Leaving behind him two Delhis—the Old and the New—as he makes his way southward on the Mathura Road, the traveller encounters a third Delhi, one comprised of an infinite line of dioramas which disappear into the rising dust with each lost moment.
Shrouded in the foreboding, spine-like shadow of the Delhi Metro—an elevated-train track under construction in colossal volumes of tan-grey concrete—this Delhi in its patina of everyday life is a living monument to all of the Delhis that have come before it along the banks of the Yamuna River. It is what Delhi has long been and probably long will be, a city that spites the traveller’s fleeting gaze simply by existing; for to exist in Delhi is to change.
Here are motor shops and dry-goods stores, and next might come a toy shop, a bank, a row of tailors, a sandal maker. Passing quickly is the ‘Good Luck Furniture House’ and next to it the ‘Sawag Restaurant’ promising Indian and Chinese cuisine. But the next time you pass by, the order will have changed, so quickly does the city of Delhi evolve and reconstruct.
So much brick and stone slab blurs the traveller’s eyes, while every door is corrugated metal sponsored by Vodafone; every shop sign brought to you by Pepsi. The traveller is easily lost; should he linger too long, perhaps the city will transform itself along with him.
This Delhi that constantly changes may be known to the traveller as kal* Delhi—the Delhi not of today, but both of yesterday and of tomorrow. And it remains along the Mathura Road until the city releases its traveller to Haryana.
From Haryana to the boundary of the next state, Uttar Pradesh, is easily mistaken for a blighted hinterland. Then, at the latter’s crossing, the traveller slows to declare himself to border agents, and while he sits in the heat of the morning sun he is startled to be set upon by a scrawny monkey crudely leashed to a master.
But no amusement deters him, for the traveller is nearing the end of his morning’s journey: Agra, alluring city of marble and red sandstone, city of Shah Jahan and his Taj Mahal.
(To be continued...)
* kal is a Hindi word that, depending on its context, can mean ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow.’ Thus kal should never alone be the answer to a question, nor should the traveller ever pose a question whose answer can only be kal.