Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A City of Villagers

As I was stepping out of my house the other day, I spotted a man hovering uncertainly outside our gate. As I asked him if he wanted to meet any one, he introduced himself as our newspaper vendor and said that he had come to collect his monthly dues from our neighbor on the 2nd floor. As I was began to say that he had gone off to kerala with his family, the man interrupted me by asking “ Accha to woh Gaon gaye hain ?”
The concept of gaon- the village is deeply rooted in the urban psyche; it is assumed matter of factly in Delhi – that every body who lives in Delhi, does not actually “ live” there – that they actually live else where and that the gaon- the village is where the roots are, where the spirit is set free and that the body is the only entity trapped in the great soul less city that “New” Delhi is.
As a child, I remember those trips to my gaon –actually more often than not it was a city – Kolkata but in the collective thinking of people; every one in Delhi comes from some distant idyllic village and so every other summer, armed with my father’s LTC , we would hop on to the train and go off to Kolkata where my mother’s relatives lived or a little rarely to the actual village Sukhpukur( The pond of happiness, no less), near the border town of Bongaon where my father’s brothers- my uncle had settled after hopping across the border shortly after 1947.

In May, when the schools close in Delhi, the sheer impossibility of getting a train ticket out of Delhi tells its own story of the enormous numbers of people who descend into the city in search of a livelihood and then every summer head off like homing pigeons to the places where they really belong. Their transient watering holes in town are the Bengali Association, The Tamil Sangam, Andhra Association, the Maharashtra Mitra Mandal and numerous others. Delhi is the hunting ground of every one and home of no one – a nature reflected even its governance structure- Shiela Dixit the Chief Minister was once a Member of Parliament from U.P and Kiran Choudhury , a former Deputy Speaker of the Delhi Assembly is now a cabinet minister in Haryana.
If Delhi is the crime capital of India, I wonder if it is because the city is every one’s abode but no one’s home. No one has a sense of pride or ownership over a city where hardly any one has roots. One’s heart is after all in one’s gaon – and as the saying goes- one’s home is where the heart is.
Delhi has also been described as a heartless city, and I wonder if this is because no one owns it except for a multiplicity of bureaucratic agencies who exercise administrative jurisdiction over it. Less than a month ago a 52-year-old freelance journalist lay bleeding at the busy crossing for nearly an hour after his bike was hit by a speeding mini truck, without any sort of medical help coming his way and finally the victim bled to death on the road. Would this have happened in most of small town and rural India.
The sad fact of the matter is that no matter how cosmopolitan our cities might be, the social integration of a composite culture has not happened. And so when you scratch us below the surface, we are all Tamils or Malayalis or Bengalis or whatever. It is and always will be a case of “ Mera Gaon, Mera Desh” in Delhi at least for a long while to come.

No comments: