Who as people are most representative of Delhi? Sheila Aunty, its chief minister for a third consecutive term, who tends to its (these days shabby) housekeeping? Or Sonia Gandhi — though as someone who is a national leader and perhaps even a world figure, her aspirations are beyond that of any one city even given all the baloney about New Delhi being a world city.
In fact, that’s true of so many movers and shakers in the capital that you don’t think of them as Dilliwallahs in the same way that you associate Bangalore with, for instance, Rajeev Chandrasekhar or Nandan Nilekani, or Mumbai with Ratan Tata or Parmeshwar Godrej, and these days perhaps Hyderabad with Ramalinga Raju. But Delhi? Sunil Mittal doesn’t quite fit the bill like Bharat Ram or Charat Ram, or the Nandas, once did, even though no one talks about them or even remembers them any longer.
That’s also like Khushwant Singh, whose family not just built New Delhi, he’s become (almost) its official chronicler, but the Sardarji in the bulb is less and less seen, and his writing lost his sting a long while ago, so he’s more a sepia than a current face for Delhi. Rohit Bal, maybe, but does he represent Delhi in his work, or life? Methinks not.
All this, of course, because my wife looked at me scornfully when I described a book launch that she could not attend and I did, that of the young writer, Himani Dalmia — now that’s a Delhi family, even though they started off, and not so long ago, as migrants — who’d asked a few Dilliwallahs to read excerpts from her book.
“You mean,” said my wife, “she had the janta of Delhi at the launch — but can they read at all?” “Tut-tut,” I admonished her, “you can’t have just anybody walking into a pish-posh party. These were,” I explained, “the face of Delhi for those who don’t live in the city.” “Oh, you mean the Blueline drivers,” she said, “the chaatwallahs, and the Chandni Chowk daaj and wari sellers, the churiwallahs and the mehndiwallis?” “Really,” I exploded, for I could not make out if she was upset because she had missed being among the true-blue Dilliwallahs, or whether she was merely making fun of us, “you must not make such disparaging remarks about the famous people who live in this city and make us proud of it.”
“I suppose you mean people like Mrs Sharma who lives upstairs and doesn’t like me,” she said scornfully, “or the Aggarwal family that throws kachra from their balcony when they think no one is looking.” “You must not talk like that,” I said, “all Dilliwallahs are special.” “Such as?” she asked. “Such as,” I responded, “the theatre artiste Sita Raina who, for the record, read a salacious bit from the novel.” “Sita Raina,” said my wife, “we know her, she’s a friend, not a Dilliwalli.” “Then there was fashion designer Jattin Kochhar who wore a strange bow-tie, but he’s a Dilliwallah.” “I like talking to him,” said my wife, “he’s quite nice, so how can he be a Dilliwallah?” “Some Dilliwallahs are quite nice, like Malavika Tiwari, who was a model, but is now an actress and a painted-glass artist,” I pointed out. “Pshaw,” said my wife, “nice, nice — what was so distinctive about these people to make them more Dilliwallah than, than…” she cast around, “me, or even,” turning up her nose, “you?” “That would be,” I reminded her, “that they’re all famous, while nobody knows me or,” I ventured foolishly, “you.” “That is true,” she mumbled, “and the fault is all yours, if I’d married the Jaipur polo player, I would have been famous too, though, of course,” she admitted, “I wouldn’t have been a Dilliwalli.”