National

A Magical Realist Tale Of Delhi

You wake up to a whole new city. Everywhere there are banners declaring ‘Delhi is not a city, it is a feeling.’ They float in the breeze like multi-coloured parakeets. If they could sing, they would sing happy tunes.

Slums in Delhi covered with green sheets ahead of G20 Summit
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You wake up to a whole new city. Everywhere there are banners declaring ‘Delhi is not a city, it is a feeling.’ They float in the breeze like multi-coloured parakeets. If they could sing, they would sing happy tunes. The streets look so sparkly and clean you wonder if you have stepped into a stimulation. All the debris of years gone. All the poor and destitute people, their tears, their memories, wiped out overnight. 

At the corner of Lodhi Road where children with hungry eyes and matted hair used to beg for food, there is a long light of colourful lights twinkling merrily. It’s as if the lights sprouted there overnight like toadstools. Or the children, tired of waiting to be fed, turned into lights and solved all their problems with a masterstroke.

Same story at Aurobindo Marg, Murnaks, Safdarjung, AIIMS. What powerful alchemy has been at work under cover of the dark! The homeless people who used to huddle down on the pavements have all vanished. Leaving no trace. Like they were never there. Like they never were part of the city at all. Someone has waved a magic wand and removed all traces of them. There is not even a whiff of a whiff of them on the city streets.

As for shanties with their crumbling facades, they’ve been given a quick makeover. Every shanty is veiled with glorious green tarps. Like coy brides they hide themselves behind the tarps, proving ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is no cliché. And anyway, what’s the problem with a cover-up when it’s for the great good? Green tarps are a small price to pay when the goal is to show the world that India has arrived, that India is the leader of the world.

So the city preens and fawns and welcomes guests with open arms. The poor are like air, like the wind, at this point. No one remembers them. Or speaks of them. Or wonders what happened to them. Their whole existence is highly doubtful. They may have been a figment of your imagination. Apparitions that drifted like motes of dust over city streets.

There are men dressed in white from top to bottom, strategically planted at street corners. Their job is to smile and nod at passersby. They also hand out a bright red rose to every person who walks by. ‘Please, sir,’ ‘Please, madam,’ they smile, telling you to celebrate India’s achievements. The future is glorious, they say, waving the rose under your nose. The past of course was perfect. They have very white teeth, two shades brighter than the clouds dotting the sky. It hurts your eyes to see them smile. You take the rose they offer. And also decide, on a whim, to ask them where all the poor and homeless went? Were they safe? Did they at least have a warm place to sleep?

The men keep smiling as if it is a nervous twitch they can’t control. The wattage of their smile stays the same. Their white teeth glint in the sun. The roses they hold sparkle like drops of blood.

This is a time for celebration they say, voices rising with excitement.

The future we dreamt of is here.

The past of course was glorious. 

[DISCLAIMER: The following stories that are part of this issue are a work of fiction inspired by the state of news media today and are meant for reaction purposes only.]

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