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Songs Of The City

I invariably receive quizzical, perplexed and sometimes even contemptuous glares when I give people my address. Some even ask with charming candour why I stay in such a downtown shabby locality...

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Songs Of The City
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For over a decade now I have lived in a rather messy DDA colony in Motia Khan, Paharganj. It certainly isn’t one of Delhi’s posh localities, I have to agree, and I invariably receive quizzical, perplexed and sometimes even contemptuous glares when I give people my address. Some even ask with charming candour why I stay in such a downtown shabby locality and don’t move to a more fashionable part of the city. Well, apart from the more clichéd home-is-where-the-heart-is answer, I really do believe I am strategically positioned in terms of what the location offers me musically. 

For one thing, the colony’s proximity to the popular Jhandewalan temple gives me access to the very latest on what’s new and rising on the Mata ki Bhenten charts. For those of you who may not be aware of this genre of music, these are prayer songs, often based on the latest Bollywood chartbusting track, offered as gifts or tributes to the Goddess—contemporary urban bhajans, if you like. And believe me, Jhandewalan gets the latest and the best of them! When Daler Mehndi topped the charts with his Hai o Rabba, Hai o Rabba track, I got to hear the Jhandewalan Hai o Mata, Hai o Mata version long before even the bandwallahs started including it in their regular shaadi fare. And of course, when the whole nation is rocking to the much hummed and widely played and danced to Kajrare Kajrare, how could it not be offered to the Goddess? Mata re Mata re and so on and so forth well past the hour of 10, in blatant violation of the Supreme Court ruling! 

Such a Dilliwallah phenomenon, isn’t it? Here in the capital of the country, laws are made by the highest court of law, to be flouted merrily and unchecked in full view of the public and law enforcement agencies. I also find it completely baffling that a city that offers songs of tribute to the Goddess so frequently and loudly remains one of the most unsafe for women. Rape, gang rape, eve teasing, abuse, murder, robbery, brutality and dowry deaths are what the city offers to women, even as it sings out to the Goddess. Could we please switch off the blaring loudspeakers after 10, and pay some heed to the fact that there is no point making public displays of devotion to the Great Goddess if we cannot respect women on the streets and in our homes? And while we are at it, Dilliwallahs, how about making it easier for women, single, unmarried or divorced, to find rented accommodation in the city? 

If you are wondering why I am bringing this up, it’s because way back in the early ’90s, when I was in my early ’30s, separated, single and self-employed, no one, but no one in the city would rent out a place to me without a company lease (and those weren’t the only terms and conditions I had to fulfil) till Anita and Mohammad Merchant rented out their Motia Khan flat to me at the recommendation of Anita’s sister Gita Ahluwalia. 

Thank you Gita, for proving that all Dilliwallahs don’t necessarily regard women with suspicion and mistrust. I hate to end on a sour note, but just wanted to let you know that I am now in my late ’40s, married, self-employed and even have a Padma Shree hanging on one of my walls, but I doubt that I would find it easy to rent a new place if I started looking for one in Delhi today, despite the fact that Ali more angana daras dikhaa jaa, one of the Indipop tracks I sang years ago, was offered to the Goddess as Mata more angana daras dikha jaa. Jai Mata Di! 


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


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