Male dominance was felt only in a few places, and the women were not just educated to prepare them for the ‘marriage market’. I saw women working in banks, selling fish, or just doing a good job making a home. They roamed about freely on two-wheelers too – a rare sight in Delhi, even on Royal Enfield bullets.
Most people kept to themselves. Some still interfered in the lives of others, but judgments were mostly not made and prejudices remained undeveloped.
When we would get out of the railway station, taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers would wrap around us like a swarm of bees, demanding to know where we wanted to go. Making one’s way around them was a task. We would then rent a vehicle from the pre-paid taxi booth in which we would take in the heat and humidity in the absence of an air-conditioner. This would prepare us for what would ensue the rest of the month in the capital.
For me, each place has its own smell. I remember what Delhi smelled like. It was like a pot of burned sweat garnished with diesel and petrol fumes. I felt like the city never slept - although now I know that it does with the increasing crime rate. People seemed enraged about something or the other. Even the school-going children with their huge bags spewed abuses at each other and fought over little things. All this seemed unreal, hateful.
Every other day there was an accident on the road in front of Grandpa’s house. Men would slap each other; they had a hurried demeanor and were always ready for a good fight. Anger seemed to be the pulse of the city. It was nothing like the friendly South Indian town I lived in.
While I was a teenager, I also realised that women were treated differently in Delhi. For instance, I wasn’t allowed the joy of taking a walk there by myself. I still don’t know if it was just the city that had made this difficult or if it was because I was part of a conservative Muslim household. All I was told was, “you can’t leave home without your brother here, this is not Mangalore,” they told me.
My female cousins seemed very timid, while the male ones had the world at their feet. We were told different things in the north, and the rules for the boys and the girls were poles apart, not only amongst the Muslim community but probably more so among the dominant Hindus and Punjabis.