A MANIPURI AS A DEHALVI
When I first came to Delhi almost a decade back I had no intention of staying this long. From the stories I had heard I did not like the capital of this country at all. "Delhi is selfish & mean” I was informed. So when I came to this city I stayed with "our group"; people from my community. This provided me with a sense of security. Whether going out shopping or hanging out somewhere if there were members from “our” community, I felt safe.
Couple of years later in the same city when I made new friends from other communities, a new face of Delhi started unfolding. "Men in Delhi are always on prowl to attack women from other states" started sounding exaggerated. There were good people around or maybe I just got into the company of good people. Meanwhile I was no longer limping in Hindi. I could speak full correct sentences in Hindi, my accent improved. I started liking Delhi. I was working for a reputed company in Gurgaon. My passion for photography took me around the streets of Delhi; my love for literature and arts took me to numerous cultural events from where I met people with similar passion for poetry, music, dance, etc. I could roam around the city alone without fearing much. Something I still can’t do in Manipur, because of safety .We feared the Armed Forces. From childhood, we had seen numerous cases of people going missing after they were "picked up" by the Indian Army/Assam Rifles (in short Armed Forces). Life under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) never gave us a sense of security of going out alone. I thought AFSPA to Manipur was what Kavach&Kundla was to Karan; born with it & you can't do anything about it.
Such chains were not there in Delhi. I started realising the meaning of "freedom" & "liberty" which until some years back were just words which I had studied in my school books. I would often ask myself what the preamble to the Indian Constitution meant? It was answered by my own experiences then; those are mere words and naught much. But Delhi changed that feeling to some extent.
I worked in two multinational companies in the last nine years of my stay in Delhi. I left my job recently to start a new venture. I could do this because of sense of security Delhi has exposed me to. Back in Manipur, I couldn't think of any job apart from the few government departments. Delhi started growing in me in all these years. I could happily eat kebabs and not complain if Ngari(fermented fish with pungent smell) wasn't there. My love for poetry took me to Urdu poetry and I picked up the language with much love, as a Dilliwala of Balimaran would do.
Today I can recite Urdu shayaris (couplets) standing on the podium of Amphitheatre, IHC with much pride and confidence. Meanwhile it's been almost fifteen years since Hindi language programmes and films have been banned in Manipur. No Hindi films, no Hindi music, no Hindi at all. A generation back we could sing Hindi songs proudly and dance on Hindi film songs at schools or at functions in the locality. It is a taboo now though on satellite television one can watch anything. The generation of 2K has no knowledge of Hindi. When they come out of Manipur and go to other states of India especially in the north, there is a major language challenge. Few years back when I was standing at an auto stand in South Delhi, two girls from one of the North-eastern states came out of an auto rickshaw. They were arguing with the autowalah about overcharging. The autowalah was quite rude to them & then one of the girls angrily said, "Baiya! Bolnekabhirastahotahain". Next moment I saw the autowalah bursting out laughing.
I have had people laughing at my grammar, accent when I speak in Urdu or Hindi even when I am on the stage. But if there are a hundred people laughing at my "Urdu/Hindi", I have at least two people correcting my mistakes & helping me learn more. I don't mind the laughs as long as it doesn't become physical.
I remember an incident in Delhi when I was stammering in Hindi. Once I was at the local kirana shop near the locality I was putting up. Some boys aged around 10-13years would tease me calling "Chinky-Ponky" each time I come to the shop. I never reacted to them thinking they are just kids. One day when I was at the kirana store, these kidscame and started teasing me as usual. One of them started throwing stones at me & ran. That moment I dropped my things at the shop, ran after the kids who were escaping towards the nearby block of apartments. I caught hold of two of them, thrashed them & almost threw them in the garbage bin. The locals came out & asked me why I was beating them so badly. I explained to them in my broken Hindi & they took away the kids.
Another incident happened again a year or two later. My company cab would drop me 5 houses away from my house and I would walk everyday to my flat. Some local boys probably in their 20s would tease me on the way back often, again calling me "Chinky- Minky" and singing "FromChandniChowk to China". It was aroundHoli, when I was walking back home, they threw water balloons at me, which hit my back hard. I confronted them and they started jeering at me. I dialed up the women police helpline. Though the local police station was just 5 minutes away, a police van arrived with one ASI and two constables in about forty-five minutes. There was no woman police personal with them. Police was quite helpful though. They rounded up the boys, called out the families. The entire locality came out and watched the episode like a typical Hindi cinema scene where crime happens and people watch as spectators. I filed an FIR against those boys and told if something happens to me in Delhi, take in people from that locality into custody and frame charges against them.
Since that day I have never had any problem in the locality where I live on my own.
Such incidents however have not frightened me out of Delhi. I have become stronger instead. I will not say Delhi is a hostile area. Yes, Delhi is not safe for women but which part of India is safe anyways?
Today Delhi is city full of opportunities for me. I can choose my profession, my way of life, my language at will.
I call myself a "Green Card Holder" of Delhi. Even after staying in Delhi for almost a decade now, I can't call myself a Delhiwala. I know I will remain an outsider. My looks & my origin draw an opaque line permanently from the rest. But who is a Delhiwala? I think most of the original Delhiwalas were lost in 1857, 1947 & 1984. Those who are residing in Delhi today have come from UP, Punjab, Lahore, Karachi, Bengal etc. This itself forms a unique identity of Delhi of having no identity.
When people ask me “Where are you from", I reply “Delhi". They would often repeat their question clearly “No. I mean originally where are you from?” Then I would reply “Originally my fore-fathers were from China. Then they moved little further and started living in a place that later on was called Manipur. After 1947, India annexed Manipur. And now I live in Delhi".
I have accepted the fact that if I live in India, I cannot avoid this question ever in my life. My look pops up this question at the first glance in the eyes of the ‘original’ people of India. Whether they voice it or keep asking in their mind is a personal thing but I cannot escape it. Despite its own issues, Delhi has been a wonderful place for me.
In the words of UstadZauq,
" Kaun jaye Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhod kar"
Nicky Chandam, Imphal , November 2014