you hate them, they would give you ample reason to.

Note that I'm not sayin that this is the only Delhi that is. There is the Delhi of the idealists living in the jungles of JNU shown in Chashme Baddoor, the Delhi of the materialists living in Punjabi colonies scattered around delhi shown in Yash Chopra's movies, the Delhi of the British left behind and occupied by the Indian government, and then there is the new Delhi of the middle class shooting up on the outskirts which should be mise-en-scene in a number of movies to come (have't seen a lot of songs shot in Delhi/Gurgaon malls). Anyway, as with any place in our complex country, Delhi, our capital, has layers and zones and sweet and sour points (more than most other places I would say but then that's just favoritism)...

6:36 PM  
Blogger Abhishek said...

I am commenting here after a very long time.Yesterday, when I was having ORANGE SANDESH, at KAMALA SWEETS,in CHITRANJAM PARK, I realized that I had not read your blog for a very long time.So, the first thing I did was, after finishing my ORANGE SANDESH,BHAPA SANDESH,RAJ BHOG and DOI(Do I need to write Mishti as well, preapred in Khajoor ka gudd),I came home and regressed the past blogs.I must appreciate that they are as good as ever, and becoming better.
Now, since I am writing here, it has to be about Delhi.Three days ago, I was hackled by a local Gujjar at Mehrauli, as I had changed lanes, causing him some discomfort.It was my mistake, and I had admitted that to him, seeking forgiveness.However, he kept on abusing me with the detailed versions of BCs and MCs, which is in Delhi like oil in Iran(easily available).Then he came out oh his car saying that he would thrash me up, and I resisted.Later on he pulls out a lathi like thing from the storage of his car, and again tries to hit me .I try to stop him again, while asking him to cool down, and asking for forgiveness. Throughout I was resisting him, as I did not allow him to hit me wit the lathi; and I did not retaliate as I was a bit affraid of all that goes in the name of police case and all.Then came a point, when I had snatched the lathi and wanted to hit him back, but, I stopped myself.However, he was adamant to punish me for my crime of changing lanes and not allowing him to race past by me.Then four local gujjars arrived from nowhere and diffused the situation.So, I was very near to be assualted by a local man of a very rude caste, called gujjars; and I was also saved by the very same gujjars. While the scuffle was going on, none from the probable writers, IT professionals, Profs, businessmen, came forward to help me or him.
So please tell me, what should I make out of this incident.Secondly, I am still confused whether I should have tried to hit him or I did the right thing by just resisting him.
I do not know.Is Delhi rude or the mankind?
I still do not know.

3:03 AM  
Blogger Raman Goel said...

well abhishek, that's indeed very rude! n agree wid the point dat Delhi does have some seriuos problems! But you name me one city in india (or, in fact, in world) which doesn't have!
Talking about rudeness, I was once going to kol 4m delhi by train. At a station (i wont name dat station coz dont wanna compare between any two places), 10-odd students board the train and as soon as the train left the stn., these "gentlemen" started misbehaving with a girl who was dere wid her family. When the sole male member of dat family reacted to this, they started beating him so rudely (even shoes weren't spared for beating), as if he has committed a crime! NOW WHAT CAN ONE CONCLUDE 4M THIS INCIDENT!!!
Wat i want to say is dat it's not delhi which is rude,it's our society which is losing all its values! It's not delhi, it's not mumbai, neither india nor US!!!

And b4 a conclude my comment, let me mention about one more incident dat happened wid me in "dillwallon ke shaher" DELHI. Once, me n my frnd where returning 4m a mall via metro. Metro official asked for one rupee change, which we didn't have. So we went to next token counter. Same case happened dere also. So we got side.A passenger heard us talking about the incident among ourselves, he asked us wat happened. After learning bout the incident he generously gave us a one rupee coin and asked us to buy the token.
It's not about one rupee coin, it's about how generous dat person was. So, wat will conclude 4m dis one!
It's not dat one city is rude or is completely polite. It's just wat one gets to experience n explore, and more importantly, wat one wants to see n highlight!

5:25 AM  
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9:41 PM  
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11:31 PM  

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