India revisited

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By 2017-08-13

Text and pix by Priyangwada Perera
Ceylon Today Features

The award winning Editor in Chief of National Geographic Traveller for 17 years, the late Keith Bellows has said it the best. "There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won't go. For me, India is such a place." When you have not just visited but lived there for four years, the feeling is even more intense.

This time, many told me, "Now that most of your friends have left Delhi and you are no longer a university student, you will not find India to be so fascinating." They could not read the look I gave them as one of great pity. I knew better. Landing in Delhi, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport; a raging summer was just gathering momentum. It was my first visit to the newly renovated massive airport and I was already smiling. I was already murmuring the Bollywood songs, hearing the tunes played as I walked to the Arrivals. I was reminiscing about the first time I arrived in Delhi many years ago. In spite of the possibility of antagonizing many by saying this, I had come 'home.' The known roads, massive as ever dwarfed me like they always did. I was back to enjoying the mammoth city.

What was not too clear in the night became apparent during day time. Identifying myself as a 'Delhi-girl,' this was my first time in Noida. It was then that I realized how many things had changed. Improvement and development was unbelievable. I kept wondering whether the population had increased tenfold. There were an unimaginable number of people. It was a relief to see that the Metro - the electric trains were extended to many cities. That must also have been the reason the place felt more populated. With the extended destinations, commuters appeared from nowhere. Tokens could be obtained from automated machines. Where that was not possible, there were separate counters for male and female commuters to get their tokens. It was also interesting to note that the metro had a couple of compartments reserved only for the ladies. It was not the practice during my student-days. With all the new additions, the trains still came on time and were super accurate as always. The recordings informed the commuters of the next station and on which side the doors would open. Walking down memory lane, I found myself reciting the Hindi and English announcements in my head. I still knew them by heart. It really was a 'coming-home.'

Going to Delhi and not shopping is unacceptable. Yet, certain markets and towns are closed on specific days. Once a Delhi expert, I had clearly forgotten some of the specific details. If you are on a short holiday and are unaware of these days, it is going to be a definite loss. Of course if one shops only at super malls, it is of no problem. Otherwise, Kamla Nagar is closed on Mondays, Chandni Chowk, Khan Market, Sarojini Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Janpath Market, Sadar Bazaar, Connaught Place, Karol Bagh, Darya Ganj all on different days of the week. If one is on a short shopping spree to Delhi, there needs to be careful planning. Unlike the times you were a student there, you do not have all the time in the world. Perhaps it is one reason Delhi can be frustrating for an unprepared tourist.

Among the skills I had lost in the years of my absence was the skill to bargain. Never being great at bargaining even during college days, this time I was worse. It took a good couple of days to polish up the old skills. The language skills that remained dormant for so long, also took a sudden turn for the better. Blame it on the number of years, economy and inflation - things were far more expensive than they used to be. I found myself feeling like my 94-year-old-grandpa, when I kept thinking "In my 1st year in Delhi, an egg was for just Rs 2."

In the shops and markets, you see the famous coverlets, table cloths and cushion covers of heavy embroidery or mirror work. Bags, purses, stoles and shawls are a different tale of artistry. One cannot take one's eyes off the earrings - which were always my favourite. What comes for unbelievable prices in Sri Lankan luxury department stores flash before your eyes at a very affordable price. The right place and the right taste are all you require. Seeing these massive collections of earrings after a long time, the mind kept running back to our after-church shopping hour on Sundays.

It was a reverie to walk back to campus. Be it summer or winter, Delhi University would always hold the same charm. Seeing Miranda House, my very own college was like oxygen to a dying man. Many a change had taken place but there was no time to go in and explore. Passing some of the colleges that we Sri Lankans attended in North Campus, S.G.T.B Khalsa College, Sir. Ram College for Commerce, Daulat Ram College, St. Stephen's College... nostalgia was at its peak. Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station was completely changed. But many years later, students were still the familiar sight. Seated together, sipping coffee, reading books, debating over issues of caste and religion; discussing the latest movies - North Campus was peacefully active. In spite of obvious improvement and development, the iconic college-feeling remained the same. My goals to achieve, "To eat bhail puri, to ride in a cycle-rickshaw, to see stars in the Delhi sky" had their boxes ticked. The hardest part of going to Delhi was always the leaving. Yet, there was no choice. As Kushwant Singh writes in Delhi: A Novel, "I asked my soul: What is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its life."Luckily at the airport, a passenger is nothing but a body. Life had safely refused to come back.

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