Friday, April 1, 2011

Delhi and Mumbai : A tale of two cities (1)

Now that I have spent 8 months in Delhi and have actually started liking the place, it might no longer be such a major crime to draw parallels with my erstwhile home Mumbai, the city where I had spent the past eight years of my life.

Mumbai is a vibrant city with a strong sense of detachment. In a way, it is truly metropolitan as this detachment allows it to give similar treatment to it's own “Marathi Manoos” as well as the outsiders. It is, thus, a city in Maharashtra yet not a Maharashtrian city - just like Paris is an aberration to the traditional French culture. There is little that Mumbai can boast as “truly Maharashtrian” – even the “Pao Bhaji” and “Vada Pao”, the signature street food of Mumbai are not quite Maharashtrian.

Added to this, Mumbai has a strong “process orientation” about following a set of standard rules. Something like "the rules of the game" I am not talking only about the legal rules but also of certain commonly used practices. Quite like the GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – a set of universal accounting principles which are followed by most of the farms world-wide), Mumbai seem to have its own unwritten GALP (Generally Accepted Livelyhood Practices) which everybody seem to follow. Thus the apparently maddening Mumbai locals also have some set rules and codes (including codes about how you should board the train at which station; the technique followed at Andheri Station will be vastly different from the technique followed at Virar Station). Once a person masters this GALP, he is as comfortable in Mumbai as any seasoned Mumbaikar.

The main principle of Mumbai is “live and let live” – a clinical isolation from ones surroundings. One lives truly like an island, with boats and bridges built strictly according to ones own rules. Added to this is a sense of urgency in one’s thought and action, a constant throbbing of pulse, rapid heart beat about getting the things done “asap” and getting over with it!! Mumbaikars like to work hard and play harder. They would work till 8 in office - then travel for an hour to attend a party lasting till the midnight and yet be in office at 8 am in the morning. It really makes you burn the candle at both ends but it certainly gives a lovely light and thus Mumbai, for most outsiders, is a “love at first sight”.

Delhi, in contrast, is a city which will not show its face to you on the first glance. A “Wham, bam, thank you, Mam” approach is not for Delhi – you need to court this old lady with rose petals,fragrances and poetries (or is it "shayeri"?) and all the tools of the trade. And then you would realizethe “pull” this city seem to exert on you and its vast and intricate web of connectivity.

Delhi is essentially “result oriented” and therefore somewhat dis-organised. When you approach a Delhi-ite to get a job done, you will be well advised to explain the person why you want this job to be done in excruciating details. Instructions / hierarchy / SOP have no relevance to a Delhi-ite. The focus is strictly on “why this should be done” instead of “how this should be done”. To give you an example, if you ask a banker in Delhi, how much cash can be withdrawn in a single transaction, you will usually get a counter-question “How much do you want?”. If you answer this question openly instead of considering it to be a personal affront, most of the times you will get what you want. If you approach this in a typical Mumbaikar way and insist that you want to know the “rule” and “how much am I entitled to” and “why should I tell you how much I want”, you will face a virtual stonewall stronger than the real one in China.

Another tradition of Delhi is it’s absolute adherence to the traditional Indian way of “Satyam Badet, Priyam Badet..” Even under the worst emergency, a Delhi-ite will invariably greet you politely, ask about your health, your wife's toothache, daughter's education and the wellbeing of the society in general before actually getting down to business. A lot of things will be left to “thik hai, dekh lenge” till the very end. Trying to put this into a highly organised structure is sheer foolishness as it will be going against the grain of the people. Added to this, Delhi also follows the principle of “still water runs deep”. Activities under crisis also would appear very normal at the superficial level. The code of civility will be maintained, the pace would appear to be the same and it is virtually impossible to push things externally. Yet the job will invariably “somehow” get done within the strictest deadline. You may imagine that this is a one-off case but when you see that this is happening in every time, you will have to appreciate that they seem to have an entirely different way of handling things.

Delhi is inherently laid back and encourages you to take life a little easily. It encourages a better quality of life where people can pursue their other interests. No wonder Delhi has a far greater number of book shops, fantastically stocked DVD shops, regular art exhibitions and other performing arts compared to Mumbai. And please, let us not even talk about the much revered “Kala Ghoda festival” of Mumbai compared to what one gets to see in Delhi. This, probably allows people to have better connectivity with each other. This strict code of civility and bonhomie forces a community feeling to be inbred amongst a Delhi-ite. It is practically impossible to maintain a stoic detachment from your surroundings, the outside society in general will invade into your life at a much deeper level than it would in Mumbai.

To conclude, Mumbai focuses on "being alive and staying alive" while Delhi emphasizes on the subtle difference between living and staying alive. It is not for me to give a fatwa about which is a better way and in any case, there cannot be any last word when we are comparing two parallel cultures. I, however, intend to put in some more observation on this subject (thus the mysterious 1 within the parenthesis in the title) in my forthcoming blogs. So quits for today and will be back soon (hopefully). Till then, cheerio!!

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Glad you are feeling more settled in Delhi now. I wonder how Calcutta compares/ contrasts with these two mega cities.