This is another short piece I had written a few years ago. Strangely I think it still holds true.
The Mood in Delhi
Delhi, as I knew it, has changed so much in the two decades that I have been away. Yet it never fails to astound me every time I return. This time is no different.
I am a tad worried as we deplane at nearly midnight. “Is it safe to take a taxi?”, I asked my father over the phone. “Yes, as long as it is pre paid”. Strange that I should worry so, considering I have my rather strapping husband and young children with me and am not travelling alone. We have taken taxis from the airport as long as I can remember. However, things have altered dramatically in the last six months. Crime rates have shot up, particularly after the horrific rape of the 23 year old medical student, and the mood is sombre as well as cautious in the city.
We drive home in our luggage laden taxi, encountering a few desultory police check posts along the way. There is still a fair bit of traffic at that hour of the morning. I feel relatively safe, constantly assessing the young driver to see if we could take him on, if the need arose. I have always felt rather churlish on previous occasions refusing to let the driver’s mate ride with us. In hindsight, I am glad. This time, we weren’t asked and I know I would have refused again.
The driver is rather put out that he has to take the longer route to get to our house. The gates leading in are all locked at night, and there is just one way to get in and out. My husband points out that if there was a medical emergency, there is no way an ambulance would make it in.
Our taxi parks outside, and immediately the watchman comes over. He sees us and smiles and nods. Familiar faces that pose no threat. My daughter giggles. At 12 she is taller than him. We find out later that there was a break in next door while he was ostensibly on duty. So much for security.
All night, the locality’s stray dogs bark in a chorus, allowing us very little sleep. My father says this is quite normal. The local stray dogs association has provided them with collars and feeds them regularly. They are rather like the street gangs of East London. No one messes with them.
We acclimatise slowly to the time zone. Delhi is heaving, buzzing, pulsating. People go about their business as usual. Yet I feel there is a definite change in the air. Friends we meet for dinner confirm this. “We rarely travel alone at night anymore”, Manoj volunteers. “It’s just not safe.” There are reports every day of girls being attacked, abducted, raped. The Government makes all the right noises, but very little is being done. The laws are outdated and offer more protection to the perpetrators than the victims.
I am rather sad to see the city of my birth thus reduced. I cannot wait to leave. Albeit, a piece of my heart stays behind.