Last year in London, I was a bit foxed that my cousin Neal thought it the most natural thing in the world to use the tube every day for travelling to his office in Canary Wharf – despite having his own car in town. I was thinking about that again during my conversation with Lalit Nirula, who I met last week for some insights into the changing face of Delhi, for that Big Story I’m terrifiedly working on. Mr Nirula, who’s lived in Delhi for all of his 62 years, agreed to the interview only after confirming several times that I wouldn’t be asking him personal questions ("personal" meaning related to his company; Nirula’s is famously media-shy).
He believes that once the Delhi Metro is completely functional – and of course that will take at least 10-12 more years – the travelling culture within the city will change. "The youngsters who will come of age in another decade-and-a-half," said Mr Nirula, "will grow up without this snobbish attitude to the metro that all of us have now. In another two decades, even youngsters from upper-middle class families won’t be averse to using the metro to travel to work, rather than contend with the stress of driving/finding parking space."
Chatting with Mr Nirula was a delight. He had the light of fond recollection in his eyes and his memories of what the city used to be were fascinating, especially to someone who’s lived 27-odd years in Delhi, never been away for more than 4 months at a stretch, and always been conditioned to believe that one can’t possibly have an unqualified love for this soulless city – that love if any must be tempered by words like "grudging" or "ambivalent".
He painted a charming picture of the Connaught Place of another age, when most of the shop-owners and office-goers in the vicinity knew each other by name, and a universally recognised churan-seller did rounds of the middle circle on his bicycle. He also recalled how, in the early 1960s, his father stopped the car by the side of the rough road they were travelling on, and picked up a head of cabbage from the adjacent field. "That cabbage field," said Mr Nirula, "was in what you now know as Hauz Khas." - a colony in mid-south Delhi which, as the city’s southward expansion continues, is now practically in the heart of the capital. It reminded me of my father’s stories about going hunting in the 1960s in the forestland that Saket, where I now live, used to be.
Am still not completely sold on this Delhi Development story I’m working on – one learns very quickly to be cynical about the claims made by authorities and their booklets - but who knows, it could turn out to have promise after all.