Our descents into Delhi winters from our various overseas locations are filled with memories of the warmth of family, of excursions to Khan Market in sunny wintery mornings and of languid lunches in the lawns of the Delhi Gymkhana. Delhi is Royal, Viceregal, stately and entitled, with broad avenues lined by villas designed by Luytens that lay claim to the land in all directions. Delhi stopped resting on its colonial laurels years ago; it has exploded at the seams and is now a 25 million people strong agglomeration of the main city and satellite townships with industrial output to match that of small nations. There is a 260 km metro system, there are huge cavernous high rises coming up in Gurgaon, the satellite town that houses many of the corporate headquarters of multinationals and Indian firms.
We flew in to Delhi from Bombay yesterday, and in terms of chilly weather and familial warmth it is offering us the respite that we came in search of. There will be a grand celebration in the lawns of the Gymkhana of Kumud's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and reunions with relatives.
But this outwardly patrician Delhi has been under siege by its own inhabitants. Triggered by the particularly brutal rape of a girl now fighting for her life (predominantly) young and educated people have been protesting the almost daily molestations and rapes of women in this city, and the apathy of the police. The police, untrained to handle civilised civic protests, have responded ham handedly and even violently, cracking down on girls and women with their lathis. The politicians, never short of words in the best of times, maintained a stony silence for the first days of the protests, adding to the students' frustration. When they did finally speak they revealed their disconnect with the cause of the ire. The Home Minister today urged people "not to protest, so as not to give a wrong impression to visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin". You wouldn't want to give Vladimir Putin the wrong impression about your country would you? They don't call him Russia's Gandhi, its Mandela, its guardian of democracy for nothing.
The fact is that this city of 25 million, like most Indian cities, has not only become an economic boom town for some, it has become an anonymous melting pot for many. Young upwardly mobile skilled workers, many of them women from rural backgrounds, brush past men in semi - skilled jobs unable or unwilling to make sense of what is going on around them. In the Big CIty, there is no one on hand to reassure them that a demure, obedient and faithful girl will be on hand to marry them.
I went to buy a bottle of wine today. You don't browse for wine in India, and certainly not in Delhi. While you scan the shelves at the dimly lit "English Wine Shop" for an acceptable label (we don't do vintages here), day labourers jostle for space with you at the counter, smack down their earnings and take with them what looks like a rarified form of brown vinegar. The hooch used to come in glass bottles the last time I was here, now they've even done away with that pretence, selling it in plastic bottles with a screw cap.
I walk back to the house through the fog. This must be what Dickens' London must have been like, albeit on a smaller scale. New wealth from an expanding empire, grand avenues and palaces, an industrial revolution in the making and a bewildered, sweating and unsettled underclass trying to figure out its role in the Big Game.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.