As I stand on the balcony of my apartment building on the 9th floor of The Belaire complex in Gurugram, I find myself looking out onto a beautifully manicured lawn, a huge swimming pool, a basketball court, and a tennis court. As I look around, I see all the modern amenities of a plush condominium where my family had relocated about three years ago. All of a sudden, I find myself drifting back in time, feeling a rush of emotions and also a deep sadness in my heart. I realize that I am missing my ancestral home and the vibrant streets of my neighborhood where I spent the most precious and joyful first 25 years of my life.
Home ‘til now had always meant the busy Ring Road in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. It was a sixty-year-old, sprawling white house located in the heart of the city with terracotta trim and most of its paint chipped away. A century-old banyan tree grew before the bungalow, standing strong and allowing my home to bask in its shade. I remember my mother often narrating how green and quiet the street used to be and how she would take me and my brother for a stroll in our prams there several times a day. The area was once a completely residential colony and walking through the lanes one could enjoy the fresh air while strolling between the trees planted on either side of the road. Over the years, we saw our neighborhood become more and more commercial with families moving out and their houses being demolished to build large retail stores. The quiet lanes that were once devoid of any kind of noise, motor vehicles, and pollution now became among the busiest and most crowded streets of the city, and a main thoroughfare full of shops, hospitals, banks, and traffic. We didn’t realize it as it was happening, but looking back now at how the landscape changed so quickly, it's no wonder that it was soon our turn to leave.
Trying to revive my childhood memories of Delhi, I find myself intoxicated with millions of sights, sounds, fragrances, aromas and experiences that seem to come tumbling out like an uncontrollable river. I constantly miss the warmth of the colonies of Delhi and the hustle and bustle of the crowds on the streets. In contrast to Gurugram’s shopping malls selling branded goods, Delhi has fascinating indigenous markets and colorful roadside stalls everywhere. As a child, I remember stepping out of the back door of our home into the market just a stone's throw away where my mom always said one can find anything and everything from a pin to an elephant. I remember being mesmerized by the colorful hanging fabrics and the vendors selling beautiful handcrafted jewellery. The intricate pattern details and the exuberant material quality found in the local markets were beyond my imagination. It came across as a world full of color and material richness. I fondly remember visiting art fairs and music festivals happening every other day. I miss my casual trips to the Delhi Haat where handicrafts from all over the country are exhibited and sold, from local handmade products to beautiful fabrics, pottery to an array of everyday knick-knacks for the home. I miss the “mehendi walas,” the henna artists sitting on the pavements, applying intricate designs on the palms of women during festivals. My palate craves the mouth-watering street food of Delhi sold in every nook and corner, especially the sweet and spicy chaat and the tangy, yummy pani puris.
Each of these places, streets, objects and all that existed in the spaces between them fills my memory and contributes to a larger narrative of my life. My childhood home and neighborhood shaped me into the person I am today. Now that I have moved to a new place, a complete contrast to Delhi, I hope to explore, experience and cherish this part of the city.