Why I Live Here: Delhi

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I arrive at my grandmother’s house—this home has not changed much in more than thirty years. The familiarity feels good. The front garden still has the tiny orange tree that Daddy (my grandfather) planted and Naniji, my grandmother still makes marmalade (she is eighty-five now). Her home is where my mother’s family has come to for many a small or large event, including five weddings.

I walk down the street, and notice the changes—taller homes, busier traffic, unfamiliar faces. I arrive in GK Market (in the neighborhood) which is now filled with brand name stores. Only three or four stores remain from the 1980s. I enjoy the people watching … can I relate to anything or anyone at all?

I think of all the television coverage regarding how India has changed so much, and keep looking for visual changes. From a historical perspective, Delhi went through many conquests and rulers. It is believed to be the site of Indraprastha, in the Indian epic, Mahabharata. In the medieval period, Delhi was conquered by various Rajput, Central Asian and Turkish dynasties. In 1526, Zahiruddin Babur defeated the last Lodhi Sultan and founded the Mughal Empire that ruled from Delhi, Agra, and Lahore. Shah Jahan built Shahjahanabad, more commonly known as Old Delhi. Delhi came under the British rule after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and was made a district province of the Punjab. In 1911, Delhi was again declared as the capital of British India. “New Delhi” also known as Lutyen’s Delhi, was created and designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens to house government buildings. and was declared as the capital of India on 15 August, 1947. Today Delhi is a cosmopolitan city that is the second largest commercial center in South Asia after Mumbai.

I’ve lived in and visited Delhi at different times of my life. During my school years, we would spend entire summers visiting family. My sisters and I would visit our grandparents and other family members, complain about the heat and electricity cuts, and shop a lot since we had little else to do in the heat. In the evening, we would often walk to the markets on both sides of the home or go to different parts of the city.

Good food is synonymous to Delhi. Meals are elaborate and everything is made fresh. Naniji would ask us what we want to eat and her special breakfast of halwa and maal-puras … (small crisp fennel pancakes dipped in sugar syrup) was divine. Making it here just doesn’t feel the same. Evening tea is a mini-meal with mithai (sweets) like jalebi, burfi and a variety of savory snacks. Snacking seems to go on all day long … in summer with a variety of fruits, chaat (savory snacks) and “sharbats” (iced drinks made of rose/sandalwood/lemon, etc) and in winter, Delhi-ites sit outside and snack on “dry fruit” (a variety of almonds, pistachios, raisins, pine nuts, dates) as well as fresh carrots, cucumber, radish, roasted sweet potato, oranges and more. Somehow, everything tastes better because you are always being served. I still remember how we would sit with our grandfather and try many specialty foods from all over town!

Lately, my visits to Delhi have been shorter but I hope to some day spend re-discover this town. My “Delhi” days will always be very special … it is a city with much to offer.


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