Better off in Defence?


Last week began with a bang. My address changed. I became the Shah of the Jahan. I moved from the wrong side of the Yamuna to its right side. From Lower East Side to the heart of upper crust Delhi. Such a long journey: from Anand Vihar in middle-class east Delhi to Defence Colony in upper class south Delhi.

Defence Colony. The culmination of my dreams. So many times have I wistfully glanced at it from my DTC bus window as the 543 would rumble down the smoggy Ring Road. Would the day ever come when I would live here? Nahi, how could that be possible?

There are only three Def Col types:

a) Your pa is rich, rich, rich

b) You have become a cricket star-turned-soft-drink-endorser

c) You are an expat from a shiny white land

I am none of these. But I was muqaddar ka sikandar. An expat friend living in C block, Def Col, had to urgently go back Home to the US for a month and she requested, I dont want to leave the house empty. Can you please stay here? (Jackpot!) Er, yes, let me think about it. I suppose I could. Thats what friends are for. (Excitement contained.)

Last Wednesday: Defence Colony bungalow. Time: 6 am. My first morning here. Im alone in this big house. Each room has its own remote-controlled air-conditioner (there are six rooms). Imported books line the wooden shelves. Walls decked with paintings purchased from Paris, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco and Dilli Haat (Madhubani, of course). Recent issues of Vanity Fair in the magazine rack; Puccini and Britten fill up the CD rack. Proper shower curtain in the bathroom and white thick soft towels (bilkul 5-star hotel type) hanging behind the door. What luxury, yaara!

Now, follow me to the kitchen (Im feeling like First Lady Michelle Obama conducting a televised White House tour). Open the bumper-sized Samsung refrigerator. Its European Union inside: Dijon mustard (from France), Remia French salad dressing (from Holland), Pollis Olive Denocciolate (from Italy), DAK chopped ham (from Denmark) leeks, asparagus.

To add to these first-world luxuries, theres an English-speaking maid from Jharkhand who cooks everything from hummus to Thai green curry. Last night, she made pasta with cherry tomatoes and arugulas. (Sir, please tell me what are you liking for tomorrow?)

Last Friday: Outside in Defence Colony. Time: 6.30 am. Taking a walk. Ignoring barking dogs, security guards and construction labourers. Concentrating on the white bare arms of expat memsahibs as they lean on their bungalow balconies. So relaxed, so content.

Its true. People of south Delhi are happier than other Delhiwallas. Their trees are greener, their birds chirpier, their sky bluer, their air cleaner, their cars fancier. Theirs is a better world. Im jealous.

Last Saturday: Bathroom. Time: 7 am. I fill the bathtub with warm water, take off my clothes and slowly step in. Ooh la la, this bathtub business is so relaxing. So different from my regular middle-class bucket bath of east Delhi.

The good luck did not stop at Def Col alone. On Monday evening, after much scheming, I managed to get an invite to the birthday bash of an ex-Maharani (Im her friends friend). There I was at a white bungalow in Malcha Marg, a diplomat-dense neighbourhood in central Delhi. Uniformed security guards, a driveway, a garden, and Her Highnesss car so long, so sleek.

In the living room, the coffee table had a candelabrum lit up with five candles. The sofa was velvety. The bookcase was filled with first editions, and the maid greeted in English. The welcome drink was champagne. The music was by Bach or perhaps Beethoven or perhaps Chopin or some such guy. The total effect was totally civilised. I felt at home with the upper class culture. Until more guests streamed in.

First to arrive was a Kashmiri businessman. He was followed by a French art dealer. Next was a book publisher. He was followed by a woman who divided her time between Pondicherry and Nizzie (Nizamuddin East, south Delhi, not Nizamuddin West, south Delhi). The last person to arrive was an Old Money who had his own house in Amrita Shergil Marg, Delhis most expensive neighbourhood.

This was the topside of the Upper Crust Delhi. I made a We all are south Delhiites eye contact with the Amrita Shergil man. His shoes were probably worth more than my entire months salary. I tried making polite talk with the Frenchman till the time he said that I speak like Mickey Mouse. Keeping my composure, I asked the ex-Maharani for more champagne so casually as if I have it every evening.

I continued acting.

I pinched my lips sadly when the Kashmiri businessman told me in Emma Thompsons accent how cosmopolitan Srinagar once was. I nodded knowingly when the Pondicherry lady noted that school fees in London are killing. Soon I got drunk, got tired of being a Def Col type.

Then all I wanted was to curse in Hindi, gulp down a Patiala peg, and order chhola bhautras from Haldirams. It was getting suffocating. When the clock struck 12, I said my Salaam-Namaste and escaped out into the open air. It was clear: I could never walk, talk and laugh like an upper class Delhi walla. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and saw my Def Col friend. She would return next month and I would have to return to east Delhi. Then it would be back to bucket bath. No regrets.

The writer is a Delhi-based writer and photographer. He runs a blog called Pakistan Paindabad and he can be contacted at [email protected]