The sweltering pollution, their tameless clouds… it is the smog which often defines our narrative of contemporary Delhi, which is a shame, because when I have chosen to inhabit the city – for a couple of months in between a couple of weeks of 2012, a couple of weeks of 2013, and a couple of weeks in 2019 – I have found the city equally as breathtaking for its architecture, and for its culture. Delhi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was founded on the ruins of the city Indraprashtra in the Mahabharata. Keeping this in mind, one cannot traverse Delhi without feeling that one is at the heart of the Indian narrative. This is why so many of the best writers of the Indisputable Indian narrative choose to observe Delhi for some time. You cannot help but feel that the histories of the subcontinent are there in every corner, waiting to be discovered on a morning jog, or in the middle of a business meeting on the other side of Haus Khaz.
I first stayed in Delhi with my uncle and auntie in Gurgaon, one of the up-and-coming business districts of the city. I had to crash with them because after a tour of India with my parents in late 2012, I ended up getting sick, and couldn’t catch my ticket back to Peru. I spent two weeks with them, largely recovering, largely touring. It was due to this trip that I realized that my time in South America had reached a good end point. I was hungry to see more of the East, so I decided to spend all of the next year, 2013, from everywhere between Myanmar and Mongolia. I also found Delhi quite the captivating city. This itself inspired future trips. It was after a trip to Eastern Africa that I decided to visit the city once more for a couple of weeks, towards the end of 2013. Once again, Delhi made me realize that I was meant to pivot from one part of the world to another. Despite the charm of being surrounded by fellow writers and increasing my literary network, I found myself really missing Kenya, and decided I would do much better writing there. I decided once more to concentrate on Africa rather than calling Delhi home. I revisited in 2017, 2018, and 2019. On those trips, I found myself at one with the hipsters in Kunzum Cafe, or wanting to be like the rich diplomats who had their homestays in the greener corner of Lutyen’s.
As I discovered Mumbai – my true home of the moment – I found a lot of my feelings of Delhi not necessarily to wane, but to kind of reach a plateau. As a tourist, I find the city extremely inspiring. The longer I spend in the city, however, the more I find myself hating it. It might be the air pollution, or the extremely segregated nature of its urban design, or the fact that half of the things Delhivallas love to brag about the city, I just don’t seem to get. Delhi has wider roads compared to Bombay, but not as much, and yes, food is great, but that doesn’t define everything. I have come to a certain place with my understandings of the city. I see it on my list of places like Paris or Cairo. I don’t mind revisiting it once in a while for a few weeks, I like it to reminisce about a time in my life I barely spent, but I can’t see myself ever truly living there, without feeling like the walls of my sanity slowly crumble apart.