City Life – A New Yorker in Mayur Vihar
An expat on the wrong side of the Yamuna.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Not all expats live in the steel bubbles of south Delhi. Meet Ms Rachel Tanzer. A New Yorker from 1993 to 2008, she is now a Delhiite living ‘on the wrong side of the Yamuna’.
Her address: Samachar Apartments, Mayur Vihar. Outside, the doorbell doesn’t work. Inside, the sofas, the beds, the dining table and everything else is not Ms Tanzer’s, but the landlord’s. Though the book on the coffee table – At Home in India – is her property. She purchased it from a homeless man in New York – on the corner of Avenue B and 3rd street – just when she was offered a job by Random House India in Delhi. “Chancing upon that book was a sign that I must say yes to the offer,” she says.
Ms Tanzer visited India as a tourist back in 2004, not long after a theft in her Brooklyn apartment. She lost almost everything – from her electronic toothbrush to 20 years worth of vinyl records collection and the saddest – a little heart-shaped tin box, the last thing her mother gave her before she died. “On my first India trip, I had failed to make it to Delhi but Rajasthan and Goa helped in overcoming the loss,” she points out.
In March, 2008, Ms Tanzer came to Delhi for good. After staying in the usual expaty-places like Jorbagh, Defence Colony and Lajpat Nagar, she moved to Mayur Vihar, the neighbourhood closest to her office in Noida. It is tough being single in the city. “Unlike in New York where you visit or call friends anytime, here the public transport is too much of a task,” she says. “Most friends are busy with families.”
Besides, in Delhi, it may not be wise to get cozy with strangers. In New York, Ms Tanzer once actually invited a stranger inside her house. That was when her dog had just died and she woke up at midnight feeling the loss. As she sat crying on her front stoop, an old man she’d seen once or twice in the hood stopped by. Noting she was in tears, he comforted her and then they smoked a cigarette together. “I miss that coziness in Delhi,” she notes.
Sometimes Ms Tanzer misses her friends so much that she burst out in tears – even at the office.
As if her inner life is not daunting enough, there is the daily struggle of being a Delhiite: the noise, the heat, the dirt and lest we forget – the ‘white tax’, the feeling that you are being overcharged because of your skin colour. Add to it all, she has to be careful in the apartment society. Ms Tanzer has a Ganesha tattoo on her right arm which she always cover up while stepping out. “Just in case if somebody gets offended,” she says.
So much hassle. Why not go back?
“There is crime, poverty, dirt everywhere whether I’m in New York or in Delhi,” Ms Tanzer says. “ But India has a peacefulness that I haven’t found anywhere else, and the love of the people here have saved my life.”
After settling in the capital, Ms Tanzer fell for a man 16 years her younger. He would visit her regularly, while she would hang out at his place in south Delhi. Sometimes he would take her to dinner; once she made Kerala-style fish curry for him. The ‘crush’ liked the curry but things did not work out. “In India, mothers are important,” sighs Ms Tanzer between puffs of Gold Flake Lights, “and his mother wouldn’t have agreed well to her only son marrying a woman who is much older than he is and might not be able to have a child years from now.”
The heartbreak has been compensated to some extent in the company of friends. And Delhi, too, has its charm. Ms Tanzen often dines at Smoke House Grill in Masjid Moth, do DJ-ing at Café Morrison in South Extension and go for morning walks in the Indraprastha Park.
“You know, things happen in New York while nothing happens in New Delhi,” Ms Tanzen confesses. “But there’s something about Delhi that’s not there in New York, some magical thing that tells you something good will happen soon in your life and it’s that anticipation which keeps me going.”
At home in Mayur Vihar
Where are the cookbooks?