If you Google Delhi stories, you get spooky tales — lists upon lists of haunted spaces in the city that are meant for the “daredevil dildaar sorts,” and definitely not “for the faint-hearted.”
Apt that both these “types” should allude to the heart. Because the one thing the city does have is Dil. It could be a black one at times, but it’s all heart.
“The one thing the city does have is Dil.”
A city as ancient as Delhi is bound to have ghosts, of course — there are enough monuments, for one, to constantly remind you of worlds other than the one you inhabit, which did exist, and not only did they exist but thrived, once upon a time. (The haunted spaces list also includes the Karkardooma Delhi Court though).
When you drive down that stretch between Adchini and Jamali Kamali, ignoring Qutb Minar, you’re on land that belonged to no one and was all a jungle in Delhi of the ’70s — just another piece of earth under the sky that was yet to catch the eye of real-estate developers. But you’re also trespassing in a way, on the Sultanate — ages before Babur’s invasion, a time that had Mongols for enemies and ghulams for kings.
Of course, you’re just going to a party in Vasant Kunj.
Where you bump into the only ghost that matters to you — An Ex-Boyfriend. You replace “an” with “the” in your head, because he was the one that mattered. He was, indeed, The One. And you know this only now because when you look back at that time of your life, it is his face that has survived the onslaught of an already-eroding memory.
“A city as ancient as Delhi is bound to have ghosts.”
The ’90s are crumbling in your head, an island gradually being engulfed by the relentless flow of… information. Information that used to be about the weather, but is now about the hazardous content of particulate matter in the air; gossip you may or may not gather weeks later about that friend’s friend at a Friends of Music gig you may or may not go to, but is now on your Facebook feed; details of lives, so many lives, from Kim Kardashian’s to your very own — I mean, did you ever analyse your rate of metabolism in the ’90s? Or parade around just stuff you knew, you know, almost via osmosis, as “trivia”? Or cherish your entitlement to all and any kinds of strange, borderline sociopathic behaviour, on the hallowed grounds of “being comfortable in your own skin”? (What does that even mean? Who the hell is comfortable in their own skin? You weren’t born to feel comfortable). It was a time when you still remembered things, facts like how Civics was the name of a subject you studied in class. And how it meant nothing else.
But that face and boom, floodgates! It forces you to fight the S.D. era (Smartphone Deluge), to rescue the ’90s from obliteration — it is the Venice authorities to your Venice. Because you find yourself suddenly, without even meaning to, or wanting to, transported to the road outside Wimpy’s, waiting for a red Maruti 800 that would be playing Pink Floyd, windows rolled down. You would have walked here from your friend’s place in SDA and arrived at the designated spot at the exact pre-decided time, as did he. “Woah,” your 2017 self whispers, almost audibly, impressed at your own self from the B.S.D. era — How, you wonder, did you achieve that, and not once or twice, but several times, without What’s App? It’s a genuine wonder.
“It was a time when you still remembered things.”
He smiles and “Wonderwall” starts playing in your head — you remember how you obsessed over that song, how it possessed you, and thought it a lark when that very smile, less weather-beaten, was followed by the usual greeting — not a boring hello, but rather, “Hey, the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out.” “Hah!” you admonish your ’90s ghost-self, “all your fires were doused by cold beers anyway!”
And now the moment of truth has arrived — somewhere between the Merlot refill and the campy dancing to Khambe Jaise Khadi Hai, because in 2017, we love camp, and we also know what it means — when you need to take a call if you’re the “daredevil dildaar sort,” or “the faint-hearted.” Are you going to strike up a conversation with the face (because the name eludes you — was it an A?), and be prepared for the tsunami of memories likely to flood your brain? What if you were suddenly at CJ’s, in your college sweats?! Are you brave enough to take on Delhi like that? Walk down that moss-laden path and open the gate that says, “Trespassers will be…” Will there be a suave marketing professional on the other end, telling you how amazing you looked? No wait, that only happened in Hollywood movies.
Maybe you’ll just opt for the less adventurous route on your way back, where they tore down the Ridge. Flanked by gigantic malls on either side, you’re almost home.
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Pooja Pande is a writer-editor who grew up in, considers home, and hence has a suitably complex love-hate relationship with the capital city of India, Delhi. Her first book, Red Lipstick, a literary-styled memoir on celebrity transgender rights activist Laxminarayan Tripathi, came out in August 2016. Find her on Twitter at @.