By Aakash Ahuja
I watched the video of Ashish Pandey, an ex-BSP MP’s son, hurling abuses and waving a pistol outside a posh Delhi hotel, smack in the middle of an edit meeting. My colleagues were shocked to see the brazenness and the gall of the man who was brandishing a gun so fearlessly – some swore that stuff like this happens in Delhi every second. Others couldn’t fathom why on earth he was wearing pink pants. But to me, there was nothing shocking about this scene at all. Rather, I was filled with a weird sense of nostalgia, as this incident reminded me of all the Ashish Pandeys I’ve grown up around Delhi.
I grew up in Rajouri Garden, the beating heart of the predominantly Punjabi West Delhi, and the first Pandey I met was the most feared and respected person in our school – “Toto”. In the ninth standard, he had coloured his hair brown and tattooed his arm with his father’s name, in Arabic, for some reason. He had flunked ninth grade twice and had no inclination toward wasting his time with extracurricular activities or sports. School legend had it that Toto had the strongest “back” in all of Delhi.
For the uninitiated, “back” means the number of goons who’ll be ready to fight for you if a brawl breaks out. These goons had no job, and a lot of them were school dropouts. All they’d do was spend the whole day waiting for a phone call from the people they were backing. With the guns in their glove compartments and the baseball bats and hockey sticks on their back seats, they were always ready for the next fight to break out.
These folks are not the outliers in Delhi. They are the norm. I wonder if it is the air in the capital that gives people’s personalities, an abrasive, jagged edge.
As far as Toto was concerned, all you could do was fear him and hope to always be in his good books. Honestly, it wasn’t very difficult to get along with him. You just needed to brush up on your knowledge of gyms, footballer and cricketer hairstyles, and the pretty girls in the neighbourhood. This last part was how Toto displayed his romantic tendencies. If he liked a girl, then a fleet of cars would always escort her to her tuition and back home – Toto’s way of showing that he cared. Whether the girl in question accepted Toto’s care or not was immaterial to him.
When I started college I lost contact with Toto. But I still see him in the streets of West Delhiwith his cavalry. Time moved on. Toto didn’t. But I was soon to realise that Toto was only a speck of dust storm of Dilli ke mard fighting to be the alphas of the pack.
I met the next Ashish Pandey of my life after I got admitted to Delhi University. Veena Bhai had procured admission through sports quota in Sanskrit Honours, but getting an education was probably last on his list of priorities. His only aim in life was to be a politician. His ideology was quite simple – ensuring Gujjars always have an upper hand over Jats and remain the master race on campus. He told me about his numerous feuds and how he’d sent multiple Jats to hospitals with his hockey stick. On many days, he offered to drop me home, but I always refused after seeing that hockey stick comfortably sitting on the back seat.
I stopped going to campus after finishing my graduation. But Veena and his hockey stick are still there, waiting to break the bones of another Jat boy.
These folks are not the outliers in Delhi. They are the norm. I wonder if it is the air in the capital that gives people’s personalities, an abrasive, jagged edge. Or is it our famed entrepreneurial spirit that is conjugated with a feeling of every man for himself? Is it because we are a city of migrants who arrived in the boondocks and had to steel ourselves to build a city out of nothing? Whatever the reason, it is clear that aggression runs in our veins because being in Delhi is the living equivalent of a 3D simulation of a survival game.
Once, while fighting for space in the Delhi Metro I accidentally stepped on the toes of a middle-aged uncle with a thinning hairline and a lifetime of pent-up fury. The next thing I know, I was showered with a torrent of abuse so loud that it even drowned out the voice of the PA system calling out the name of the next station. But it didn’t end there. He then growled the second-most famous dialogue in Delhi after, “Tu janta hai mera baap kaun hai?”
“Tu bahar mil.”
I was getting late for the college, so I had to decline his invitation. But sometimes I still wonder, had I accepted it, what reason would that man have given his boss for his late arrival to work that day.
Boss: Why were you late?
Metro Uncle: Station pe kisi ko koot raha tha.
I met such people every day. But could I claim to be a victim of the environment that they created in the city? Perhaps not. Rather, if anything, I eventually became a part of the same environment. I’d argue with auto drivers over fares and uncles for walking slowly in a queue. Picking fights with absolute strangers became a regular feature of my day.
I needed help with this hostile behaviour, and it came to me in the form of a job that required me to move out of Delhi. For the first time in my life I saw people not resort to mortal combat when another car brushed past theirs, or when the ticket vendor didn’t have change. I realised I wouldn’t be able to camouflage my anger as part of the collective rage here; it would stand out and make me feel ashamed of my behaviour. I was left with no choice but to change.
Still, I can’t help but feel a degree of empathy for Toto or Veena bhai. Perhaps they needed a change of scenery too. They might to the air of hostility Delhi is known for, but they are also products of it. Maybe I’ll invite them both to come pay me a visit in Mumbai.
They can leave their “back” and hockey stick at home though.
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