Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A guide to my hometown: New Delhi, India

Nostalgia, self-discovery and adventure from New Delhi to Amherst

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(Bhavya Pant/ Daily Collegian)

(Bhavya Pant/ Daily Collegian)

(Bhavya Pant/ Daily Collegian)

By Bhavya Pant, Collegian Staff

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Battle Stance

“Next Station: Rajiv Chowk.” The announcement resonates through the coach, stirring passengers out of the reverie of their glowing rectangles. I gather my belongings and assume my battle stance, knowing well that when the doors slide open, all hell will unleash. The trick is to always keep your elbows up, using them to cut through the incoming human swarm. Let your guard down and you’ll be squished against the back. Welcome to the busiest metro station in the capital of the second most populous country in the world. It features skyscrapers, the incessant symphony of car horns and streets ever bustling with pedestrians consumed in a single-minded hurry. The city that waits for no one. This is New Delhi. This is home.

Little Talks

My maiden bus ride into Amherst, Massachusetts is a picturesque montage, as trees stain the autumn sky titian. An elderly woman slides into the seat next to mine, breaking my gaze. “So, you’re a student at UMass!” she observes, pointing to the logo on my t-shirt. “Freshman?” she inquires earnestly. What my brain can’t process, though, is why a strange woman is striking up a conversation with me aboard public transportation. A thousand alarms go off in my head, all pointing to the obvious: in no scenario can a stranger chatting you up have a good ending.

You see, in Delhi (or “Dilli,” as we Delhiites like to call it), the concept of “small talk” doesn’t exist. The dizzying pace of the metropolitan lifestyle leaves no room for pleasantries. You don’t converse with strangers unless it’s necessary, and even then, the exchange is likely to be brusque. Lavishly drop ‘Nice-to-meet-you’ greetings and you will turn heads. In Amherst, however, I soon learn that small talk constitutes an essential ingredient in everyday life. From the cleaning lady you occasionally bump into in the hallway to the cashier at the nearby Target, everybody wants to know what you’re up to.

Antithesis

Delhi embodies contradiction. Only here can you stride out of a Versace showroom and into a slum. Exquisite art galleries and coffee houses hide amidst the dingy lanes of Said-ul-Ajab. This juxtaposition is best observed in the very heart of the city, Central Delhi, where ornate British-era architecture houses sit amidst vibrant pubs. Hungry? Gourmet restaurants sit within the Inner Circle–– or better yet, the street-side vendors will serve you the fieriest dumplings you’ve ever had. Drive down Raisina Hill at twilight with the windows rolled down and watch the continuum of twinkling lights adorning the Parliament. Take a mandatory ice-cream pit stop in front of India Gate. Lean against a stranger’s scooter, sugar and ice on your palate. A homeless man sleeping on the footpath occupies your peripheral vision.

These are the things I see.

It’s hard to convey my love affair with this city in words alone. A sentiment which demands experience to be truly understood. So, for the valiant souls among you who can brave a 20-hour flight across the globe, give Delhi a chance. I promise you will be smitten.

P.S. Bring sunscreen, I’ve heard it gets kind of warm and sunny.

Bhavya Pant can be reached at [email protected]

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