The third leg of my journey took me to the nation’s capital, Delhi. We arrived here just before the spring festival of Holi and a friend invited us to her house to experience this riotous explosion of colour, food and drink. My friend and I had been at school and university together, then gone our separate ways and countries to grow up and raise our own. And in her high-rise apartment, watching the festivities below, we remembered our younger selves tenderly. Our daughters are now older than we were in that time.
As I write this piece, Indians have just voted in their big, noisy, democratic general election. Everyone had a political opinion, usually a savvy one, about the state of the nation. A woman on the train said to me that Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great grandfather had all been Prime Ministers of India, was a joke. ‘And we don’t need a comedian to run the country,’ she said. ‘What about Modi?’ I asked. ‘Oh, he’s scary,’ she replied, ‘and we don’t need a villain either.’ And there it was – the complexities of deciding between a weak secular-minded leader and a strong right-wing nationalist leader, reduced to the simple binary of a Bollywood movie. There were other characters in the cast too – an actress from the south of India, a man who wore a cap and had ink thrown at him at rallies, the incumbent Prime Minister who had disappointed a nation for too long and the Italian born mother of the latest hopeful from the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.
‘I am a Muslim,’ the cab driver on my first morning in Delhi said when I asked him who he would vote for. ‘For the first time I’m scared. It doesn’t matter who I vote for. Modi will become Prime Minister.’ On a different cab ride, this time to the 12th century Victory Tower built by a Muslim king, another driver switched off the engine impatiently in a traffic jam and blamed ‘immigrants’ for the state of his city. ‘I grew up here,’ he said, pointing to the ugly flyover to the right of us and the decrepit buildings staggering to the left of us. ‘There were fields here, flowers, trees – peacocks roamed here – then the immigrants came in from other states and ruined my city.’
I looked out at the Islamic buildings we rolled past, Qutub Minar, Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Humayan’s Tomb and wondered what Delhi would look like without its Muslim heritage and the tourist dollars those buildings brought in. ‘It’s good you don’t live here,’ the driver said, twisting around to flash me an unexpected smile. ‘It would break your heart.’
Ah Rashida, how wonderfully you weave together then and now, here and there! The line “Our daughters are now older than we were in that time.” nudges me to think of my own girls and my young self, and what I might wish for me-then and them-now. And your last line “‘It would break your heart.’ ” – soo true – and I wonder if it’s always a good idea to go back. But it’s impossible not to.
Thank you Karen. I would always go back, as you say, impossible not to. And there’s something delicious, if heartbreaking, to see your younger self reflected in a friend’s eyes as you both wonder where/how the years have gone.
Thank you for this beautiful insightful post Rashida! Gosh, I love the cab driver , his final words to you are priceless -“Good thing you don’t live here, it would break your heart.”
Thank you Marlish. Your lovely words are much appreciated. Yes, it was interesting to travel and talk with everyone, especially strangers who offered opinions, insights, thoughts. Being tri lingual helps!
Wonderful writing Rash..balanced and interesting! xx
Thank you Tegan 🙂 Lots of love x
Cab drivers are fonts of wisdom! So profound! They should run for parliament—the Cabbie Party. I reckon I’d vote for them!
I loved the first of these pieces, and they’re getting even better, Rashida! Keep ’em comin’!
Thanks Louise 🙂 I think there’s just one more to go, but who knows how many are lurking? 🙂
Once again, love your blogs. I’ve been reading them even if I haven’t replied straight away. Always so much to do at this stage!
You have a wonderful and expressive writing style. Having spent quite a bit of time in India, I can relate to so much that you describe and it all comes back to life for me.
Look forward to catching up with you next week – are you also coming on 23/5?
Lots of love,
I am overwhelmed that you read and comment, especially at this time when you must be doing a million things! Thank you!
I’m looking forward to the 23rd, so yes, I’ll be there. My ticket for Frames arrived last week. Very exciting!
Much love and thanks for your lovely comments.