Delhi- the capital of India- has no character. (The word character here is used in the sense and context of something distinctive about a place or locale). While Delhi does boast of a rich tapestry of history and is the power political center of modern India, the essential nature of the place is that of a vast capitalist machine defined by, what could be called, commoditization of life. Delhi is a draw for immigrants from rest of the country; its absorptive potential and capacity is vast and it has something for almost every one. Be it the Kashmiri pheriwalla, the carpet or shawl seller, the Bihari laborer, or the Gujarati entrepreneur, the petty thief, the carpetbagger or even fly by the night operators(s), Delhi does not disappoint anyone. The citys essential nature is that of a traders, businessmans and the wannabes paradise. While Punjabis who migrated in large numbers to Delhi after Partition may have been once predominant, Delhi is now a mosaic; almost all ethnic groups that form Indias firmament form Delhis too. Delhi and its adjoiing satellite towns- like Gurgaon are also host to Multi National Corporations and are also to some extent ensconced in the sinews of the global economy and globalization. Delhi then is a trading city which draws people of all backgrounds and is perhaps a metaphor or prototype of a global city.
This discussion on the nature and essence of Delhi is germane to a controversy that had people across the board riveted to their TV screens and poring newspapers: the controversy that took the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) by storm. The controversy was beamed onto the living rooms of peoples and hogged the headlines of newspapers for days on end; such was the media furore that the perception at least in Kashmir where the author was then gained ground that Delhi was on fire. While it would be silly to deny that Delhi would have been untouched by the controversy, but it would appear that the city has shrugged it off. The JNU controversy has not scarred Delhi nor does it appear to have left an impression on it. Delhi is moving and gyrating to its characterless rhythm of struggle and striving for some, pretentiousness and vanity for many, and run of the mill, pedestrian 9-5 life for others- all undergirded by an existential need to survive and thrive.
Why then, the question, is, did the perception of Delhi on fire gain ground?
The answer is prosaic and pedestrian: our hyper-connected world creates a virtual reality wherein various media jostle to create half illusions and an alternate reality for its consumers. This alternate reality is not all illusory: it is manufactured from real events but then these are bloated and exaggerated beyond import. In this sense, these alternate realities are real but in reality, a bloated quasi representation of reality. This has political consequences in terms of riveting peoples attention on an issue and generating debates or motivated political themes around these. For some, these themes become reality but for others especially ones- in the actual theatres of action, these are ephemeral. The day today bread and butter issues , the elemental need for survival and success, competition and the fact that omission or remission from work or business or work may carry huge prices concentrates minds and makes people focus on reality. This is more so in a city like Delhi- a ruthless, cut throat , hyper competitive city where focusing on a diversion may either cost fortunes or even lives. The JNU controversy a largely manufactured one in the sense of its amplification by media-has been shrugged by Delhi; what remains is residual legacy in the drawing rooms of the chattering classes.
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