I was in an office for a mammoth 8 hours after several years, and in just one cleansing day, felt all my ennui over working from home draining away. I was in Delhi, the commute each way by cab was only about 20 minutes long, it was splendid to be among people again, and the office was fancy. However, when I imagined people doing this every day, sitting in an open-plan office with nowhere to escape to when they needed some privacy or to rant, I felt sorry for them. I really don’t know what it is to see colleagues day in, day out anymore. I’m spoilt.
Which means that I also end up doing strange things. My colleague and I went into the conference room of this large corporate office, confidently walking in on a meeting the CEO was in the middle of. He was very polite as he gestured to us that we were intruding, then came up to apologise to us after the meeting. Imagine. All this politeness was overwhelming. Have I already mentioned I’ve missed people?
I always enjoy visiting Delhi and it was no different this time. As we sped over the twisting channels of the Yamuna, we passed different kinds of houses overlooking the river. There was a series of dilapidated, tightly packed apartments, with narrow balconies crammed with objects of all kinds: clothes, buckets, utensils, a jumble of sundry household items. Set further back were larger, newer buildings, possibly the kind that are touted as “river-view” homes. Taking the road into Noida, we could smell the river — not at all different from the experience of driving over the Adyar or the Cooum in Chennai. Then, as if erasing the earthiness of Delhi from memory, our cab delivered us at a set of posh buildings, like a slice out of Singapore. And when we got to our high floor, we saw Noida laid out in front of us: an endless expanse of buildings clustered anyhow, the ribbon of the Yamuna cutting through them. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a spectacular view, but there was something inviting about the vista — an acknowledgement that life throbs here, and in the cement jungle live and work lakhs of people, all who have pulled through the past year, and continue to build and rebuild.
When I first went to Delhi as an adult in 2014, I was prepared to turn up my nose at everything. It wasn’t until 2018 that I became better acquainted with the city; now, I can’t resist opportunities to visit. In February, even as the days get hotter, the nights are cool, and there is no wintry smog-sting forcing tears out of your eyes. The sun gently warms the skin, quite winning the battle with the nippy morning breeze. Arriving for a meeting at the India Habitat Centre, I have to pause to watch the sunlight falling in threads through the high glass roofs. All the action is in the offices. Amidst the plants, we hear birds and squirrels: a constant chirp broken occasionally by human voices. Such quiet is rare. In the gardens, there is a pleasant hum of conversation, while two eagles circle a narrow section of sky.
Delhi is beauty. Trees, wide roads, majesty, and packed with stories handed down over centuries. There is another side to it, of course — a dark past, a murky present, but those stories are for another day. At the moment, I want to see and remember this lovely city easing out of winter, warm, welcoming, and golden-green.