Having lived in ‘Dilwalon ka Shahar’ for nearly 28 years of my life, I deserve to assess Delhi’s true colours to some extent. The city has brought me in close contact with eminent personalities, given me great professional opportunities to perform with matching accolades, sent me to far-flung corners of this great country and distant shores of the world on work. Also, the major part of my stay in a gated green enclave of South Delhi has squarely added to my family’s creature comforts. The city has greatly enabled my kids find the moorings in their lives. Thank you, Delhi, you have helped me live up to my dreams!
With my first exposure to Mumbai way back in 1978 while on an industrial training assignment at Thane, living in the farthest hostel (# 4) at IIT Bombay, walking down nearly 2 Kms. at night for dinner outside the campus and braving the menacing Mumbai monsoon for around a month had left not so pleasant impression about the ‘Maximum City’… Coupled with the horror stories of the city’s housing, people making do with a 300 sq. ft. cubby-hole in remote Bhayandar and beyond had rather pushed Mumbai way down in my list of favourable cities. And I always shuddered to relocate myself to pursue my professional career in the city.
As my dear wife was transferred to Mumbai early this year, during my several trips to the city from the airport via Western Expressway onto the beautiful Bandra-Worli sealink, through Worli Seaface – Haji Ali – Peddar Road – Kemp’s Corner – Nepean Sea Road into the leafy neighbourhood of Malabar Hills, I rediscovered the city. In a home, where one is woken up by chirping of the birds, one can enjoy well cared for public spaces close by and can be part of cultural hub of the city, it’s SoBo (South Bombay for the uninitiated) at its best!
Mumbaikars treat Delhi-ites with utter disdain … to them we are a bunch of fat-headed corrupt guys, adept at hurling chaste abuses and pouncing on any girl on the street! Delhi-ites are only known by their fathers and everything works here by pulling the strings. People in Delhi deserve far less but enjoy much more bordering on a sense of entitlement. Mumbai, which contributes maximum to the national kitty in terms of taxes, gets a step-motherly treatment from the powers that be. And what do the Delhi-ites think about Mumbai? They don’t think much; they’re too busy with their own idiosyncrasies…
Let me attempt a little unbiased evaluation of the pluses and minuses of both the cities.
The most unfavourable aspect of Delhi – the city has been too elitist and class-conscious. Delhi-ites love to flaunt their big houses, flashy cars, fashionable farm-houses. The legacy runs supreme in terms of family, positions and proximity to power. And throwing of names becomes an obsession among people. Almost everyone’s on the ‘Do you know who I am?’ mode. It’s probably the only city, where if someone is stopped by traffic police for some violations, he immediately resorts to his cell phone for stirring up his contacts in the higher-ups. If you reach a five-star hotel in Delhi in an autorickshaw, the security tends to simply look through you. The other day I travelled with my wife to Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai in a black & yellow taxi with rain-soaked umbrellas in our hands, we were received with equal courtesy as extended to the hordes disembarking from their Mercedes and Jaguars…In the swanky and artsy terminal T2 of Mumbai, one can easily queue up for an autorickshaw to travel to the suburbs. In case of Delhi’s T3, autorickshaws are debarred to enter three-kilometre radius of the airport. To add to its woes, Delhi’s class is complemented by the crass – the city is hemmed in by Haryana on three sides and by UP on its east. And very unfortunately, gentry from the neighbouring states are not so well known for their sobriety!
Mumbai certainly stands tall in people’s attitude and behaviour. Even after travelling long distances in a packed local train, suffering from a not so agreeable muggy climate and infamous traffic snarls on the city’s roads, the denizens still display a friendly demeanour… they are amicable, patient and helpful in most of the times. One’s work gets done in banks, post offices and such places without any contacts or other considerations. I have spoken to many commoners on the street just asking for directions, struck up a conversation with the drivers of Uber and black & yellow taxis and I always had healthy interactions even with the folks coming from the hinterlands of cow-belt – the city does have a sobering effect on its people.
Where Delhi scores over Mumbai, that’s for its wonderful archaeology and still very enviable public spaces. The Qutub Minar complex, tombs of Humayun and Safdarjung and the relics of Hauz Khas very much within the city’s precincts can transport one through the annuls of history dating back to 700-800 years. And hugely sprawling spaces of Lodhi Gardens, Nehru Park, Garden of Five Senses, India Gate… are truly blissful for families to enjoy their outings and picnics. While Marine Drive can easily be ranked the best and the most beautiful road in the country, the city’s public spaces such as Girgaum or Dadar Chowpatty and Juhu beach will score low compared to Delhi’s assets. Add to that the roads of Delhi, where one can still drive with pleasure in many stretches. While Delhi is being castigated for its pollution, it’s still the greenest city in the country!
People do talk about the professionalism in Mumbai… folks out there know their jobs, do them well and deliver on time. They are sincere and duty bound, if they commit something, one can rest assured for its completion. The work culture is enviable even in Govt. offices. Delhi scores really low on this count – lofty promises are made only to be broken later, commitments are not honoured and results are never delivered as desired almost terming the people as humbugs. The deep-rooted ‘Babu’ culture of the capital and feudal system still prevailing in the states adjoining the city may be blamed for this. But fortunately, it’s changing and changing for the better. The presence of top-notch multinationals, banks & financial institutions and thriving IT & ITES industry in the new growth centres like Gurgaon (more politically correct, Gurugram) and Noida are all set to change the work-culture landscape of Delhi.
Yes, Delhi scores terribly poor in its attitude to ladies vis-à-vis Mumbai. So much so that almost every parent gets worried if his/her daughter is returning a little late to her home. Again the feudal mentality of the people goes a long way in shaping this behavioural anomaly. Mumbai does offer a much healthier, freer and friendlier space for the girls to survive and thrive. But it’s noteworthy that the best girls’ colleges of the country namely, Miranda House and Lady Sri Ram College are located in Delhi. The city has a dedicated women’s university for technology and a medical college. While a large number of lady graduates from the city routinely crack highly competitive civil services and other examinations, many of them get selected in top business schools of the country to reach upper echelons of the society. Against much adversity, the girls from Delhi prove their worth in all the walks of life and I’m really proud of their achievements.
Delhi wins hands down against Mumbai in one major aspect of life – the education, the infrastructure and the quality of which can certainly be termed the very best in the country. Apart from highly revered institutions such as St. Stephens, Hindu College, Sri Ram College of Commerce etc., University of Delhi and JNU are like jewels in the crown of country’s educational system. And newer entrants such as Ashoka University, OP Jindal Global University etc. from the neighbourhood have only complemented the system. With a string of other specialized and very reputed institutions such as IIT Delhi, AIIMS, Delhi School of Economics, Faculty of Management Studies, NSIT, NIFT, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), School of Planning & Architecture (SPA), IIIT… Delhi ranks ten notches above Mumbai. The graduates from these prestigious schools are recruited at top dollar salaries and regularly offered admissions in Ivy League and well known British universities.
The last and another important parameter: readership of books. Contrary to its image, Delhi takes its reading quite seriously with its iconic bookshops heavily patronized by the seekers of knowledge and literary escapades. With the burgeoning popularity of annual World Book Fair and presence of a good number of high-quality publishing houses, the undercurrent of intellectualism is palpable in Delhi. That is ably supported by a wide base of scholarship and a large number of ‘Think Tanks’ from the city researching on society, polity and economics. Several Delhi based personalities regularly contribute erudite articles on arts & literature, foreign policies, governance…in the reputed national dailies of substance.
I will end my narrative with a personal anecdote. In an event organized by the IIT Kharagpur Alumni Association, we were enthralled by the guest speaker, Mr Gurcharan Das, an alumnus of Harvard University, former Board member of Procter & Gamble global and an eminent author. On spending his entire career in the commercial capital of the country, he has relocated himself to Delhi for the past 15 years or so. After his talk as he was leaving the venue, I had escorted him to the hotel entrance for seeing him off. To my apparently innocent question of trying to find the reason for his relocation to Delhi, he immediately replied, ‘Oh, after all, I’m an author and a commentator. Mumbai is no place for such persons’.
I rest my case…