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What I Can't 'Put Up' With In Delhi

08/11/2015 12:39 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Three young students drinking coffee in living room

At a party in South Delhi, I had a rather grating conversation the other day.

It went like this:

Woman (dressed in finery and tottering on stilettos): "Where are you putting up?"

Me: "Sorry?" (The music is loud.)

Woman: "Where are you putting up?"

Me: "Putting up what?"

Woman: "Putting up yourself."

Me: "Huh? Putting up me?"

Woman: "Staying. Where is your house in Delhi?"

Me: "God help me."

This is not a made up conversation, and it's not the first time it has happened.

Same party (overheard):

Female in ugly dress (FUD) to classy woman in couture (CWC): "So we haven't seen you at the beauty parlour for so long."

CWC: "I don't go to the parlour that often. It's not important to me."

FUD:"Oh? I go almost every day. Have to look perfect, ya."

CWC: "I don't socialise that much. I am quite happy being myself with close friends."

FUD: "Oh. Then there is no point investing in you."

Two awfully telling chats on the same night, and they say "Delhi has arrived".

Many years ago, in the early 90s my sister and her husband were posted in Delhi. A certain struggling wedding planner (WP) who is today one of the most well known, met them at a party and a similar conversation ensued.

WP: "Where do you live?"

Sister: "Panchsheel."

WP: "What car do you drive?"

Sister:"A Maruti Esteem."

WP: "Oh. I have no time for people like you."

This was why we non-Delhi types who lived in Bombay treated Delhi as a "village". And rightfully so. Some of us have given Delhi a fair chance recently, but the conversations at the party the other night have pitifully murdered the thought that Delhi may have evolved into a civilised city. Delhi is still "the Dally".

Social climbing is an artless form here. You can be damn sure that the ones on the ladder will pounce on anyone they meet of any financial or celebrity worth and "befriend" them pronto without a thought of etiquette to the host. "You must come over." Arrey, but why? So I can be used for your social and financial gain? (Obviously.) These types of social fast-trackers usually come from socially inept backgrounds, and perhaps have only recently cultivated some social vocabulary (now some know big words like "Pinot Grigio" and "arugula" and perhaps "Champs Elysees"). They depend on big cars and bigger diamonds to get noticed. Never mind that most are over-leveraged and actually living on borrowed funds. Boast and you are the toast.

Oh, the ones who prey on them are no less. Designers, lawyers, doctors, accountants. Anyone with a business to run recognises the opportunity of a wannabe in their pockets and they rise calculatedly to the invitation. It's a perfect ecosystem. This is the "larger than life" way in the Capital. Everything is super-sized here, including egos. Style here is never in style, except for a very few people who live by it and don't need to "lay it out".

"If my fancy address is the only reason you want to know me, the next time you ask, I will say I live in 'Rajouri'... Let's see how fast you run."

Having spent my best years in Mumbai (then it was really Bombay and so much better), it never occurred to me to ask anyone where they "put up". Who cares? Our homes were relatively small and in monsoon-blackened buildings, but most people genuinely added value to others at a "do". Yes, yes, "brand-sponsored events" were happening even then, but then Page 3 was also a real unpaid social destination. You couldn't pay your way to recognition.

Bombay was a city of professionals and what you brought to the table with your manners, intellect or at least a sense of humour was more important than where you lived, or how you lived. No one really entertained at home in Bombay, unless they had office staff to serve or catering bills to pass off as business expense. Hey, it's true. For us salaried types, going out on the town once a month was it. And paying the bills in turn or going dutch was the way.

In Delhi today, more is more and less is irrelevant. Minimalism doesn't exist (they will think you are gareeb). Where you live in Delhi matters first. Your car matters next ("...driver, Bentley laana"). You don't matter at all.

For the record, and for all the ladies who have asked, I happen to "put up" in Lutyens' Delhi. I didn't earn the unaffordable home I live in and, therefore, I don't flaunt it. If my fancy address is the only reason you want to know me, the next time you ask, I will say I live in "Rajouri". But I am not Kangana from the movie Queen. Let's see how fast you run.

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