A Night in Delhi

 

India Gate at night.

India Gate at night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s late in Delhi and the night is warm. The cool evenings of spring are behind us and soon the burning nights of summer will be upon the city, when the wind blows hot and bone dry. I’m thirsty, but the fridge is empty so I decide to walk over to the shops for some cold beers. Outside, I can feel the heat standing up off the road surface like a wall.

There’s a power cut in the next block and I find myself stumbling through the darkness. There are big potholes in the road surface and I almost trip over a couple of times. At the edges of the road, where the cars are parked, the surface gives way completely to dust.

Ahead, a car turns toward me and its headlights light up the cloud of dust it has kicked up in an unearthly glow, and a part of my mind wonders for a moment if I have died and this is the corridor of light people who have near death experiences describe. A pedestrian steps across the lights and his silhouette appears strangely thin and elongated.

Then the car turns off the road and the only lights are at one or two windows, where some one has an invertor and a car battery hooked up to the wiring to get them through the summer power cuts. I can see the stars. I can smell the dust, and the smoke from a fire nearby where some one is burning the last of the spring leaves.

There is a scent of animal dung on the wind as well, and I can hear the stray dogs fighting a couple of streets away, their barking echoing through the night.

For a few minutes, I feel like I could be in a village in the middle of nowhere,and I am in the middle of one of the biggest cities on earth.

I reach the main road, and cross over to the small cluster of shops. There are expensive imported wines on the shelves in the liquor store, but the drunks are pushing past for their fix of Indian-made whisky or rum. I buy a couple of bottles of Carlsberg — it’s the only beer thay have on sale that isn’t extra strong — and head home.

***

A survey came out this week which said that, despite the phenonemal economic growth of the last four years, most Indians have become more unhappy about their lives.

I wonder if it’s because they’re seeing very little of this economic growth. You see Bentleys and Rolls-Royces on the roads now. You even see Ferraris and Lamborghinis, though you’d have to be mad to want to drive a low-slung supercar here.

Because the roads are still atrocious. There are still power cuts every day in summer. Delhi just doesn’t look like the capital of an economic power. A foreign businessman flying in could be forgiven for thinking he’s come to wrong city.

House prices have gone through the roof, rising at more than 11 per cent a year, and rents have followed. The area I live in looks like a village in the middle of a power cut, but young professionals are struggling to pay the rent here. They can’t dream of buying a property in Delhi any more, they’re resigned to renting.

As if to mock them, every day come unsolicited SMS messages offering a “LAST CHANCE” to buy in some new luxury development.

There are reports the market is oversupplied at the top end, and the developers can’t sell their luxury flats.

In every sector of the economy, prices are going up faster than salaries, people are struggling to pay their grocery bills. Petrol is more than twice as expensive as in any of India’s neighbouring countries. People are downsizing their cars to cut fuel costs.

The Indian economy that looks so dazzling from the outside is a rougher ride for many on the inside.

There is a feeling the economy is run for the benefit of the rich few, who sweep through the traffic in their Bentleys, while the rest suffer.

When I arrived in Delhi eight years ago, the Congress-led coalition swept back into government. It came as a surprise to everyone, the economy was booming and the BJP-led government was campaigning on a slogan of “India Shining”. But for hundreds of millions of ordinary Indians, it wasn’t “shining”.

Now, eight years later, there is a feeling little has changed.

 

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Comments

  1. I second you on most of the things you have specified.
    But still things are not that bad as you had projected at present.
    And Yes Petrol prices have soared and so too in neighbouring countries,they are more so same as we have here not double as in your post.
    But it could be lot worse if things are not kept in prospective in coming days.

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