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The city is changing its hues.
[Text by Sadia Dehlvi; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhi is the city of my birth and it is a prayer that it may be my burial ground too. Delhi, the threshold of Sufis is for me near sacred as the holy as the cities of Mecca and Medina. Prophet Mohammed is the pride of Allah and the Sufis are the pride of the Prophet. Delhi is one of the centres where the light of Medina radiates in abundance.
History and background is one way of defining ourselves and to the group we belong. I must confess that my pride in being a true “Dilliwalli” borders on arrogance. Delhi’s traditional battle for superiority of culture has for centuries been with Lucknow. The Lucknowwallas speak of themselves using the royal “we’ and explain that it sound less egotistical than ‘I”.
One has grown up on anecdotes about the extreme politeness of Lucknow’s “pehle aap” culture. We heard that they wrapped even their abuses in velvety words. I remember hearing that these Lucknow types used to walk at dawn with their umbrellas so that the dew would not fall on them. Subtlety and delicacy was the norm just not in humour but also in agitations, revolts, conflicts and romance.
To quote Amir Minai:
Who gurdan par churi phere amir aur main kahoon unse
Huzoor ahista ahista janaab ahista ahista
Delhi had the refinement of thought which was crafted in ethereal ways by the Lucknow poets. Although Lucknow gave birth to many poets like Dabir, Mir Anis, Aatish, Nasikh and Hazrat Mohani, the Dilliwallas still boasts that Lucknow never produced an ace poet like Ghalib.
Other areas of conflict between Lucknow and Dilli were cuisine and the use of gender in Urdu language. Dahi is khatti in Dilli and khatta in Lucknow. Motor and Qutub ki laat among other things are feminine in Delhi whereas Lucknow granted them a masculine status. Lucknow still boasts of their sheermal rotis while dilliwallas think nothing can compare to their “baqakhanis”. Lucknow had their rice pulaos and galavat kebabs and Dilli their biryanis and seekh kebabs. Lucknow”s emphasis on food presentation was unmatched but they are quick to desecrate other styles of cooking.
All these battles over culture and tradition with Lucknow took a second place after the partition of India. The new enemy for the Dilliwallas became the migrant Punjabi of whom we knew very little. When I was growing up in the seventies, Punjabi replaced Urdu as the language of New Delhi. I could have picked it up with ease had it not been for a conscious effort to stay away from the cultural onslaught of the Punjabis. The Dilli we were proud of was being taken over by the enterprising, aggressive and boisterous Punjabis.
I grew up amongst hushed apprehensions of the Punjabis and with jokes that the only culture they had was ‘agriculture’ and that their national bird was ‘tandoori chicken’. An extra effort was made to restrict the language at home to Urdu and no Punjabi expressions were allowed. If I ever slipped and said, “dupatta dalo”, Amma admonished me and said, “ kapda sirf murde par dala jata hai. Dupatta odha jata Hai”. Food in the fridge was never “padha hua” but “rakha hua” as “risq” was a provision from Allah and must be respected.
However as one went along in life, I learnt to drop cultural prejudices as most of my friends in Delhi were from the migrant Punjabis. But I must admit that some of the paranoia is still there and am fearful when my fifteen year old son uses some typical Punjabi expressions. I am always correcting them despite his irritancy. I squirm when he uses “tu” as a term of endearment with his friends. I hate it when he says “maine bola”, which is now the norm in Delhi and keep explaining , “beta jaanwar bolte hain, insaan kehte hain”. I have an Urdu teacher for him and force him to read Ghalib and Mir.
Of course it’s a losing battle but I shall go down fighting till my last breath. I guess we must accept that the Dilli we grew up in is just not the same any more. Delhi is no longer about any defined culture and has over the years got its Biharis, UP wallas, Kashmiris, Bengalis, Gujratis and South Indians. Delhi is now a modern multicultural polity where the idli dosas, paneer tikkas and dal makhanis are as much part of the city’s cuisine as our traditional biryanis, shami kebabs and chaat.
In recent times, the Punjabis seem the lesser enemy and I find myself fighting the American culture. The aggressive marketing of the multinationals seduces children like the Punjabis never did. My son Arman is gearing up to be a professional singer. Some years ago he loved Daler Mehndi’s sadde naal songs and I actually had nightmares that he might become a bhangra rap singer . Fusion is the mantra of the “gen next” and I guess one must be prepared for any eventuality. With all my cultural hang ups, my son labels me as boring. I have been accused of much else in life but never been labeled boring and simply don’t know how to react to this one.