A year ago that a taxi driver told me that there was no more pollution in Delhi since the government ordered cars, trucks and auto-rickshaws to switch over to allegedly, environmentally clean CNG fuel, “Oh no, Sir. No pollution! Clean Delhi!”.
It has been a year since my lungs, day and night, have been subject to the kind of caustic chemicals and airborne particles only before experienced by Dickensian chimney sweeps, “Penny for Christmas cheer, Guv’nor?”.
It has been one year since I wandered out onto the porch on that first morning thinking, “This weather is fantastic!”, and that means it’s been eleven months since I started gagging under the most intense, convection-oven heat, which slowly cooked my life away as the tumultuous, daily grind of Delhi spun me round and round like a pig on a spit!
It has been one whole year that my ears have been filled with the frog-like croak of the raddi-wallahs, as they ride past our house on their rickety bicycles at all hours, crying out to do odd jobs or to collect loose bottles. “Raddieeeeeeeeee!”.
It has been a year that my nightly slumber has been interrupted during astrologically auspicious moments, sometimes at 3am, as couples tie-the-knot to the artillery boom of a mighty cache of fireworks.
It has been a year since my clothes began being ironed on the street outside my home, using hot coals fanned by the passing traffic, and returned to me as stiff as a surfboard, with razor-sharp creases that cut a mean swathe through the high-profile, sophisticated revellers in Delhi’s swanky bars.
It has been a year since I started visiting my shoe-wallah to have my shoes shined; a year since I began sitting on a wooden box under the intense scrutiny of the man’s entourage, trying in vain to ignore the attention as I concentrated on reading the same page of my book, over and over again. Incidentally, I always thought it odd that this man wore dark eye-liner, or khol, around his eyes. I only recently understood that it was his own black shoe polish, not kohl, which he painted on his eyelids and which gave him his feminine appearance.
It has been a year since I have, on a daily basis, had to justify my existence in this country to some bureaucrat, taxi driver, street sweeper or other, despite legitimate visas and a wad of official identification papers in my back sky-rocket.
It has been a year since my morning routine of getting to work saw me sitting in the glorified tin-can that is a Delhi auto-rickshaw, beside bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, motorbikes, ponies, horses, camels and elephants.
It has been a year since I have battled every day, just to get somewhere, buy something, book a tradesperson, see something or find someone, and that means that it has been about six months since I gained some kind of equilibrium with that battle; sometimes achieving the upper hand, and at others, failing dismally. But the highs and lows have helped me to remember my place in the grand scheme of whichever of the vast pantheon of Indian gods one subscribes to.
It has been a year that I have learned to start a new life, every day; a life which can take you anywhere – to the great heights of euphoria when things go well, or to dump you down into the deepest pits to cower in shadowy sorrow when it all comes undone. It has been a year since I have felt what it is to have a life that is not protected by safety laws, rights or some kind of societal morality; a year since I learned to value what it is to be truly mortal, and to love my life all the more for the fear of having it come to an abrupt end via any of the vast number of dangers encountered during a punishing daily routine.