Hole in my Chapatti

I’ve cried out for softer edges here, but witness sharpness. I turn up at this page expecting a problem to be solved as I revamp and slash together days, my blizzard of Delhi moments. Outside Devika Tower home to my office in Nehru Place, I stare at chapattis, burst open with a hole sliced through them and left on the street, and these chapatti holes become characteristic of Delhi: whole on the outside but snipped open with a jagged centre.

I dream one night that I am chased by street dogs all through the back streets of Chandi Chowk, the old part of Delhi, before realising it is just the territorial sound on the street outside my window- a few hours of dogs yapping and barking at each other, territorial cries staking their claim on the pavements.

One evening I go for a run with my mobile phone clutched in one hand, pony tail bouncing and bindi mark slipping towards my nose in the heat. I go to the Life Style Mall, where last week I bought a handful of balloons from street kids, that say ‘I love you lots’ embezzled on their skin.

 I then run to the vegetable shop, five minutes in the other direction. There are only men on the street, and no street lights. I run back towards the mall, and then turn for home. I have explored the areas I know, and can go nowhere else. Even after running I feel trapped, tucked in by the hugeness of Delhi that I shouldn’t explore alone, lest I turn the wrong corner at the wrong time.

The vegetable stall is dusty. In a noisy refrigerator are pots of Dahi curd. I take a cucumber home and wash it with Dettol in my rasoi Kitchen.

I once called Delhi a toxic Disney land, but after watching a cricket game at the Muslim University Jamia Hamdard between my office and the expat team Delhi Wallah’s and seeing the vultures streak across the darkening sky, toxic was the wrong word.

It was also wrong to describe the jewellery stands and markets bustling on the edge of GK at midnight on a Friday.

Wrong again for the sweet man selling me coffee, the frothiest drink for 11 rupee (10pence).

But how do you judge sweetness?

Most of the days are spent between one cup of tea and the next asking people in my office: What is your favourite this and where is the best that? I am a sponge, mopping up the brilliant and the ugly, unable to separate out the chaff from the grain.

As I stood at the bus stop near Jasola Apollo Hospital, a man stared; turned around three more times to gape at me. Modestly dressed, with a scarf on my head to shield the harsh sun, I waited before saying loudly ‘STOP STARING’ my very own toxic response, but this is what India is about, really, and he is no more able to stop staring than I am going to fit in, despite my Kurta shirt, my crap Hindi and everything else about me.

I practise my Hindi to a co-worker, ask: are you tired? Ap sona passant chartee he?’ or ‘is it that you are like tiredness?’ He laughs, ‘Not in the office’ thinking I’ve asked him to sleep with me. Wrong language usage blows open a space like that in the chapatti, gaping with misinterpretation and grime, but this chapatti could be patched together, just no one has yet. So, I consider my mission for the next week like this: to sew together the edges that hang gloriously, toxically exposed.

Namaste, almost, Friday.


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