A Delhi lover’s take on New York

In a previous post, ‘The Travelling Squid is going to New York‘, I mentioned that I was about to visit what some say would be the world’s most vibrant and dynamic city in the world, New York. I said that I was curious to understand how a city could inspire so many.

Before I left for New York, I wondered if I would find the city too ‘mainstream’. After all, I lived in India for 6 months, really loved it, and to me, there is no place in this world which would be quite like it.

manhattan skyline new york
A Delhi lover’s take on New York

But I’m going on a limb here to say that New York reminds me uncannily of Delhi. Unlike Delhi, I don’t have trouble making conversation in New York, because English is the working language. It’s also much safer, depending on where you are at. There’s also nothing like a ‘Delhi Belly‘ situation one has to be very conscious about, because of a huge pool of hygienic, sanitised and delectable restaurants and cafes to choose from.

But here’s why New York is very much like Delhi.

1. Pee

Each time the New York subway rolls into the station, a smell of pee surfaces and I am reminded of the pee-ridden train tracks of the Indian Railways. I should say that in New York, the whiff of pee is limited to specific areas, mostly at subway stations. But it’s a unique trait of the city, something which I did not see (and smell) during my travels in Europe and other Asian cities.

2. Emotion

freedom tower new york skyline
Freedom Tower – unique part of the Manhattan skyline.

Both cities left me feeling a wide spectrum of emotions. In Delhi, there was a lot frustration at leering men and the way things were done. There was also sympathy for the homeless children. In New York, it was a deep sense of sadness after visiting the 9-11 museum. There was also a sense of exhilaration when you find yourself at the 86th level of the Empire State Building looking down, as the city started to light up in the setting sun. It’s quite an indescribable feeling.

3. Diversity and disparity

west village gay liberation monument
The Gay Liberation monument at West Village.

Both cities have very different enclaves. In Delhi, there were tents for the homeless juxtaposed against a backdrop of fine, polished condos along the highways. In New York, it was the contrast between the rich and the poor, the new and the old and the polished Wall St professionals and the non-conformist hipsters. It’s a mixed bag.

4. Purpose

I’ve always taken a step back when I travel. I love to walk slowly and smell the roses. In Seoul, I took my time to check out Korea’s fashionable people (including cute Korean guys). In Taipei, I took time to decipher the signboards written in Taiwanese Chinese. In Moscow, I was contented with taking pictures of my feet against the grey tiles of the Red Square.

But a strange sense of purpose overcame me when I arrived in New York. I wasn’t just content to linger in shops of renowned brands or boutique stores. I wanted to visit the museums, get my ass on the Empire State Building and watch my first Broadway musical.

alice tan ridley subway diva
Give it for 62-year old subway diva, Alice Tan Ridley! She’s really awesome and to me, the soul of the New York subway.

Each step I took was wide and quick. I must say that I’ve never walked as fast in a city, apart from Delhi and Singapore. I grew impatient, as two old ladies in front of me took their time to stroll alongside Bryant Park. At the same time, I found a need to slow down to catch 62-year old America’s Got Talent finalist Ms Alice Tan Ridley‘s vocals flood the New York metro.

* * *

If I were to return to New York, it wouldn’t be the cool cafes and bars that I would be after (though I must admit some are pretty awesome). Or the chic boutique stores or towering skyscrapers of Manhattan. I want to explore the other boroughs of New York, to have a taste of the other side.

Is New York a city of dreams? I’d say it depends. It depends on what your dreams are to begin with. But what I’m certain is that like Delhi, New York will evoke all sorts of emotions in you. It could leave you taken aback, confounded by the crowds and pace around you. But at the same time, it makes you yearn for more, and you cannot be too sure if it will ever be enough.

Have you been to both cities, Delhi or New York? Let me know what you think.

 * * *

The Travelling Squid would like to thank her travel companion Friend G for showing her The City, from the perspective of a New Yorker. 

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