June 01, 2020
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Up On The Roof

A city of Delhi's particular nature gets very bothersome at ground level. The answer is to rise above it all. Literally.

Up On The Roof

A city of Delhi’s particular nature gets very bothersome at ground level. The traffic and its smells and sounds, the pedestrian and sedentary janta with its smells and sounds, the snarls of Delhi machismo and the squeaks of the put upon, the trash and the dust and the occasional wet mud; sometimes the mixture just gets a tad too rich. 

We all pass in the shade of the trees that supposedly colonnade this city, we have all—if male—peed against its many monuments. But where in the rush and the whirl of our lives do we get to enjoy these things for their beauty and not merely for their utility?

The answer is to rise above it all. Literally. The Drifters knew their stuff. As the old song has it: 

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me...

Climb up on the roof of wherever it is you are and cast your eye about. Delhi is still a city of short buildings. You’ll find yourself with a 360-degree view of this ancient sprawl. I use the word ancient advisedly. You can see the Qutab Minar for miles, its priapic essence unwithered by age. 

Even more modestly conceived monuments stand head and shoulders above the concrete sprawl of the city. From my home, I can see Humayun’s Tomb and myriad other resting places of less famous people, the Bahai Lotus Temple, and a few score temples, mosques and gurdwaras beckoning the faithful home. 

I see the river and the slums that abut it and the thermal power plants the government has thoughtfully planted along its shore. I see flyovers and cars and jetliners quietly trailing vapour in the post-monsoonally clear empyrean as my vision, free now of its concrete blinkers, follows their arcs. The sky that seemed so far a mere 30-or-so feet below seems that much nearer, the light of the blue sky not, now, a distant presence taken for granted while you scuttle about your business but, rather, a tangible unity that includes you and binds everything you see together.

And you see the trees. The green city you have heard rumours of is finally revealed. The avenues over which the trees bend their heads and cast their shade disappear, and you see the traffic below as God must, in the gaps between the trees. No wonder he is generally thought of as merciful.

You feel merciful as well, really, as the gulmohars, so strangely again in bloom, the umbrella and the owl trees and the neems, the dripping ashokas and the majestic seemuls and all the rest hide the lesser inhabitants of that distant lower world from your view. 

The hawkers and the vegetable vendors and the men carting bricks to the builder’s flats coming up down the road go about their business under your godlike eye as you soak up the freedom of being above it all. Kites fly on their strings and Kites fly on their wings and the bustle of the road below seems very far away indeed. 

Perhaps, blasphemously, that is  all that divinity is. A question of perspective. 

This piece appeared in the October issue of Delhi City Limits.

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