I remember reading Alex Hailey’s book, “Roots” many years ago. I have, however, quite forgotten the substance of the book. It’s one I read many years ago. It struck a chord with many people.
Fans of “The Big Bang Theory” may recollect that the character Sheldon Cooper gave a copy of the book to the lady in the HR Department. For some reason I don’t understand, it offended her. Perhaps I should buy the book and read it again to, hopefully, understand why.
My home town is Delhi. That’s how I think of Delhi. It may seem odd, but I chose to call Delhi my ‘home town’. I don’t like the culture that is developing in Delhi. There is not much I can do about it, except behave in a polite and dignified manner.
Until recently, I lived longer in Bombay than I did in Delhi. I always considered myself an outsider to Bombay, even though I prefer Bombay’s life and culture to that of Delhi. It wasn’t always like this. But it’s impossible to afford an apartment in Bombay unless you want to live in the boondocks, so here I am.
People in Delhi are more rough and rude than they were 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, people were warm. They’ve always been socially conscious, but you could meet someone and be assured of a genuine smile and a hug. When you meet someone now, you get a quizzical look if you have not given them sufficient notice. The city is horrendously polluted as well. As the number of cars and buildings has grown exponentially, the heat island effect has grown along with it.
The city is well-nigh unlivable. Why do I live here? Why did I call this my home town?
I should have managed my bosses better. I’ve never suffered fools, especially if that fool was my boss. If I had been more politically savvy, I would have continued with my career in Singapore, become a Singaporean and never returned to India.
My brother-in-law lives in California. He has vowed never to return. I have another friend who lives in Boston. She too cut all ties with the country of her birth.
I lived less than one third of my life in Delhi. Why do I consider Delhi to be my hometown? Why did I choose Delhi when I could choose any other place?
The poets of Delhi died many decades ago. Mirza Ghalib, Zauq, Mir Taqi Mir, Khwaja Meer Dard — these are a few of the great Urdu poets of the 18th and 19th centuries. Urdu is the language of poetry. This is what I believe. It’s a beautiful language, visually.
The tragedy of today’s India lies because many Indians associate Urdu with Islam and reject it. By doing so, we also reject a big part of our own heritage.
My grandfather and father — Punjabi Hindus both — grew up learning Urdu. My grandfather read an Urdu newspaper as long as he was alive.
When you translate poetry from Urdu to English, you lose the beauty. Still, you can try!
Those old poets loved the city. Delhi was home. Delhi lived in their hearts and they loved it. So they wrote some magnificent poems for Delhi.
Marauders pillaged Delhi through the centuries, yet it has risen again. Through the splendor, the rape and the pillage, Delhi has stood the test and has lived.
Will it survive the pillage that is being wreaked today by its own citizens? Today’s people take from the city. Very few give back. They crowd the streets, throw garbage on it, shit, piss and spit on it.
Do people today regard Delhi as home?
My father grew up in Mittah Tawanah on Sargoda, Punjab. My mother grew up in Lahore. Both places are in Pakistan now. A few years back, a Pakistani friend sent someone to my father’s village, to film it. He sent us the film, and my father saw his old home. He left home just before the Partition of India and saw it just before he died almost 70 years later.
It’s difficult to describe the waves of nostalgia that swept through me. I could understand my father’s emotion. Why was I emotional?
This is the land of my ancestors. I know that I may never see it in my lifetime. I also know that my kids — the generation after mine — have no emotional connection to these ancient roots.
But this is where the roots of my subconscious lie buried. This is where the stories of my ancestors lay buried in the soil. This is the place where the laughter, tears and bloodshed of the past combined to give me my identity today.
The elders of the village spoke of the old days. There was no hatred in their hearts. They remembered my family, and spoke of the old days when camaraderie ruled — before the politicians ripped us apart. Their own political aims were more important than the centuries of friendship.
My kids have no emotional attachment to Sargoda, or to Lahore where my mother grew up. They have none to the land of my father-in-law either.
The old stories lie buried deep inside us, and we will create new ones.I don’t want my kids to live in India. They will create fresh stories and traditions. They will blend the culture of their future adopted homes with the culture of India that they grew up in. They will create something of their own.
We are back to the question: — why did I choose Delhi as my hometown?
One reason — this is the city we always circled back to. It is the home base.
Our extended family lives here. The relationship has changed over the years. But no matter how tenuous the family relationship lives. We all seek a home. We seek a family.
We seek a place we can call home. We seek a place where we can die.
Maybe these are just some reasons I call Delhi my home town.
It’s about an emotional connection with a place.
It is about the people you know.
That’s what we seek. Connections.