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So ... have the capital city's street-side manners actually improved? Or is it just that our security systems (private taxis, modest clothes, no late nights) are watertight?

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Recently we had a number of guests living with us. I know I make it sound like a herd, but it was really only three people. They came separately and stayed one at a time. They were all very nice and if I didn’t prefer being solitary, I would have enjoyed having them around. Actually, I DID enjoy having them around, but had to make that previous statement in order not to ruin my image as a professional recluse.

Two of them were newcomers to India. I have taken to warning first-time visitors to India not to stay with me because I will only give them the grimmest possible view of what they’ll find when they get here: murderous traffic, inclement weather, pollution and hosts who prefer never to leave the house. They persist in coming nevertheless and to my surprise even manage to have a good time (or so they tell us).

One was lissom, blonde and idealistic. She had heard hair-raising stories about Delhi’s finest, with the result that every time she returned from an expedition to the outside world without getting raped it was with a sense of having scaled Everest barefoot. The other one was a young man, and therefore less vulnerable to the attentions of Delhi’s testosterone-enriched sharks. Both claimed that their experiences weren’t a tenth as bad as we’d led them to believe. The third has stayed with us a couple of times already and says she feels safe so long as she’s got our cook’s soup to come back to each day.

So ... have the capital city’s street-side manners actually improved? Or is it just that our security systems (private taxis, modest clothes, no late nights) are watertight? I’m hoping we never find out.


This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, February 15, 2006

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