Friday, May 30, 2008

dilli ka badalta roop

Maybe because I traveled more in this trip, I saw much that has changed in Delhi from even six months ago. Many of those changes may have been building for a while and are manifested now.
  • The much-maligned and much-cursed BRT corridoor has made life tough for private vehicle-owners and auto-rickshaw drivers, but pedestrians have never had it better. The traffic flow is much more organized and crossing the road is a breeze; many roads have the prized commodity that was non-existent earlier: pavements that cyclists do not encroach upon, since they have a separate lane to themselves.
  • The new buses (Tata Marcopolo) that run in these corridoors are a dream. The ride is smooth; the bus design is good; the journey is as fast as it can be in a bus; and people don't crowd the doors. The only thing is that the buses seemed poorly ventilated, due to the strange positioning of the windows.
  • The one thing that Delhi had and Mumbai didn't--precious green cover--is fast depleting. The coming of the Metro sounded the death-knell for lakhs of trees; the regret was palpable in the voices of whoever I had this discussion with, but there was also a resignation to the march of progress.
  • Was I lucky, was I so used to it that I didn't notice, or do auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi throw less attitude at you now? I also figured that the fare calculation is done as follows: average fare to destination rounded to the next high figure + markup of Rs. 10. If the chap wasn't interested in going, he didn't haggle any more, but shook his head firmly. Strangely though, I did not encounter as many refusals this time as I have done in the past.
  • The gap between Mumbai's and Delhi's night-life seems to be reducing. While roads in Delhi used to be dead by 8 pm earlier, I saw a fair amount of traffic, bright lights and activity even past midnight on a Saturday night.
  • Traffic jams, the bane of Mumbai, are multiplying alarmingly in Delhi, despite the fact that Delhi has larger, wider and better roads. Unless it's an emergency, the office hours need to be avoided like the plague.
  • The mall culture has asserted itself with a vengeance. No less than three of these giants stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Saket (more trees destroyed), on a stretch of road that was otherwise desolate at night and only slightly busy in the day. A by-product is that the older PVR Saket bears a has-been look, even on weekends. I am told that M.G. Road in Gurgaon is known as the Mall Road now, because it is infested with shopping malls of every colour and flavour.
  • If Mumbai has Navi Mumbai, Delhi has Gurgaon--a suburb with vast, uninhabited spaces that could take the huge overflow of aspirants who want to make it big in the city. For those who knew Gurgaon for the DLF 'ship building' and 32nd Milestone, it's bizarre and even scary to see the colonies of swank offices with their glass and concrete exteriors, the high-rises that house all those for whom Delhi has become unaffordable, and the frantic pace at which construction activity is still on. While Gurgaon promises a certain lifestyle, I was also told that housing in that suburb is also becoming unaffordable with skyrocketing property prices. Plus, problems of finding parking, increasing traffic jams, and power and water shortages are rearing their heads. In short, Gurgaon's becoming as overcrowded as Delhi.
  • Now for some things that haven't changed. Connaught Place retains its essence, though several stores have shut down and new ones have taken their place. I spotted three Coffee Day outlets this time, which is two more than last time. The emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Marg are the same, right down to the attitude of the employees who work there; and the guys at Khadi still firmly believe that they're doing you a favour by billing your products and packing them. Janpath is much the same, as is Depaul's cold coffee (Thank God for that!). Dilli Haat is the same; shoppers in Delhi's markets are still a pushing, shoving lot; and auto-rickshaw drivers still love to pass a comment or two to relieve the boredom of their existence. The golgappas are the same, though I couldn't indulge as much as I'd have liked to; Hot Choc Fudge at Nirula's is sinful as ever; and filter coffee at Saravana Bhavan and Sagar Ratna is still a taste of heaven. There, I'm looking forward to the next trip already!
  • Nothing about the biggest addition to Delhi--the Metro--you'd notice. A Metro journey is on my wish-list for next time, so I'll reserve comment till then.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Just read...

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.

A well-to-do moral philosopher in Edinburgh and the editor of a journal called Review of Applied Ethics, witnesses the death of a young man who falls from the higher rows in a concert hall. She, effectively, is the last person to see him alive as he falls, and feels that she has a moral responsibility to investigate his death. Enlisting the help of her niece's ex-boyfriend, who she herself is half in love with, Isabel tries to probe whether the death was accident, suicide, or murder. At the same time, she tries to get her niece's love life in order, though not with any degree of success.

The mystery isn't much to write about; what comes alive in Isabel's journey is the deep moral choices we face, and more often than not, choose to avoid--telling the truth vs. lying, forgiving vs. punishing, and so on. The slices of philosophy fit interestingly into satirical comments about Edinburgh culture and society and quiet insights into the human condition.

Though several parts of the book were quite interesting, one that stayed with me is set on a bus journey that Isabel makes late at night. The other people on the bus are a man in an overcoat who seems oblivious to his surroundings, a couple absorbed in each other, and a teenager trying to make a statement with his attire:

"Isabel smiled to herself: a microcosm of our condition, she thought. Loneliness and its despair; love and its self-absorption; and sixteen, which was a state all its own."

Another interesting part was Isabel's conversation with a man who has piercings all over his face. She wonders how any girl would like to kiss this guy, and so forth, and then asks him why he has these piercings. That's quite a philosophical conversation too.

Our moral dilemmas and Isabel's perspectives on them make for just the right kind of reading--thought-provoking but not self-consciously so, warm but incisive, leaves you with a smile, but also with several questions.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The sunset of life

'I'm going home', the thought used to both excite and comfort me. Now, it brings with it the realization of the vulnerability of age; the helplessness of seeing the world whiz past, uncaring of the slowing footsteps of old age; the frustration of being energetic and productive and not having enough to do; the loneliness of having time for your children when your children have no time for you.

Why is life assumed to be over after 60? Why is 'retirement' such a crucial stage in an individual's life? Why is youth so dismissive of old age, when that's the future of everything? Why do people over a certain age think that they should not dream, should not desire, should not aspire; and why does society at large endorse that attitude? Is there a way of leading a productive, contented, happy life at that stage? Any answers, anyone?