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Staccato on the Streets
Dissent: Volume 6 of the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing

Staccato on the Streets

Born and brought up in Delhi, I am through and through a Dilliwalla. I am in love with its history, culture, and beauty, and also its practicality and roughness.

I am used to thinking only about myself when I’m on the streets. Pushing through to get ahead is a way of life. I truly believe that a lifetime of living in Delhi can teach you how to deal with letchy, strange men anywhere in the world. At the same time, I revel in the drives to India Gate, the rainy weather, the lovely trees on every single street pavement. Driving through a city lit up at night is like a sensual exploration of the body. The shiny bones and the hidden nooks and corners that need to be visited and touched and smelled. I am extremely tolerant to heat, crowds, and traffic jams. Now being away, I even think about those things romantically…

Helter Skelter: A New York Summer Sonata
Perhaps, I could love the city after all…

Ah! The noise, the life, the vibrancy!

For the last one year, I have lived in a Small City in the United States. A quiet city. People are polite on the streets. They stop to give way. To say Thank You and Hello and Please. To say Howdoyoudo? and Heywhatsup? and Haveagoodevening! They stop to help you out. Any normal person would say that it is Extremely Nice. Not me.

You know how people are always saying that Delhi needs to be more polite?

They’re wrong!

It is irritating and exhausting. I am never going to see you again. I do not care if you judge me. I just want to get my work done, get out of the way, and get on with my life! No, it is not my responsibility to massage your insecurities and false sense of self-worth with random niceties. PLEASE… leave me alone! (See what I did there?)

Last week, I moved to New York for the summer—scared and excited. Living alone in a big city, I have no family and friends here. I have left everyone behind in rough Delhi and polite Small City. I hope that I will be able to deal with things by myself. Let me add that I have been to New York several times and have never had stars in my eyes about the city. It is nice, but I don’t love it crazily.

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I take a cab from Penn Station to my charming (a.k.a. small) apartment. I take my bags out on the street and lean in to the cab to collect my receipt. In those 10 seconds, my bags have vanished! I look around to realise that there is a homeless man making away with everything I own! I run after him and demand an explanation. He smiles, toothless, and says, “If you leave something on the street, it belongs to anyone on the street.” He continues to walk calmly, bags in hand.

I stand there un-learning my Small City learnings. This is not a moment to ask politely, my brain screams. My inner Delhi-ite explodes in a barrage of snide remarks and incredulous expressions, and snatches what belongs to me. I am ready to make noise and attract a crowd, I threaten. Here, there is no need to be quiet. I have to deal with this with practicality and roughness. The man stays calm, hands over my bags, shows his gums off in a superior smile, and walks away. It is almost as if he’s glad he’s taught me a valuable life lesson.

With my bags in one hand and taxi receipt in the other, I smile triumphantly. I smile with satisfaction. As if I have found something, I lost—I mean, I have my bags of course! I feel like myself after such a long time. Perhaps, this summer is going to be one of self-re-discovery.

Perhaps, I could love the city after all…

The writer wishes to remain anonymous because she watched ‘X-Men’ earlier today and is waiting by her microwave, cellphone in one hand, for the mutation to kick in. And, you know, she doesn’t want to choose sides. She’s working in a “kickass” media house and feels very “kickass” about it. In her spare time, she likes to play ‘Baba O’Reilly’ on the piano and imitate Ranbir Singh’s dance moves in the song ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’.
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