Forever…

When he went down on his knees before her for the first time, she knew this was going to last.

When he took her to her favourite cricket match as a first date, she knew this was going to last.

When he drove down 600 kilometres to surprise her on her birthday at dawn, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw him running around all week, just to make time for a weekend getaway, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw him fighting all odds for her, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw him stay up nights just to hear her cry her heart out, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw him put her to sleep, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw her trust someone like never before, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw her pour herself out before him, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw her stay up nights just to help with his presentations, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw her put aside her dreams for him, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw her love like there’s no tomorrow, she knew this was going to last.

When she saw the sparkle in her big sister’s eyes as she walked down the aisle towards him, she knew this was going to last.

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And when on their wedding day, he promised her a “Happily Ever After”, she knew this was forever

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P.S. You know this is meant for you. So am I 😉

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Believe.

Walked home back from a lecture with a gleaming face and ranted on about it to him. It was 11 pm, way past his sleeping time. Said so much that he almost thought it would have been better to personally attend it than hear me go on and on about it. Trying to cut my long stories short, he asked, “So what was your favorite part?”

I jumped off the couch and said “Take a guess, Pop!”. He gave me mundane answers like the speaker’s prowess, the intricacies delved into, having my friends for company etc; until he gave up.

To his surprise/dismay, my favorite part was people telling me that they had read my blog! Now let’s be honest, I don’t have many readers and quite some time back (In “Write like no one’s reading”) I’d realised that writing for myself was the motive. The blog was just a medium of expression/ranting or an escape to fiction when reality got a little too harsh. I, for one, couldn’t have been more contented that I had friends (okay, I confess, exactly one awesome friend) tell me that even though they didn’t understand it sometimes, other times I succeeded at bringing a tiny smile or starting a small thought process. I was elated and how!

To my surprise/dismay however, his reaction was rather different. His immediate question was, “You mean people actually access your blog? Like they can read your stories? Even the personal ones?” “Well, it’s a blog, it’s meant for reading you know.”, I murmured away before I finally let him sleep.

Later though when I sat to think about it, I could understand his concern. I read and re-read all the posts to find anything inappropriate in them. Couldn’t. (Cant be your own critique!) But what I did realise was each of the stories, each of the tales, real or fictional provided glimpses into me, into my family, into people I love. It was the tiny window in Rapunzel’s tower – The strong tall tower that very few people had access to.

Which brought me to wonder…Why do we all have this brick wall built around us? Why do we take possibly genuine questions as invasion of privacy? Why do we draw a definite line between friends and acquaintances? Why do we call people who speak their minds ‘outspoken’? Or people who trust easily as ‘dumb’? Why do we not trust? (Ah, practically I can not only give you answers but answers with live examples of the repercussions of the ‘trust’, but let’s believe and move on)

Our grind of lives often takes us far away from being able to believe. (Even if it’s painted on our wall in huge letters!) But let’s face it, the girls (however feminist) still expect the Prince to dash into the tower, kill a few people, get a few bruises (still have perfect hair) and then come to get you. And the boys (however non-sexist), expect a beautiful (Read: at least decently hot) face to wake up to every morning. But to get there you need the courage to leave the window open and the strength to make the climb. How many of us are ready to do that yet?

But yes, the dads – they always consider their daughters (however grown up) little princesses who need to be protected from the big bad world. Guess someone hasn’t given up on believing yet, eh? 😉

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P.S: I often tend to shake up different flavors of real life and fiction together to make an interesting drink (here, story). Do not go and ask my dad about whether he actually does all this, okay? ;p

Because 16 years isn’t long enough.

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It was the day that spelt ‘fun’ for the 2.5 foot-ers and ‘terror’ for the moms – “The Pre Primary School Annual Fancy Dress Competition”. There were clowns, trees, doctors, elephants with noses fallen off, Hanumans with tails in their hands (some even having tail fights). The kids didn’t care about what they had to go and say on stage even though their mothers kept repeating it to them. They cared about the only day you’re allowed to actually dress up and go to school, the day when nobody shouts at you for being a jumping horse or a wannabe vet. It was the day of many aspirations and no judgments.

Amongst all those tiny colorful kids, stood this little one in a camouflage uniform, a tilted cap and some fake metal medals on his shoulder – He was the Army Man.

Then again, there was another little one whose mother was stuffing her with food as her hands were tied in her costume. She was the fat ball that had a tricolor wrapped around her with her hands inside it – She was the Indian flag.

How clichéd was their connection! And it didn’t end there. They were each other’s first ‘big’ stage performance partners. (Read: Senior Kindergarten Annual Day Performance Lead Pair ;p) Each other’s lie-hiders, homework doers (She did it. Never vice versa!), 3rd grade alleged couple (to combat which they made up a ‘Brother-Sister’ story that the whole foyer believed – some thought so even now!), 3 am life savers and so much more.

She’d witnessed all his phases. The ‘School is unfair’ phase. The ‘I’m screwed coz you’re smarter’ phase. The ‘My mother trusts you more than me’ phase. The ‘Its scary how you know me so well’ phase. The ‘Every chick on the planet is hot’ phase. The ‘I wanna settle down in America’ phase. The ‘I want to be in the Indian Army’ phase. All of these phases came and went as they grew up. The last one, however, remained constant.

Today, 16 years, innumerable air gun fights, bike rides, rain runs and confessions later, he dawns that camouflage again. This time though, it isn’t an outfit. The uniform is as real as the fact that he’s not going to be around for almost all the time. And as she bids him farewell with a mask of pride on her face, she’s hiding tears of joy, of sorrow and of speed. Because 16 years isn’t long enough.

Part-y!

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She jumped up to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Neon pink shorts, denim blue sneakers and a white tee that said ‘Rock the World’. This was one hot 5 year old! She picked up her beloved bunny in one hand, her sand kit in the other and marched out of her room like a soldier on a mission. Her pink trolley bag was all packed and set to have an awesome weekend, much like her. Her mother made a few quick braids in her tresses, argued with her over the mismatched colour of her hair clips, succumbed to her funny choice and smiled at how pretty (and smart!) her daughter was. She caught her mother’s hand and started walking in her mission-motion. “Faster Ma! Papa’s waiting!”, she yelled.

Weekends were the best days of her otherwise mundane ‘school-eat-homework-eat-play-eat-sleep’ lifestyle. Two full days of lounging in pyjamas, unlimited play time and the best part – no padhai!  🙂

In all her daughter’s long talks, the mother didn’t realise when they’d reached the beach park – her daughter’s favourite weekend destination. As soon as the tiny tot saw her father waiting at the other end of the park, she tugged off her mother’s hand and ran towards him with a huge smile. He hugged her tighter than possible and swung her high into the air.

She called it ‘Party with Papa’.

They called it ‘Partial custody’.

All over again.

She played ‘Hide-n-Seek’ with her grandchildren on weekends. Traced them with the sound of their little footsteps. Managed to catch hold of the brats every single time!

“Grandma isn’t as old and shrivelled yet, son!”, she grinned away like a child.

On weekdays, the idiot box was her best friend. She practically lived with it. Oh wait, her hearing aid was her real best friend. What would the Tele be like without those alarmingly loud sound effects! Sometimes though, she wished she couldn’t hear her maid’s perpetual whining so clearly.

She pretty much spent all her weekdays counting hours until the weekend. Thought of stories to tell them and typed them out nice and neat. The tiny tots didn’t understand what she typed but were absolute fans of their new-age sci-fi story telling Grandma.

Those kids were her world.

“Grandma, you can’t find me this time!”, her grandson would yell. He’d promised her he would win this weekend.

That Sunday morning, she couldn’t find her hearing aid. She looked for it everywhere. Dug her hands into all the corners. It was nowhere to be seen.

She had lost her eyes to the world, all over again.

The First One

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“Gudduuuu, come out quick” shouted her mother banging on the bathroom door. On the other side of the door, the 4-year old dropped the hand shower with a jolt. She ignored her mother’s call and picked up her mike and continued singing ‘humma-humma-humma humma hummmaaa’. She pretended to be a rockstar and smiled to herself at how cool she was. The bathroom had afterall become her best corner in the house. She could have rain dance through her performance, and rain dance had become a rage in the early 90’s.

Her awesome performance was disturbed with her mother banging on the door again, this time very loudly. “How many hours are you going to spend in the shower? Have you slept inside? Come out right away Guddu. You can’t be making us all late on her first birthday.”

She sighed and let the hand shower drop to the floor again. She knew that her performance was over and they would leave her at home and go for her birthday party if she didn’t hurry up. “Godddd, it’s always about her now”, she murmured under her breath. “If I used to sing earlier they all would cheer for me, but now all they care about is her wordless rattling. Damn it, her crawling gets more clapping than my running. They behave like I’m not even around when she is doing her little stunts and then they don’t let me enjoy in my bath time also. Sighh.” A drop of soapy water fell from her nose at that instant and the 4-year old got occupied in trying to figure if she had a long nose, like the boy in her story book. There’s this thing about kids right, they get distracted so easily that they never take life too seriously. She walked out of her favourite corner, holding her pink towel against herself with one hand and her other hand still around her nose.

Her mother stood outside looking very annoyed at her. She noticed that her mother was fully ready and that she looked so pretty inspite of the angry face. She tried to look coy and smiled innocently at her mom. Her mother’s angry face mellowed down, she was a mother afterall, and she picked up her daughter and made her stand on the bed and quickly got to the task of prettyfying the little devil. She had picked out a new red and white frilly frock for her big girl today, complete with matching new socks and new shoes. As her mother combed out her wet hair, she demanded that she wants to wear the same lipstick as her mom. Her mother obliged, either out of love, or simply because she didn’t have time to argue with the 4-year old, and carefully applied rani pink colored lipstick on her daughters tiny lips.

She hopped down and ran to check the mirror. She checked her rani pink lipstick and her nose. “Ofcourse, my nose isn’t long, it’s perfect, like Papa”, she thought. She swirled in her new frock in front of the mirror to make it turn with her. She then saw in the mirror another red and white clad girl running towards her. She turned around for a better look. It was her. Her first birthday frock was a smaller version of her new frock, yet somehow it looked so much cuter on her. It made her insanely jealous. This isn’t even fair you know, she thought. She stared at the 1-year old from head to toe, and everything from her almost bald head to her toothless smile made her look like the cutestest, roundest, most adorable 1-year old. Inspite of her heightened jealousy, she adored her little sister. Yes, it was horrible when the elders gave the younger one all the attention, she felt like she wasn’t loved as much as she was earlier. For kids that age, attention is love. But when it was just two of them alone, it was like having a little friend. She loved her little girl and would do every funny act she knew to make the toddler laugh and show her toothless smile. They were sisters, afterall.

She hugged her younger sibling tight and whispered happy birthday in her tiny ears. “The elder sister should get to wish you before all the elders na”, she told her. The toddler didn’t understand anything yet flashed her toothless smile and put her tiny palm on her big sister’s face. She heard a camera click, and their father stood tall behind the camera, capturing a perfectly candid shot of his girls. “Chalo beta, it’s time for the birthday party”, he said while trying to do a funny dance move. Their father was a terrible dancer, but he managed to get both his daughters laughing at his little jig. Their mother came along, looking more prettyfied than the girls themselves, and the parents picked up one girl each and walked out of home as the perfectly happy family.

The first birthday party and the rest of the girls’ life went exactly as that evening did. There were insane bouts of jealously and quarrels. As they grew up, the quarrels turned into more heated arguments, because both of them had learnt more words now. The world kept comparing both of them and pitting them against each other. They would say the first one is very good at math, like their father, and the younger one writes very well, and suddenly there would be an invisible yet defined target set for the other one. It wasn’t fair, right? But one place where there was no competition was home. To the father, both his girls were unique. He knew how to handle each one of them and never compared them to anybody else, not even each other. To the mother, her girls were like her two eyes, and she could never choose one. Oh yes, their mother was a tad bit dramatic, but she was a mother afterall.

20 years passed and the first one stood in front of a mirror. She checked her coral pink lipstick and her nose. “Ofcourse, my nose isn’t long, it’s perfect, like Papa”, she thought. She swirled in her wedding lehenga in front of the mirror to make it turn with her. She then saw in the mirror another lehenga clad girl running towards her. She turned around for a better look. It was her. There was no jealousy this time. There was only pride, and more love. She was afterall the first and the only sister she had. And the first one is always special!

P.S: Turns out the younger one does write very well. She has even started her own blog. Her blog is one year old today. And she asked her sister to do a guest post. The first one is always special, right?

 

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Two girls. One boy.

He was always stuck between the two. They never seemed to agree and he never seemed to disagree. He knew his tricks. Kept them both happy without letting the other one know how. He struck the perfect balance.

He grew up with them. Saw a new world. Every school day, every math exam – he lived through their anxiety and their excitement. Never said much. But his joy showed in his eyes when they were awarded. His hugs grew tighter. The girls grew happier.

He knew this was forever. They loved, shouted, screamed, cursed and loved again. They made him birthday cards with post-its (his favourite thing on the planet!). He preserved them more carefully than his own life. Their relationship was a rock-solid deal. Perhaps he was the only thing the girls didn’t mind sharing.

Somehow, he teared up every time that particular scene played on the television screen. His progressive glasses magnified the solitary tear drop. He took them off and flicked the drop away. Looked around to make sure no one had seen him. Especially not them.

Before he knew it, it was time to let one of the two take to the air. He held her hand and walked with her. Hugged her tight and got ready to let her go. Told her to take good care of herself. Told her that a new world of happiness awaited her. With moist eyes and a reassuring smile, he gave her hand in his. This time, the tiny tear drop was flicked off before it could reach the progressive glass. Where he came from, Fathers didn’t cry.

 

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*Personal picture. Please do not use/misuse. We take our law and our daughters very seriously.*

U-M-B-R-E-F-F-A

Spelling day was arriving.

Kids were scrambling to rote all the spellings. Mothers were struggling with the big words. More than 8-letter words were plain torture for 8 year olds they thought. All the books in the market had been bought and all those special important words the teacher had listed were learnt by heart. It was a huge mess in the lives of these tiny tots.

At home, her mom said, “Beta, ‘Umbrella’ is U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A”. Her, jumping around the house in search of her other sock said, “Nah Ma, it’s U-M-B-R-E-F-F-A” and galloped away. It was a mother-daughter game. She’d wrong a correct spelling and fit the correct one in her head that way. ‘F’s and ‘L’s were her favorites to mess around with.

She wasn’t like the other kids who died rote learning every day. She, well, watched television 8 times the capacity of any 8 year old, kept her knowledge about Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi abreast and discussed it with her grandmother at length, slept the night before the exam like it was her last night on the planet to gather all the sleep. She wasn’t one of the rat-race lot. She was way ahead of them. She always wanted to go to the top and see what it would look like from there. She wanted to be a G-I-R-A-L-L-E.

Spelling day was here.

It was a few minutes for the bell to ring. She was not to be seen around. Her peers knew where she’d be. Home! They thought her mother had a magic red car by which she came to school every morning. How else would they justify her waking up 15 minutes before school time and getting into the school gate exactly on time? The magic red car was on its way. She hurried out, kissed her mother good bye and ran into the school gate a millisecond before it shut!

She dashed in and took her seat. The teacher arrived with that scary sheet of paper from which she would dictate. The teacher announced, “Everybody, listen carefully to the rules – Every word shall be repeated only twice. At the end, all the words shall be read out. Okay? Let’s begin!” The kids got set with their minds all sharpened. She? Well, she was busy sharpening her pencil.

The teacher started,

First word ‘Coconut’. I repeat ‘Coconut’.

The kids instantly picked up their pencils and scribbled down the word.

Second word ‘Planet’. I rep—–and the teacher was interrupted. “Miss, please repeat the first word.” The teacher said, “Child, like I said, one word shall be repeated only twice. Why didn’t you listen?” She replied with an oh-so-couldn’t-you-tell-me-earlier expression, “I was sharpening my pencil!” The teacher said, “The words cannot be repeated. Move to the next word.” She starting to get irritated now, “But I didn’t listen! And look, I have 1 to 10 so neatly written on my sheet. I just have to put in the words now.” The teacher with more disgust than denial said, “No. Rules are rules. Children, let’s move on. Second word…”

She stared at her teacher like she’d burn her down. Folded her hands and sat on her seat. She wasn’t going to budge. She wanted that first word!

The teacher went on, “Fifth word…Tenth word..Now I shall repeat the list for you’ll to check.”

She picked up her perfectly sharpened pencil and got ready. It was show time! As the teacher went on reading the list of words, she went on writing the spellings. She managed all the 10 words. She didn’t need a stupid teacher and her stupid rules to prove she was B-R-I-F-F-I-A-N-T.

Level 1 cleared. She was one of the two little kids to have gotten a 10 on 10.

But the test wasn’t over yet. There was no winner. The teacher decided to have a tie breaker round. The kids now had to spell out verbally.

“Huh! Big deal”, she thought to herself and threw her plait back. “Why do these stupid black ribbons exist?”, she murmured.

The oral test commenced.

“Girl, spell ‘Umbrella’”

“U-M-B-R-E-F-F-A…….no no U-M-B-R-E-L-L-A”

“Incorrect. You get only one chance kiddo, your classmate wins.”

This was unfair. And stupid. Her teacher was oh just so stupid! (That was the only abusive word she knew back then!)

Her family though, wasn’t like her stupid teacher. They understood that she was a class apart. That she never followed the rules. That she could never be on time. That she jumped up all the ladders she came across. That she could not tolerate injustice. Oh that, or incorrect grammar. And how difficult was it to get that? She was just D-I-L-L-E-R-E-N-T.

Years later, she sat slumped in her sofa with her wedding card sample on her lap. The first thing she noticed was an incorrect apostrophe placement. She still failed to understand how people could be so stupid. As she looked through it and corrected all the tiny spelling errors to make it absolutely perfect, I realised, She had grown up. F-I-N-A-F-F-Y.

Brutal – to say the least.

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A normal weeknight, he was walking back home. He’d just met a friend and told her how good it felt to take his mom out to dinner the previous night. He was feeling good about his life. It was finally getting better.

Walking on a not-so-empty street, he heard some noises. There weren’t any people around so he was wondering where they were coming from. A few steps further and he realised, it was the car across the street. He tried calling his friend who lived close by. It was past 1 am; he wasn’t surprised that his friend didn’t answer the call. He started to cross the street and half way through saw a girl’s head being banged against the window. Banged. Before he could pick up another step – Banged. Again. He didn’t know what his eyes had seen. Brutal – to say the least.

He ran towards the car and directly opened the door. “Kya chal raha hai?”, he asked the man in the car with the big gruesome eyes. The man looked right into his eyes and before he knew it, the man punched him. Hard. On his nose! As an instant reflex, he hit back. Punched and kicked the man as hard as he could. All the kickboxing training was getting put to use. The man stepped out of his car to combat. Taller than him by a foot and a huge structure. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Bearing the stench of a dozen alcohol barrels, the man continued to fight with him who had interrupted him. He used all his muscle strength, pushed the man against his car, tried to find ways to dodge the man’s blows and keep him put there.

The background sounds of the girl wailing away hit his ears. He tried to see if she was okay but could barely look past the man’s stature. She had her face cupped in her palms. He couldn’t figure if she was hurt or bleeding. But he knew one thing – She needed to get out of there – ASAP. He asked her to leave. She was too frightened and taken aback to budge even an inch. He yelled again, “Please leave!!”. While he managed to hold the man’s back to the car, the girl gathered her strength, got out of the car, sobbing she managed to thank him somehow, hailed a rickshaw and left. She told him she’d file a FIR against the man in the Police Station. At that point, he didn’t care. He just wanted her to be gone and safe.

Now, it was one on one! People on the other side of the street halted, stared, maybe even passed a comment or two and walked past. No one came forward to help. No one. A car then stopped by. A middle aged fellow got out of the car, walked towards the man and slapped him hard. Right across his face. Two more of those slaps and that man would have been dead. The man realised that he was outnumbered now and it would be best to stay put. The giant had been stopped. He heaved a sigh of relief. He wasn’t alone anymore. Seeing a car halted right amidst the road, other cars also pulled over. A crowd then began to gather. They collectively held the giant in place for a good 20 minutes. He wanted the girl to at least get away safe and holding this man in here would serve that purpose.

He couldn’t sleep that night. His wrist hurt. His nose hurt. But that wasn’t what was bothering him. He was feeling scared for the girl. He didn’t know who she was or what she looked like. But he knew that if she was the man’s girlfriend, he would obviously know where she stays and what happened once is ought to happen again. The anger inside him wanted to tear that man apart; wanted to kick him down to death. He wished he could have done more.

Days later, he narrated the incident to me. His anger for men behaving like animals was still blaring. Replaying the incident in his head was still appalling. His regret for not murdering that man that night still hung with him. His disbelief towards the spectators was still high. He was thankful that his mom had taught him to never tolerate anything wrong; especially not something like this. He was even more thankful that he didn’t find a rickshaw that night and chose to walk home.

He also asked me not to mention the incident to anyone. I said I will. To my future kids, I’ll tell them, “Be like your Uncle.”  

Dilli Diaries

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“Golchakkar se dahine jaaiyo aur lal batti se lepht.”

3 days on the streets of Delhi is more than enough to catch their lingo (and their general psyche). Here’s a break-down of what I learnt :

–        Every circle or roundabout is called ‘Golchakkar‘. A Golchakkar exists on almost every junction and most don’t have a specific name.

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–        Every traffic signal is called ‘Lal Batti‘ irrespective of whether it’s red, amber or green.

–        All roads go around in circles (at least in Central Delhi and Connaught Place). U-turns are prohibited at most places.

–        A 3-wheeler automated vehicle is called an ‘Auto’ and a bicycle cart with a man gasping for breath pulling the two fat aunties comfortably chatting away in the back is called a ‘Rickshaw‘. People from my city (Mumbai) often use the two words interchangeably.

–        The swanky new digital meters on the Autos are covered with plastic or cloth and your negotiation skill is what actually works.

–        Sights of politicians, bureaucrats, Lal Batti Ambassadors (here, it’s the white cars with a red light on top) and people talking of the CBI as the nukkad wala spy are common. (Um, I cannot translate that now!)

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–        The President of India is followed by 4-5 cars and almost 12-15 security guards (in crisp white uniforms having fancy badges et al) holding huge guns. His guards not only protect him but also pour him water and carry his single sheet of paper. (Not judging, just stating aankon dekha haal (as seen by me))

–        The roads are far better and far lesser dug up/potholed than Mumbai roads. Kudos to them for that!

–        Politicians are spoken of as if Delhiites have breakfast with them every morning. Their lives and wives are extensively discussed.

–        There’s food everywhere! From Paronthewali Galli to the innumerable and awesomely varied restaurants in Connaught Place…it’s a food lover’s paradise!

–        The most bustling area of Connaught Place (aka Rajiv Chowk) also doesn’t see too much activity with respect to people walking around on streets post 9 or 10 pm. There are loads of people with cars but very few on foot. That is a very uncommon sight for someone like me who belongs to a city where the local train is jammed even at 1 am post a match in Wankhede stadium!

–        Knowing how to get in and out of a Metro at 6 pm is considered a great asset. They sure haven’t travelled in our Mumbai locals.

–        As long as you look fat, fair and slightly North Indian, no one will even suspect you to be a Non-Punjabi or Non-Delhiite and thus won’t try to cheat you. (Yeah, that one actually worked in my favor ;p)

–        If you tell a shopkeeper something is expensive, the rather common response is “Ye Bambai mein char gunah mehanga milega ji” (“This would be four times the price in Mumbai”). Oh, one shopkeeper also took the liberty to tell me that if I was buying for someone who’s getting married, I should buy a size bigger coz Indian women tend to bloat up after marriage!

–        A famous and supposedly the best shop in a famous cloth market in Delhi (Lajpat Nagar) is called ‘Bombay Selections’ 😀 (That gave me a funny sense of pride! :D)

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So well, there’s many things I noticed, roads and colonial white structures I admired and the tharki-ish (That I cannot translate for sure!) attitude of some I detested. (That part could also be me exaggerating but considering Delhi’s image, I wouldn’t blame myself for being over cautious).

But at the end of it, I’d say the streets of Delhi have a lot of stories to tell – of history, of martyrs, of culture, of politics, of scams, of protests…of an old Dilli trying to move towards a New Delhi.