What Delhi Whispers
“Every city whispers something.” I read a short essay by David Perell in 2020 where he wrote about how cities shape its residents. He wrote: “San Francisco tells you to be powerful, LA tells you to be famous, Boston tells you to be smarter, and New York tells you to be richer.”
I remember asking myself then: What does Delhi whisper?
At the time, Delhi was the only city I had lived in — I had gone to school in Delhi, my college, much to my irritation, was a mere 5 kilometres from my house and my first job as a journalist also kept me in the city. Surely, I would be able to figure out what Delhi whispers. But the answer eluded me.
In 2021, I moved to Bangalore and thought distance might do the trick — being away from Delhi might give me some perspective and an answer. This didn’t work either. I thought maybe I’d never find an answer, but I realised recently that I was simply asking the wrong question.
The answer I came up with is this: Delhi tells you to be loud. Delhi doesn't whisper.
People in Delhi laugh loudly, fight loudly and show hospitality loudly. If you’re at someone’s house and say that you don’t want to eat or drink anything, be assured that you will be asked if you want to have something at least twice more. I find this mostly endearing, and sometimes annoying.
But I see this loudness as an attempt to remove all ambiguity. So when a host insists that you have lemonade or chai, they’re essentially saying, “We’d love to serve you and you are no trouble at all.”
And when someone on the road rolls down their window to shout expletives, they’re saying, “You’re a terrible driver and a nincompoop and let there be no confusion that I am angry with you.” In response, it’s totally acceptable to roll down your window and shout back and call him or her names — I like to think there’s some justice in that, that you can shout back and it is not at all taken personally.
Maybe by telling you to be loud, Delhi tells you to wear your emotions on a sleeve and express yourself. Maybe Delhi wants you to fight back and know how to fight for yourself. Maybe it’s neither and I’m just a silly girl feeling nostalgic about Delhi’s overbearing hospitality and noisily fun weddings.
But I know this for sure — Delhi can’t whisper to save its life; Delhi only knows to shout.