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   The Delhi I read about in the newspapers... (November 16, 1999)

The Delhi I read about in the newspapers, full of politicians and power-breakers and decision-makers and late-night manoeuvrers, and the Delhi I sometimes visit, I have found to be two different places.

The Delhi I read about seems like a power-centre. It makes all the front page news, it decides, and the rest of the country dances to its tune. But the Delhi I visit is a small provincial town, with large untenanted buildings and more scooters than cars on its roads.

That is the impression I got once again during these last two days that I was in Delhi. From my hotel window I could see nothing but trees with occasional buildings sruggling through them. Like a small contonment town.

The hotels themselves looked out-of-place and unused, though I am tile the occupancy rate is high. Most of the guests were either people sttending conventions or businessmen come for licences, or whatever it is they keep going to Delhi for, or tourists on their way to Agra and Jaipur to see the Taj Mahal and the palaces.

Outside the hotels stood tows of taxis with Sikh drivers, two drivers percab. Other taxis stood under trees at various taxi stands. The drivers sat on charpoys, waiting for customers. You could not just stop an empty cab cruising on the road and get in. That culture is not there.

The roads were wide and empty. When we found three vehicles in front of us at a traffic signal, my companion said: “Traffic in Delhi has become a big problem. Too many vehicles.”

Gangs of road-repairers were continuously darning roads, filling in miniscule cracks, smoothening a slight bump. There were others watering flowers-beds along the edges of the roads, trimming lwans in traffic islands. And army of men and women in a constant endeavour to keep Delhi beautiful. So now we know where all the money from Bombay goes to.

New barricades had come up in the city. Where once there were barricades in front of Rajiv Gandhi’s houses and then V.P. Singh’s, there were barricades now in front of Chandra Shekhar’s house, and a throung of people outside, waiting for darshan, or whaterver.

Half the house had security guards in front of it, with machine guns. Their number will increase as new ministers are sworn in tomorrow.

At a cocktail party I attended, there was a guard in olvie-green uniform, jackboots, and a machine-gun with the safety-catch off. He was guarding Mr. Ashwini Minha. There were also some MPs at the party: Mr. N.J. Akbar, who was going out of his way trying not to look like an MP, and Mr. V.C. Shukla. Somebody pointed at Mr. Shukla and whispered in my ear: “His telephone has started ringing again.”

 
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