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Friday, November 27, 2020

Break the Mould: Why, unlike in other megacities, one is a creature of habit and limited imagination in Delhi

The pandemic has brought public life to an unprecedented standstill. An artist reimagines and re-examines form and functionality in the cities which nurture us

New Delhi | November 22, 2020 6:15:14 am
Delhi, living in Delhi, megacities, life in Delhi, Delhi crowd, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsInfinity in multitudes: Anti-CAA/NRC protest at Shaheen Bagh earlier this year. (Source: Express Archives)

By Monica Narula

Sometimes, I go cycling with a 13-year-old. The roads are uneven but empty these days, especially if we manage to get out early enough. Will the scent of the shaitaan bloom be able to pierce our masks? It’s coming to that time of the year. The trees are green and we are able to feel the gentle slide of the seasons. Our cycling path remains meandering as we have no special place to head towards. Delhi, unlike other cities, does not have a spot from which to soak in the plenitude of life — unlike Istanbul, Kolkata or London with a sea to look at or a bridge view to see a living river. You are always finite in Delhi. Probably the reason why people seem so troubled by the monsoon, as, for those few days, the disruption feels large and beyond our everyday.

Delhi offers us modular living: moving between known spaces and faces. It does not easily afford an encounter with a stranger. For that alone, Mumbai is the best city. In Delhi, it is within our lattice-like structure of living that we have to build our security, and our exuberance. Does this form of living limit our world and hamper our imaginations? Does it make us depend on known ways of relating and framing people, with inculcated habits policing the borders of the social?

I have sensed an elated bewilderment in the eyes of my young companion, twice. The first was when she entered the Nehru stadium to see the Under-17 World Cup football and the roar and friendly crowd brought out an understanding of the unknown power of collective life. The second time was when she encountered hundreds of women sitting in Shaheen Bagh; silent and listening to distant speakers, under the veil of an enveloping yellow fog. Both of these made the city break its world, and gather a force of possible futures out of the count of the day.

I look up from my balcony at Venus, with its possible sign of life. I look back at my city: Delhi needs to celebrate its crowds, as an admission of infinitude within the finite count of living.

(Monica Narula is co-founder, Raqs Media Collective)

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