When I shifted to Mumbai in 2007 and was looking for a house to rent, the broker gave me a piece of unsolicited advice, “Never say you are from Delhi or it would be difficult to get a house on rent!”
Hurt, I asked him why and he responded, a bit diplomatically, “Don’t feel bad but the ordinary Mumbaikar carries a not so benign perception about the ordinary Delhite.” I asked him to explain himself further.
“Average Mumbaikar feels that Delhi people don’t follow rules or understand their civic responsibilities. They are prone to get violent at slightest challenge or provocation; it is better to avoid them.” He said, diplomatically avoiding usage of offending adjectives.
Not exactly good words to hear about people of the city you belong to, but then, perception is a perception. It cannot be fought or contested; it can only be modified or changed by personal interactions, over a long period of time.
Though I did not need to pay head to his advice as I found a house belonging to a colleague of mine who believed he was insured against my “Delhite tendencies” because we worked in the same organization, I did face the question, “Äre you from Delhi?” many times over, in my first interactions with maid, newspaper guy, cable wallah or the corner grocery store, mostly followed by uncomfortable stares which my oversensitive mind read as, “Do I trust this guy?”
And this is only a perception formed on the basis of interactions with immigrants from Delhi, people who by virtue of moving away from this comfort zone, attempt to modify behaviour as per their understanding of requirements of his newly adopted city. A Delhite in Delhi is perceived to be much worse.
Does Delhi deserve this perception? If we ask the few questions, we may find that the reality is worse than that.
“In which city are the women afraid of being out alone in the dark?”
“Which city would you be in where the price of a property varies according to black
component and potential of encroachment available?”
“Which city comes to your mind where the auto-rickshaw driver would refuse to go by meter, use the longer route and believes that overcharging is his right?”
“In which city are you, where if your vehicle kisses another one on the road, you are more worried about the other driver shooting you than the scratches/dents on your vehicle?”
“In which capital (country or state), rioters first try to burn the city down, lynch the policemen and then encroach on a major road for a month, blocking the movement of the city and Police is reduced to ‘requesting’ them to vacate?”
Answers to these questions validate the perception referred above. Delhi is lawless, recalcitrant and violent, almost like a spoilt child. On comparative terms of course as there are many cities which can claim to this tag, though, to a lesser extent.
How did Delhi acquire this tag? There are two theories about it
First one, believed by most is that Delhi being the seat of political and bureaucratic power, it has thousands (or lacs) of people who have the money to spend (bribes or black money) and the connections to flaunt “तू जानता है मॆरा बाप कौन है” (You know who is my father?), who can disregard the rule of law and get away with it, giving rise to a new accepted norm of social behaviour were not respecting the law or not following rules is seen as a indicator of having arrived in life or having made it large.
The second one is more charitable and linked to history, or to be specific, medieval history.
Over a period of 1000 years, between the 8th century and 18th century, all invasions of India happened from the North West. From Muhammad Bin Qasim in 715 AD to Nadir Shah in 1737 AD to Abdali in 1761, invaders came using this entry route to India. Punjab, Rajasthan, Sindh, parts of UP and Delhi being geographically at a position where they were in path (other directions had either sea or the mighty Himalayas in the way) and bore the brunt of invading armies whose standard practice was to kill & maim, loot and rape, plunder & destruct and leave the charred towns and villages behind. Bigger towns like Delhi, Agra and Ajmer were the centre of attraction for all invaders and looters as they were the capitals of kingdoms and provided sufficient wealth to loot, sufficient people to kill or subjugate in one single place.
While the cost of war is paid for the defeated army in terms of losses and reparations, the aftermath is worse for the general populace. It gets a new ruler who imposes new taxes with the objective of acquiring the wealth of the subjugated and these taxes may be based on religion, ethnicity or culture. A new set of tormenters replace the old ones as the soldiers, the captains and the generals of the victorious army continue the looting game but this newer set does not conform to legal, social or ethical rules and have unstated but clear support from the rulers.
The tax avoidance, the disregard for law, a disdain for authority and a just below the surface violent streak were the defence mechanisms, the subjugated people developed when generations were forced to live in an ecosystem of unfair taxes by an alien invaders & rulers, discriminatory rules based on one’s religion or nativity, daily threats to life and limb and to the property & possessions and biased application of law. And when such defence mechanisms are deployed or put to use continuously, for centuries (for almost 1000 years), they become natural survival instincts and get hardwired, into the DNA of the race.
All this while, the rest of India was almost insulated from invaders by geography, long distances and the fact that these front line states wore the invader down. The southern plateau or the eastern delta did not face the invaders’ intensity in full. Most invaders (Qasim, Gazni, Gauri, Timur or Abdali) stopped or returned before the Vindhyas or Magadha in the east. Those few souls who did so after establishing themselves as rulers of India and not as invaders and had a different mindset by then.
Which theory explains the process of making Delhi the errant, recalcitrant, almost spoilt city of India better or whether both played their part in equal measure, is not the focus for this piece but the fact that this spoilt brat called Delhi needs a strict diet of discipline, sooner than later. The opportunity presents itself every time a new government is chosen. The assembly elections, due next month, present one such opportunity.
Choose well, Delhi!
Would Delhi choose an opportunist cum obstructionist who is prone to flout rules, disregard the law if it helps him win cheap popularity, who would wear the cloak of utopian but fake ideals & trivialize the government, institutions & symbols of the democracy and take Delhi further on the slippery road of lawlessness? Would Delhi choose someone who is willing to support rioters if they can promise enough votes, who would be more interested in protecting his chair while the lawless carry on with their shenanigans?
Or, Would Delhi choose someone who that takes pride in being an Indian, lives by its ethos and enforces rule of law by governing by an ethical, civilizational framework? Would Delhi choose someone who stands behind the forces when they will enforce the rule of law, without fear or favour, whether the enemy is internal or external? Would Delhi choose the one who would support punishing those who are on the wrong side of the law, reform those who are willing to mend ways and inculcate a sense of discipline and respect for rule of law?
Would Delhi choose the one who can respond to the “तू जानता है मॆरा बाप कौन है” (You know who is my father?) with a “अपना आधार कार्ड चैक कर और दॆख लॆ तॆरा बाप कौन है” (Check your Adhar Card if you don’t know your father?
Choose well, Delhi. It is your future that is at stake.