I often wonder what it must be liked to live life as a “Delhiite”. As a tourist travelling through the Indian capital, I see lots of slums, lots of poverty, and generally a poor standard of living (by western standards). But what exactly must Delhiites themselves think of their own city?
Around typical marketplaces like Chandni Chowk in the older part of Delhi, life is just one long drag. Vendors and shopkeepers try to earn a living in squalid conditions, selling everything from newspapers to new shoes. I can imagine life must get pretty hard when nobody walking past their shop has any money themselves to buy anything. This, in turn, leads to petty theft, and occasional violent crime (which is getting worse in Delhi, by all accounts).
Of course, Delhi is not the only major city in the world to have conditions like this. In fact, most cities on the Sub-Continent do, such as Dhaka and Kathmandu, and the least we mention of places like Jakarta in Indonesia the better. But life seems to be tougher and rougher for the average Delhiite compared to others – even compared to your average Mumbaikar from further down south. Even events such as new water tanks pulling into the city can lead to dangerous crowds as people fight over gets first dibs.
Even something as ‘natural’ as running water is not available to the majority of people in Delhi – and the water you may find coming out of your taps in your Delhi hotel is certainly not clean enough to drink! Delhiites have long since had to put up with these kind of conditions, with the ever-increasing size of the slums in the city, and to be fair to them, they are just trying to get on with life the best way they can – with a carefree smile!
Traffic is horrendous in Delhi, and the roads are not a safe place (even if you’re a pedestrian walking nearby!). Despite the carefree smiles, there is intense competition to see who can last longest in this survival of the fittest. I’ve often wondered if this is why Delhiites look at us tourists with such amazement when they see us travelling through their city – are they genuinely interested to see us, or do they think we’re mad to involve ourselves in their own daily struggles?