I have always seen the city from the lens of the village. Where people go and forget the village. The city came to my life as the city versus the village. Until then, the city was but a temporary address for me. In the column for “permanent address” I always filled in my village address. Not where I had encamped in the city. On every occasion I found myself returning from the capital, Patna, to village Jitwarpur in district Motihari. All the time the difference between the home and the camp was intact. Home meant village, camp meant city.
Delhi taught me to be in the city for the sake of the city. But as soon as I got off the “Eleven Up” train and saw the expanse of the city, I was shaken. I was afraid of Delhi from the very first sight. I’d seen in films how Dilip Kumar would come from the village and, right in the middle of the road, the city would bear down on him from all sides. Often I’d feel like this at the AIIMS crossing in Delhi. The DTC bus number became my new address. I recognised the numbers that took me home towards Govindpuri.
Slowly I began to understand that such a big city meant even more treasures than Patna! I began to do all that which I used to do in Patna. I began walking in the afternoons. I have travelled many lanes and neighbourhoods of this city during the afternoons. Just to look. The washing machines in the balconies and the women washing clothes wearing nighties or maxi gowns was the first scene that really became Delhi for me. Ghalib and India Gate came later. Before this, I’d never seen so many women roaming around in their nighties in the afternoons. Even though the nightie had arrived in Patna, it wasn’t that popular. Had I been a painter, I would have painted Delhi on a nightie.
Friendship with Nayana transformed this city into a book. Rather, it transformed me for this city. We have loitered about a lot in love. That desire to say a little more before the goodbye made us walk miles. Delhi used to walk along with us. The fact that Delhi’s a stranger is the best friend of romance. No one knew me or recognised me here like in the village. It’s in these moments of love that I learned the historicity of monuments. I got to hear Nayana lecture for hours and hours on Mughal architecture. Yes, you have to study too, in love. You have to argue. We are not only defining ourselves but the city as well. Even today, when I hear the words “lapis lazuli”, time past begins to flutter its wings like a pigeon.
I feel like a small town today...
And I feel like a metro.
You know, whenever you pass by South Ex, I feel like Karawal Nagar.
Shut up, you’re crazy. In Delhi, everyone feels like Delhi.
That’s not how it is. Not everyone in Delhi is Delhi. Just like everyone doesn’t have love in their eyes...
Okay, but then how am I South Ex?
Just like I am Karawal Nagar.
You know, if this Barahpula flyover wasn’t there, then the distance between South Ex and Sarai Kale Khan wouldn’t have shrunk so much.
Are you in love with me or with the city?
With the city; because my city is you.
He fell for the girl selling momos in Lajpat Nagar. So far he’d seen the seven-sister states of the North East only on a map. To stroll here every evening had become a habit for him. Secretly, she started giving him one extra piece for every plate of momos. After she smiled once, he began to say, it’s very nice, each time he’d leave. After seeing Shahrukh’s Dil Se, it seemed to him that this one extra momo was paving a new way for love.
He’d eat and he’d pay. The Lajpat Nagar aunties weren’t bothered by this North Indian boy standing around this North Eastern girl’s stall every evening at four.
Cultures can meet only in a marketplace. He just made one blunder. In return for momos, he gave her a thekua from back home one day. That was the last evening of him indulging his taste for momos...
September seems all confused. It’s either impatient to get to October or grieving at having left behind the August rain. The air has a strange sort of heat, or that helplessness a government gets in the face of inflation or corruption. They were sitting under the palm tree in the Millennium Park and pulling at the grass. He kept patting her back, gently blessing her but the smile never returned to their faces. The mungfali guy also left after shouting a few times. The waste-picker kid watched them closely for a while and thought, what strange lovers! Neither do they talk nor do they leave the grass alone. If only lovers like this visit the park the gardener’s job is as good as gone!
Excerpted with permission from A City Happens In Love, Ravish Kumar, translated by Akhil Katyal, Speaking Tiger.