The terrace – 1st floor
As I write this, I’m sitting on the little terrace of my apartment in A-Block, Defence Colony, New Delhi. In the end, the decision was straightforward.The Defence Colony apartment ‘ticked all the right boxes’, as my helpful real estate agent put it, now some 12 months ago. The most important tick beyond the Colony itself was the terrace. From my vantage point, I look into the trees which line a small park opposite me.
India is such a large country with a broad sweep of history – civilisation after civilisation have left their marks, often etched in monuments, landscapes, temples, cities and so on. So much to see, so much to do, so much to ‘experience’.
But the Defence Colony (or Def Col as it’s known) park is also fascinating. It’s a point of intersection of people’s lives, relationships, networks and living and the vignettes of people’s lives which unfold tell a lot, away from the monuments. These vignettes are important for travellers who want to understand rather than merely ‘pass through’ to tick off something, somewhere.
The A block park
The park itself is quite small – probably less than an acre I’d say. It has a perimeter path as well as paths that bisect it from north to south and east to west. It is essentially a park split into quarters. The grass is lush, and always cut. There are gardens and hedges along the paths as well as some trees along half of the perimeter. Seats are dotted about, and at one corner (the furthest corner from my terrace) is a crumbling fountain – a relic of a time when Delhi had lots of water and, I presume, someone to look after the fountain.
There is a man who looks after the park – watering it, weeding it (though I haven’t seen him mowing – perhaps that’s someone else’s job). He always says hello to me, no matter where I see him. In fact, even if I don’t see him, I will usually get a ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening sir’ shouted from the park. When I ask him how he is, he is always ‘very fine’.
There is the woman who walks around and around the park, for her daily exercise, sari flowing. It takes approximately three minutes to get around the park, and she goes around and around and around. And she’s not the only one. Many take their exercise there by walking around and around. These are safe places for walking – no cars and motorbikes to threaten you (walkers are very low on the road pecking order). Plus, the park is a respite from the Def Col dogs who rule the streets. They don’t bite (that often).
Then there is the very old, frail man who walks, supported by his son. He only walks around the end of the park where I am – he probably can’t go much beyond that. But a member of his family is there to look after him, to keep his routine alive.
Recently I’ve loved the frail winter sun and the light of spring – and sitting reading the paper in the park. People come out like lizards – find some sun, sit and reheat. A favourite is to sit and talk, but also to sleep – stretched out on the grass, perhaps on a rug of some kind, perhaps just on the grass. Too soon people will be sitting in the park in the deep shadows of the trees so as to get some relief from the heat. The park is a place to escape the inside at least for a little while. We move from the private to the public.
The park is also a place to do homework. School children often can be seen with their books discussing their homework (perhaps – or their lives, their friendships, their plans, their social activities, boyfriends/girlfriends. Who would know. But they certainly use the park for it. Perhaps it’s an escape from nosy parents, and the homework is a pretext). The park is an extension of the closed-door of the teenager’s bedroom.
Then of course, who could forget the games the park attracts – boys playing cricket, girls playing tag, parents and children playing, grandparents playing with grandchildren, little children learning to ride on the paths. The park is their the backyard.
Delhi is an amazing city with its civilisational markers throughout. There are various itineraries to be had – 48 hours in Delhi, 3 days, 5 day tours and so on. There is a pulse to the place that is extraordinary. As one of the world’s great mega-cities, you’d expect nothing different.
But while here take the time to also observe the little things – the interactions of the people who make up this city. See what people do. You may not have a little terrace, but you can find a vantage point just about anywhere. All it needs is the right mindset and the time to take your time. Then you will find the threads of our common humanity – the commonalities of interactions and everyday life – that express themselves in families, friendships, pushed boundaries and youth. What a great LoST experience.