City Life – Getaways from Middle Class Delhi

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Window View - Train to Mumbai

Save me from respectable people

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Not long ago, a particular breed of Delhiwallas went to Goa to escape the rush hours of urban living. But now as the middle classes begin to feel the pinch of rising airline ticket costs and food inflation, they have jettisoned the idea of flying, and returned to that traditional holiday hotspot – the humble, not so idyllic anymore, hill station.

So I too, pushed by the two-digit inflation, hit upon the idea of Nainital for a weekend getaway. There I discovered that the entire lake town appeared to have been invaded by Delhiwallas.

Most cars had Delhi number plates. No longer the retreat of the sahebs and the memsahibs, the Delhi’s lelenge-dedenge lingo from one end of Mall Road to the other echoed in the misty air. Men with huge paunches and hanging chests wore tight tee-shirts (just as they do in Preet Vihar’s malls) while their bosomy women blinded my eyes with Christmassy sarees, look-I’m-on-holiday straw hats, and cameras in place of mangalsutras. And then there were the children, playful, screaming and greedy for goodies.

Little did I know when I planned the trip, that I would find myself surrounded by the regular middle class people of Delhi, the izzatdar species, whom I have adroitly managed to avoid in the Capital. You see, I never dreamed of a moustache, a paunch, a permanent job, an overgrown wife, irksome children etc.

OK, in their defence, this chunk of the society is perhaps good for the economy and TV ratings. But spare me please. There is something about the middle class that stifles the imagination.

So it was unreal to be a part of this parivaar scene in Nainital. You had no escape.

In Delhi, there are hideouts where one can get away with anonymity. It is easy to patronise eccentric bookshops that stock no Sidney Sheldon, no Chetan Bhagat; thronged by booklovers living lives such as Anna Karenina’s or Raskonlikov’s. Or the seedy gardens where shy lovers trying to make the most of their privacy. Or just ramble around among the old Delhi beggars. A walk in the decidedly non-middle class GB Road, the city’s red-light district, can also do the trick.

These booklovers, beggars, garden lovers and prostitutes too seek comfort in their lives. But the narrative of their existence, whether by accident or otherwise, is not plagued by ordinariness. The eccentrics of Delhi can defy expectations; their lives are edgy; and there’s more art, than artifice, in how they live.

Alas, no such luxury in Nanital.

I was trapped in the melee of Mall Road, squeezed in by middle class Delhi, and there was not even one half-decent bookshop in town.

Maybe I need to come back to Nanital in ten years from now, when I’m less young, less revolutionary, and I have accepted the inevitable ordinariness of life. There we’ll meet on the Mall. I’ll be the one with a moustache, a paunch, a permanent job, an overgrown wife and two irksome children.