Thursday, May 24, 2007

Viewpoint - New Delhi to New York...and Back...

An Indian living in NYC, anxious about returning back to his first home - Delhi.

[By Mohit Syall; standing next to Oprah Winfrey during a New York City fund-raising evening.]

After spending almost 8 years of my adult life in the New York City area, I am returning back to my hometown New Delhi. A lot has changed since I left the city. Even though I visited every year, it was like going back to a strange place I never knew before.

Delhi memories of childhood and teenage years have now grown distant and blurred. How will I adjust back to life in Delhi? Will I love it? Will I hate it?

Delhi, or for that matter India, is a depressing place to be especially after having lived in New York. No doubt there is a lot of beauty and a lot of people in the city but compared to metropolitan cities in more developed countries there is very little to do besides eat, work and sleep. In terms of culture and cultural choices India is a very limiting country. Perhaps that is why Indians are so HUNGRY for life in the west.

Let's see the options we have in New York: Lots of theatre, Broadway shows, even more off-Broadway shows; thousands of elegant restaurants serving a multitude of cuisines never even heard in India - from Japanese to Korean, Indian, German, Ukrainian, French, Italian, Malaysian, Tibetan, Russian, Lebanese, Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Brazilian, Mexican, Argentinean, British, Soul food (southern food) and of course American! Not only does NYC have restaurants offering all these cuisines but you can actually pick and chose from many that offer the same cuisine.

We have movie theatres at every few blocks showing every kind of film in the world. We have hundreds of late night lounges, piano bars, and karaoke bars. We have different ethnic neighbourhoods - Indian areas, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, German, Italian (Little Italy), Chinese ( China Town - there is one in every major US city). We have dozens of cultural events every single day. There are art exhibits, museums like the MOMA ( Museum of Modern Art), the Guggenheim, the famous Metropolitan museum and much more. Last but not the least my favourite part - NYC offers the best shopping experience in the world. SOHO, 5th Avenue and the West Village have everything you need for your wardrobe or home from all corners of the world. Every designer label is a short cab ride away. More importantly there is something for every budget in this city.

Delhi and Mumbai have a lot of stuff to do as well but on a much smaller scale. Most Delhites I know either hang out every night with friends and relatives or go to a movie or go out to eat and drink. They have extremely limited lives compared to the over abundance of choices people have here in NYC.

So what do rich New Yorkers do for a night out? Let's see - take a helicopter ride over Manhattan then drive in their chauffeured Limo to an elegant restaurant probably on a high floor with magnificent views of NYC and finish up with a ballroom dance. Or they spend $200 a person on tickets to a European Symphony / Orchestra performing somewhere in the City. Or better still shell out a $1000 or upwards for a Charity Event to wine and dine with the celebrities. Everything is at your fingertips in this great city called New York.

Why then am I returning to India? Maybe I just feel a wee bit overwhelmed by the abundance of choices in New York City. Maybe I've been there done that and need to move on. But it's hard to give up this city. I probably never will. It's even harder to live in Delhi after seeing all that I have seen. But Delhi was and will always be my first home - even though it doesn't have to be my only home!


James said...

This post both underrates Delhi's cultural offerings and presents New York as some sort of consumerist fairyland, which, to be fair, is about what Mayor Bloomberg wants it to be.

Delhi offers more cultural offerings--both homegrown and through the various international organizations that have set up shop here--than any one individual can take advantage of. Very few New Yorkers can afford to live the fantasy you present.

I'm a New Yorker living in Delhi, and there is much I miss about New York. What really separates New York from Delhi (and most other American cities as well) is the public infrastructure: the Subway and the parks for example. New York is a city best experienced on foot, not by helicopter. I really miss being able to take a walk without dodging autos and scooters and self-important motorists.

Soho has just become an outdoor mall offering the same brand-name luxury goods that are available to the wealthy and status-conscious all over the world, including in Delhi. Far from being the center of a genuine New York experience, such consumerist, globalized development is killing off what makes New York a unique and wonderful place.

Anonymous said...

Im response to the comment above by James - you accuse the author of that article of a few things without backing up your claims.

You say - "Delhi offers more cultural offerings--both homegrown and through the various international organizations that have set up shop here--than any one individual can take advantage of. Very few New Yorkers can afford to live the fantasy you present." - Please give some examples of what delhi offers in terms of cultural offerings COMPARABLE to what NYC offers? Does Delhi offer a VARIETY of authentic cuisines from all over the world?? Does Delhi offer such world class museums like NYC??? Does Delhi offer shopping like NYC?? Furthermore - you say that these things are out of reach for most new yorkers - I disagree - the museams are mostly free of cost or charge very nominal fees ($5 - $10) which anyone can afford. The restaurants are for every price range / budget - from $5 per head to $500 a head at Per Se. As for the shopping - Soho and 5th ave again offer shopping for all budgets which is mentioned in the article - and Delhi certainly does not have Prada, Burberry, Zara, Versace, French Connection, Armani Exchange and other stores that Soho has - so I don't understand where you CLAIM that the rich in India have access to the same brand name luxury in India - when even the common average person in NYC has access to everything mentioned in the article - including the helicopter ride - it only costs $99 which I think most people in the US can easily afford at least for a special occasion. Besides the article talks about all that stuff for the wealthy new yorkers comparing them to wealthy delhites... who only drink, dance and show off for recreation. There is no broadway or world class theater anywhere in India - there are no symphonies either - and once again - Broadway is accessible to EVERYONE - you can get Broadway Show tickets at deep discounts for as low as $20 a person. Delhi does not have theaters like the Angelica or the Quad that show foreign films ONLY.. nor does Delhi have a movie theater in almost every neighborhood like NYC.

It seems like your post is a personal attack on the author more than anything else - and you claim a lot but have not given 1 example to back up your claims.

Nikhil S said...

what a great article. nyc is great. delhi has not so much choices. but why compare. nyc has its own charms and delhi has something uniquely delhi which can never be experienced in nyc. so both the places are good.

Anonymous said...

prediction : u will be back in new york in 3 months flat.

p.s. - why are you coming back? visa issues?

Anonymous said...

i wanted to say some nasty things about the author probably being one of those indians who can't perform at their boring 9 o clock including weekends jobs so is coming back, but seeing as some of that's already been done on here, i'd rather just say both new york and new delhi suck in their own ways - and not where they should!

Anonymous said...

kind of a shallow post. suggest staying in nyc, taking helicopters to clubs in mid-town, stopping at kenneth cole on the way. well, unless coming back to delhi makes you richer or even better deepens your perspective.

- nyc wallah in delhi

Anonymous said...

It's so obvious this person grew up in Delhi. This typical shallow materialist consumerist 'oh-my-wahegureuji-look-at-all-the-G's -dangling-from-her-bag' view of life. He belongs here. Never mind that he's going to spend all his time telling his cousins how 'fyast' life is back in nyc, and how crazy even the malls are here. Until, of course, they all go there and see it for themselves. It's probably aloo paranthas that bring them back - they never taste the same microwaved.

Anonymous said...

I'm an australian, I grew up in country towns, now I find myself in Delhi, I've lived in Tokyo, and the US (briefly) and a few other places. And NO I'm not one of those damned government lapdogs from the diplomatic quarter I see at Shalom (you know who you are you overfed self satisfied bastards). A bottle of wine is $50US for anything you can drink, the traffic sucks, the *human* infrastructure is very poor, just as much as the built environment. People are so bloody arrogant on the roads, in queues, on the streets. Oh, and the food, anything you want as long as its chinese or smothered garum marsalla for the love of GOD people find another spice! Delhi is just utterly underwhelming. I loath it - it really pisses me off. What I hate most of all is that the work ethic is such that its my prison and I'll never get out of here. Then theres this whole class of aspirational Indians longing to live some shallow American dream instead of investing energy in building a decent civil society here. To hell with it,may all your bloody maroon porsche cayennes leave the road at speed and land upturned in an open sewer.

Anonymous said...

oh, one other thing.
Karims in old delhi is awesome, so there, its not all bad, you wont get than in NYC.

Anonymous said...

Tee hee! I thought only I wrote that genre of comments on here, now I have a friend! Thanks Soofi.

Anonymous said...

I am the author of this article - and just wanted to clear some "air" here.. firstly - I've never had a 9-5 job in my entire life.. i've never had a job period... nor do I need to work to survive... so NO I did not leave my 9-5 job or anything like that to move to Delhi and live like a king here... I simply came back to see what has changed here and what this city has to offer now.... to my utter disgust Delhi is a million times worse than ever before.... talk about attitude - go to any hotel lounge or bar or coffee shop in this city and you will know what attitude is.... talk about "class" - there is none to be seen anywhere in delhi now..

Secondly - I tried to give an account of all kinds of cultural and recreational offerings in NYC - not just helicopter rides and charity events (read carefully)... so why I am being accused of portraying nyc as a consumerist fairyland??? I dont know..perhaps people here just tend to jump to conclusions and get all heated up over nothing..

I am packing up and leaving soon cuz I agree with the Aussie guy - this city is a social, economical and geographical mess.. and anyone who has lived in a structured, civilized environment cannot survive here for long... I miss the Delhi from when I was a kid... really miss it.. and unfortunately i'll never have it back..

cornstarch said...

i have never lived in nyc, just visited there once, and i have never been to india, although i would like to visit there.

maybe the thing that you love about nyc so much is that there are so many different cultures that are so easily acccesible there, and this is not prevalent in delhi?

you grew up in dehli and as you said, it will always be your home.

but as your broadened your horizons, learning of other cultures and people and surrounding yourself with them became important to you.

when you were a boy, the world you had then was fine for you. but the man that you are now needs more of the world he has come to know.

another poster made a comment about indians making their own nation more "decent civil society". given the tone of your post, maybe you would do well to learn a bit of decency and civility yourself.

the entire world is beginning to see india as an up and coming force to be reckoned with. in 20 years, india will have prospered quite a bit from her growing technology.

this is certain to create accesability to more cultural choices within india. give her some time. she is still growing in her place in the world community.

i think that unity among indians promoting india to the world would be good for india, but by the same token, living in the u.s., i see indians that come to the u.s. as a blessing as well. the u.s. needs more people of other cultures to help counteract the things that are wrong with western culture. when people from other nations come to the u.s., it enriches the u.s.

so a good balance of people promoting india, both from within india, and abroad, is a win-win situation for the world.

cornstarch said...

for anonymous to whom i directed a snotty comment, upon discussing the situation with the author, i feel i owe you an apology for saying you needed to learn decency and civility.

please forgive me. i guess it is i who need to learn some. i stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Yummy! hasn't this turned nice and ripe now? the author should've known better than to have offered those justifications and clarifications - you don't need 'em, man! (Even though you seem to be one of those disgusting people who love to have their photographs taken standing 8 feet from a celebrity - any celebrity!)

Getmeoutofhere said...

Chiming in very late. I stumbled across this post most pathetically - googling how much i hate living in delhi. I grew up in this part of the world but also lived in new york for years. I'd never had the misfortune of traveling to delhi before butI had to move here for work. Although I don't agree with delhiwalla's speculations on why delhi could be deeply disappointing after New York, I'd like to add my reasons for why its a miserable shithole - it is deeply misogynist, patriarchal, conservative , cruel, hostile and miserable at its core. The city spits hatred at you every corner you turn and you're only shielded from it when you are one of the maroon porsche-pushing pricks on the road or get respite from it when you're white skinned in chappals and cargo pants and get past the dickhead managing the door at Aqua . The city has no infrastructure, getting the most basic things done is impossible, everything is done (or not) with the expectation that a resident could never possibly live alone and that there will always be someone at home for the plumber that shows up 4 hours or 4 days late. Everything about delhi spells mediocrity from Karim's to the Oberoi, Delhi can do absolutely nothing right and you only discover that after buying hype. The Delhi elite is also by far the most ignorant, neanderthalish, offensive expression of nouveau riche I have ever seen. Living in Delhi means I appreciate calcutta, madras, bangalore and bombay a hell of a lot more than I did already and yes, I think Delhi's only hope lies with some kind group of people taking the initiative to raze the whole damn thing to the ground. Just leave the monuments in place.

Anonymous said...

very true - all that getmeoutofhere has said - except of course, the part about the other indian cities being better - they haven't even got drainage. Or roads. Maybe the expectations are lower of those. the bombay élite is genuine though, on second (third?) thought. One drink at the breach candy club's enough to prove that, as opposed to the sicko gymkhana or golf club in delhi.

Anonymous said...

I find it so incomprehensible how people can snivel oh so reproachfully about a place where they've practically lived for the majority of their life.

Symphonies and cuisines and brands... if that's what life is about for anyone out there, sure enough NYC might be the place for you to be.

But just a little request: stop condescending the country that you owe your identity to. And here's a reminder for you: there are still people who value what forms the core of any Indian city, it's history, it's heritage, the people.

And on that note, NYC might satiate all your needs for luxury, but how many people there have the time to spare for you when you need the emotional sustenance, how many people are willing to share all your happiness and sorrows. A bit too profound maybe, for people who don't value anyting above money, but think about it.

I was born in Italy, live in Australia, and I love both the places. But I haven't forgotten who I am, which country I really belong to. And I find it absurd when INDIANS appraise any country over their own. Either you must be really ignorant of what India represents as a country, or just downright "tryhards" who turn to European symphonies just to "fit in" to the city you sing praises of, and perhaps without any knowledge of how much richer Indian music is.

And that wasn't an attack to any particular statement specifically. Just a hypothetical representation.

Anonymous said...

Hee hee ha ha..that last one!
My dear Italiano friend, when you live in a place where everything from the weather to the people to the food to the stray cattle is complete bollocks, you feel like committing a bit of matricide on Mother India. Identity my foot - all this country's done for me at least is held me back from every good thing in life - which you probably won't know, because sometimes one doesn't notice how easy it is to pay your taxes when the whole system works correctly. (Not in Italy though, I'm sure;))

Anonymous said...

I am just 2 weeks away moving from NYC to Delhi. You guys are not really helping here. I hope that Delhi is very different from NY, which I know it is after spending some vacation time there. Not because NYC isn't my favorite place in the world, but because how boring would life be, if all cities become the same.
Also, maybe it is unfair to compare today's Delhi with today's NYC...they are in totally diffenrent developmental stages. Take a look at NYC 100 years ago...and see how far it has come. I can't wait to see what Delhi will be today and in a few years...they way it is changing, who knows what great things will happen.
And for the people, if all you smart people keep moving out of Delhi, then of course it will be a crazy place to live.

Galt said...

@Author of post,
Good for you.
The picture and the caption under it says a lot without meaning to...
"Standing next to Oprah Winfrey"

I tried to relate the caption to the actual picture....and suddenly, picture did end up saying a lot more about the author and his outlook.

This is not something to be judged. It is what it is.
Good for you.

Anonymous said...

this post really reflects fantasy land...i lived in nyc for five years, and what i remember is not tremendously different from some parts of delhi, mutatis mutandis. maybe that's why the author liked it so very much?

i got my ma from columbia university there and lived on campus, among rich brats. no commute.

i never bought a single piece of clothing there. there was no reason to waste the money.

this is real ny
-exhausted, antagonistic and indifferent masses of people going to work
-food poisoning regularly because they save money on not freezing the food
-disgusting coffee consisting only of sugar (starschlocks)
-showers which stink of rats
-blathering guys in suits who tell you how great nyc is and actually live in a shoebox

good parts are meagre:
-world music at symphony space
-relatively good public transportation
-nice sex toy shops

delhi car traffic horrifies me, but the parks in delhi are heavenly -- the measly patches of grass in nyc are not worth mentioning
similarly, in terms of food, compared to nyc, delhi is heaven!

ps am neither indian nor american

snc dilliwala said...

saheb I am a dilliwala in NYC.
It has been written that"Every happy family is happy in same way but every unhappy family is unhappy in their own way"
Same can be said for most major cities around the world all cities have their own set of problems but what makes them same is normally gastonomic choices you have thier but when it comes to dilli KARIMS and BUKHARA keep it head and shoulders above the rest,
I would quote ZAUK:"kaun jayye ZAUK kuchaa-e-dilli chodh kar." (Who would want to leave DELHI).
I have left Delhi but trust me he who has experienced DELHI and its soul can come out of Delhi but Dilli (I deliberately say Dilli to insist on the character)can never come out the person.It will be apt to say you may take me out of DELHI but you cant take Dilli out of me.

canada cool said...

Enough already with the slum dog mentalities, live your life to the fullest without trying to compare cities, countries, and cultures.
It is not about comparing cost. That is such an Indian mentality. Get a life not an image of what you think life is all about.

Anonymous said...

you fucking idiots...i could tell you a really long story, and where im from and pros and cons blah blah but im going to leave it at this...i've led a rather privileged life for many many years in both cities...and a city is only as much as the people in it...more often than not the people you have the fortune of meeting...its like trying to compare the night and day.
Instead of approaching it culturally you're talking potholes, oprah fucking winfrey and closet sized pissholes....
Oh and fuck all you haters...if you dont like the palce you're living in, what the hell are you doing there in the first place??dont waste precious years focussing on why your lives are terrible. LEAVE for whatever place makes you happy no matter how shallow your motivations...

PS i was sufficiently happy today till i read this post and then i wanted to go joker (why so serious?) on most of these idiots.

Anonymous said...

I am a delhite living in US (not in NYC though ).Trust me , I loath being here , I feel delhi is the best , the person says that u dont see movie theaters on every corner . I feel he has not been to the malls in east delhi which are 6-8 screen multiplexes and show every movie of the world. I have net been able to find any theatre in US that shows hindi movies.
Considering malls,I feel the person has not been to the great india place or the city walk in saket , they are any day better than what I have seen in US.
I am not saying NYC is bad, is is good , but in its own right.I am a staunch delhi wala and I know my roots ..
Delhi is and will be the home for me always ..
I love my delhi , despite the drawbacks it has ..