By Shreya Soni

Having lived in Delhi for 20 years and in London for 5, I came to the conclusion that every city asks the quintessential stupid question- ‘Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai’? In England you also get asked things like “Did you travel on elephants to school” or “Do phones work in India?”

I recently moved back to Delhi from London, a city that gave me more than I asked for – quality education, stellar friendships, love, investments {in the form of bags and shoes}, the essential roti, kapda, makaan etc. But having observed {and often succumbed to} the ways of living from close quarters, I often wondered what made London so drastically different from Delhi. Swim away from the shallow waters of differences in weather, way of speaking and skin colour…have you not seen our chikna punjabi mundas? Sure U.K. has more moolah than India {$2.43 trillion compared to $1.85 trillion according to 2011 World Bank nominal GDP estimates}. But according to me the biggest problem Delhi, or rather India, faces isn’t poverty or increasing debt {Chidambaram, look away now…} but it’s the fact that we are not home proud. Like Delhi, London faces numerous challenges and problems every day, yet they celebrate their successes and take pride in being British. Be it restaurants proudly talking about home grown ingredients and British produce only, royalty promoting British designers, London Olympics 2012 etc. So why aren’t we proud of all things quintessentially Delhi? Before anyone else can diss us, we do it ourselves and I’m not quite sure why. We love pointing fingers at our immediate neighbours…Bombay calls Delhi ‘ew…SO punju ya’ and Delhi calls Bombay ‘a city full of snooty tooties yaar’. So why are we are so critical of ourselves, even though we have tons of similarities with our erstwhile colonial chachas. Broadly speaking, three things define a city for me – Infrastructure, Food and People. Let me attempt making a comparison between both cities, based on my experience of the three factors, and then explore why we Delhiwalaas crib like a broken record!

The first thing when you think of Delhi’s challenges is the infrastructure. I have heard people mock Delhi’s infrastructure – about how the city stops when it rains, dug up roads, electricity problems etc. But isn’t it funny that each time it rains in London, traffic comes to a crawling speed and that’s all people talk about. When in London, be equipped with the two major topics of conversation – 1. How was your weekend, did anything exciting? And 2. How depressing is the weather outside? I know, I know, we’ve all spent {wasted} endless hours waiting on the Gurgaon – Delhi flyover. A typical reaction of my British friends to Delhi traffic – “Goodness gracious, I was between a huge bus with people spilling out and an elephant…Elephant!” But how is driving in Delhi different from navigating through peak hours on the London tube? Any true blue Londoner would speak for hours, if not days, about their Tube horror stories. Maybe the famous ‘Mind the Gap’ actually is a word of caution by TfL {Transport for London} to mind the gap between expected World-class travel and the reality of everyday tube horrors. Anyway, point being, London has excellent public transport, but it ain’t exactly paradise all the time. You find regular delays on the Tube, signal failures at various main-line stations and even passengers having to walk through dark tunnels to get reach the closest platform when a train breaks down! Compared to this, despite all odds and hurdles, Sreedharan has done a splendid job with the Delhi metro- timely, spacious and lively!

A sure-shot way to anyone’s heart is through their tummy, especially with us Delhiwaalas! It is common knowledge how we tweak an international cuisine to dice and spice it up and make a special desi version of it {A French chef admitted to me that they tweak traditional French recipes to cater to the Indian palate}. And when we travel abroad and eat the same cuisine that we spiced up, we find it bland, flavourless and a rip-off {“isse acha toh hamare pados ki Gupta aunty bana leti hai”}. Similarly, the British have been eating absolute nonsense grub {bland, flavourless and a rip-off} in the name of Indian food. It’s their strange version of our food. Sure, we have some bright sparks who are bringing more authentic Indian food on board, but most people still prefer a balti from a local curry house. Why don’t we applaud the fact that we’ve created new extensions of authentic cuisines..we love our Punjabi-Chinese and they love their British-Indian food.

I feel the soul of a city is in its people. Since moving back to Delhi, I sense a change in Delhi. Yes there is anger, arrogance and name-dropping, but there is also increased tehzeeb, increased involvement in restoring the charm and culture of Delhi, global awareness and a go-getter attitude. Londoners are known for their exceptional manners and politeness – the city average of saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ is 11 times/minute. But despite the cosmopolitan and trendy vibe of Londoners, I’ve seen barely-hit-puberty monsters cuss their heart out at their parents, loot innocent shops and burn down buildings during the big embarrassment called the 2011 London Riots.

What I’m getting to, I guess, is that essentially we all have things to crib about. Irrespective of whether we have a stiff upper lip or a tendency to scratch private parts in public. It’s definitely time we started taking pride in being Indian, being proud of all things desi, being proud of who we are. I’m not suggesting we turn a blind eye to the raging corruption and Shri Robert Vadra. But what I am suggesting is to see the beauty and calm within this absolute madness. A drunk yet wise friend once said that it’s far too boring to stay with a bombshell but with zero personality. Likewise, I feel it’s more fun to love a country like India, because of its huge personality. I mean, if Britain had a similar challenge of weather conditions and an ever-growing population, thereby putting immense pressure on resources and infrastructure, we’d essentially be the same, no?

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