Last February I came to Delhi not really wanting to visit Delhi; I just
wanted out of Nepal. I needed to live where the phones could not be cut off on a
whim. (Nepal’s king had just executed his coup). Delhi was an hour’s flight
away. I had friends here. No visa needed. It was an obvious place to flee.
I stayed my first night at a good friend’s, then another friend arranged for me to move into the house of a stranger. She turned out to be a therapist. "How do you feel?" she would ask over tasty dinners and Indian wine, and I would say, "I feel a bit displaced." "Tell me more," she would say. And I would.
Most of my family lived outside Nepal, as did my partner. I did not want to go back just yet. So I looked at a barsati with a lawn terrace in Defence Colony, a marble cavern in Vasant Vihar, a waterlogged room in New Friends Colony, a little studio in South Ex, an austere few rooms in West End, a chandeliered monstrosity in GK-II and a Nizamuddin East room with a view onto the train station. Nothing seemed right. The agent grew despondent and stopped returning my calls.
My true home was my laptop and a smart, super-efficient cyber-café in Khan Market. I had not realised how vital connectivity had become to my life till the king cut off the phone lines. The Khan Market cyber-café kept me alive as a writer: I drafted all my articles, stories, notes and letters there, while reading news of Nepal and liaising with compatriots over the internet, chatting, swapping fresh information, hurling political invective: "The bloody king ate my dog, yaar."
Soon, more and more Nepalis arrived in Delhi to sit out the coup or just take a break. One centre of Nepali activism cropped up in Jangpura, another in Yusuf Sarai. JNU became a hotbed of republicanism. There were demonstrations before the Nepal embassy, talks at the IIC, pressure group meetings, press releases, lectures, seminars, endless gatherings. Many of my compatriots gave up all their time to these.
I kept more aloof, for I had a novel to write. Even in settled times the real world can be treacherous to the imagination, claiming to feed it but drawing resources away instead, starving it. One 46-degree-centigrade summer day I looked over the handful of pages I had punched out over five months and decided: my time on this earth is limited. So are my skills. I am an inept activist but a devoted writer.
So. My Delhi narrowed down to a laptop (with broadband) and the company of a few people who were safe, already known to me. My Delhi narrowed down to my writing time.
Eight months on, when people ask if I like living in Delhi, I say I wouldn’t know. I’m just in transit, waiting for a flight back to my life.
This piece first appeared in Outlook Delhi City Limits, 15 November, 2005