It’s been 10 years now that I have been living in Delhi. Yet it never ceases to amaze me. A city marked by multi-storied buildings and big mansions is simultaneously characterised by broken sewage pipes, endless slums and their decrepit conditions. Author Arvind Adiga very rightly said, “Delhi is the capital of not one, but two countries – two Indias. The Light and the Darkness both flow into Delhi.”
Have you ever wondered why people flock buses and trains from far-off villages to reach this city? Is it because they have the desire to live in posh areas amidst the fuming air? No, it is only because Delhi, to them, is a utopian place to seek opportunities – job opportunities in particular. If someone were to ask me what the true Delhi culture is, I would have no definite answer. Delhi is nothing without its people – it is prospering only because of the amalgamation of cultures and societies that are conspicuously found here. From its associations to Indraprastha, the city of the Pandavas, to being home to the Mughal emperors and the capital of the Britishers, Delhi is an apt representation of heritage – and this is very well reflected in its architectural designs. Tourists bustle the streets to visit the Purana Qila, the Jama Masjid and the Laxminarayan temple, to go to Chandni Chowk to satisfy their shopping cravings, paranthe wali gali to taste the delectable paranthas amidst the pungent aroma of sputtering spices, or the market of Daryaganj to witness the enormity of the book stacks with the essence of vanilla wafting the air. But this is just one side to Delhi.
To the southwest of this city, you will find yet another city, which can be described as the New York of India or the Gurugram (Gurgaon) of Haryana. From each corner of your eye, you witness the construction of magnanimous buildings, countless apartments, intricately designed malls, hotels and bases of multinational companies which seem to cross the limits of the sky. The technological developments taking place here are something to marvel at. However, hidden behind this blossoming city is a darkness or a gloomy truth: innumerable slums are demolished for the ‘beautification’ of this city, the helpless poor are displaced from their makeshift shelters, forcing them to adapt to the vulnerable side of this city. Gurgaon is regarded as a city with rapid urbanisation and rising incomes, which have led to a sprawl of office buildings and luxury apartments. Yet, it is infamous for its quotidian traffic jams and its water-logged roads during the rains. All the fantasised versions of the city – the luxuriant settings and tranquil lives – veil the harsh reality.
If you were to go behind any construction site, you would see construction workers and their families dog-tired from the day’s work, carrying more head-load than what is conceivable, striving to summon every ounce of strength, and starving all day just to feed their children. They have more or less come to terms with their abject poverty. This holds just as true for the city of Delhi – behind every lavish area, you are likely to find a filthy occupation of the people who have no other place to live. For example, adjacent to the posh American Embassy lies the destitute Vivekananda slum. This stark contrast is just as hard for me, a resident of Delhi, to comprehend – as it is for new visitors.
Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai, Chennai and almost every other city in India stands as an example for this appalling prevalence of inequality and the contradictory nature of development. Even though the poor form the lifeline of the economy and meet the burgeoning demands of the privileged classes, the quality of their lives is not much valued. From maids, cooks, drivers, gardeners to hawkers and guards, they are the true heroes of Delhi. Otherwise, this city would have collapsed.