Four months of each year I live in my second home in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. Late last year I was asked to discuss my life in Delhi at an event associated with Louise Hawson’s photographic exhibition ‘52 Suburbs Around The World’ at the Museum of Sydney. By coincidence some of Louise’s wonderful photographs were taken in Lajpat Nagar’s busy Central Market, a two minute walk from my home. I was amused at Louise’s comment about my Delhi suburb, she wrote, ‘I’m not going to mince words: this … neighbourhood is a dump.’
Sure the demographic of the four divisions of Lajpat Nagar varies in degrees of middle class residents and mine may not be the most salubrious section however there are diverse and eccentric qualities to daily life in my street that I find endearing.
Each morning I’m awoken by a ‘thump’ on the front door. The newspaper being delivered. This wouldn’t be unusual except that we live on the third floor! With Herculean strength the newspaperman hurls the paper up to our flat and almost always hits his target! From the balcony I can watch the coming and goings of my neighbourhood. A small park opposite provides a space for my neighbours to go about their daily activities including kids playing cricket, women chatting while shelling peas or stringing beans in preparation for dinner and the elderly man next door sitting in the sun reading the newspaper.
It is said of Delhi that it is a city of migrants and my suburb is no exception. In fact locally the area is known as ‘little Kabul’ because of the many Afghanis who live here, most on a temporary basis as medical tourists. To supply their pharmaceutical needs a forever-increasing number of chemists have opened in my street with flashing neon signs in Afghani script. On the plus side there are also Afghani bakeries that sell freshly baked delicious Afghani breads.
In contrast not far away is what appears to be a bicycle rickshaw taxi rank with long lines of the parked vehicles. I recently learnt that the rickshaw cyclists, who are mostly from other states in India, pay a few rupees to the small shop owners to sleep each night along this stretch of road. A tough way to make a living!
A very different sight to the renovated terrace houses of my street in Newtown, Sydney with a community garden, garbage collection and regular council street cleaners. But I try to adhere to this premise, ’Don’t judge, think beyond what you are accustomed to and live it!’