Culture Capital

April 19, 2011 11:29 am by

Yodakin in Hauz Khas Village attracts the young and restless.

I have met the best minds of my generation by gate crashing their house parties. Growing up in Kurla, a suburb in Bombay where the only celebrity was a Gladrags model, I never imagined that one day, on the same evening, I’d be crashing two house parties in Delhi’s Jungpura area, Geoff Dyer in tow. That too, barely three weeks after I had moved.

Sixteen months later, the novelty hasn’t worn off. The suburban girl in me is still overwhelmed when I bum a cigarette off Pablo Bartholomew, or am invited to a dinner by Gauri Gill. Or when I throw a party for Sarnath Banerjee and he tells me he was so excited he told his mother about it. Or when I crash a dinner at William Dalrymple’s farmhouse in Mehrauli and am serenaded to by Paban Das Baul.

The Delhi “house party” is a reflection of its buzzing cultural calendar. There’s more than one book waiting to be written about these BYOB treats. But I’ve come to know of the unspoken rule: what happens at a house party stays at the house party, so I could never tell you who said what to whom and who spent most part of the evening making out with whom (and wouldn’t you like to know).

Flash back to 2009. Mumbai Times Café in Bandra, Mumbai. An Open-Mic night. I’m covering the event for Time Out, the city-based magazine I worked for then, and I’m bored out of my mind. For the first time, I understand the meaning of the word “ennui”. I scribble a single line on a fresh page of my diary, “I’m tired of waiting for the revolution that I now know will never happen.”

A few days earlier, I’d been to yet another monthly meeting of the legendary Poetry Circle, a critique group that once featured poets like Dom Moraes and Nissim Ezekiel, to find only two other people there. I’d spent that entire week looking for something or someone to believe in and had been put off by traffic jams, exorbitant cover charges and lacklustre events. Something was amiss. The theatre scene, my beat, was frustrating; the writing scene came alive just once a year during the Kala Ghoda Festival when the city’s literati would suddenly remember their Marathi-writing kin; and music concerts were for those who could afford them. I was tired of living with my parents but couldn’t dream of managing either the deposit—between Rs60,000 to Rs1 lakh—or the outrageous rent for living in a decently sized one-BHK.

So I returned to Delhi. I’d spent two years here as a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was familiar territory. I found a barsati the size of a tennis court in Hauz Khas overlooking two tombs, the Qutub Minar standing squarely in the distance. My rent was just Rs8,500. When the landlord sought a ten per cent increase, I moved to a 3BHK in Khirki Extension, which I share with two others so my rent is a mere RS5,000.

So, what does a week in the Delhi social calendar look like? Let’s look at what happened from April 4-11. From April 4-6, most of Delhi’s intelligentsia could be found at the “Free Binayak Sen Campaign”, a three-day affair hosted by Alliance Française. From performances to film screenings, from panel discussions to poster exhibitions and Dastangoi, the atmosphere was electric. The Indigenous North-East Theatre Festival that kicked off on April 2 will continue until the end of the month. On April 9, Yodakin, an independent bookstore had young writers read extracts from works in progress in an inspired event called “Hold the Novel!” From April 8-10, Delhiites feasted on jazz at the sprawling Nehru Park. Stretched upon the grass, not having paid a paisa to get in, nine bands in three days—it was the perfect weekend treat. What made Monday (April 11) less terrifying was knowing that come 7pm, we’d be listening to Parvathy Baul, and when that wrapped up, just a few steps away musicians Hari and Sukhmani would be fusing their Punjabi folk roots with an electronic vibe. And this was actually a slow week in Delhi. A fast-paced one is when almost every other day, there’s between three to five must-attend events happening across the city. And chances are you could actually make it to all of them, a feat you could never imagine pulling off in Mumbai given the nightmarish traffic.

Delhi is a thinking city almost by default. It has two central universities to boast of, each with sprawling campuses that foster debate and protest. Cultural institutions like Sarai in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies promote discussion around planning and development, besides nurturing art. Khoj, an artist’s collective in Khirki Village, often works with the community in which it is located and funds artist residencies. In a span of a few years, its mere presence has led to a whole sub-group of Khirki residents—writers, artists, photographers—who are enticed by the cheap rent. Informal hangouts like Yodakin, Greenhouse and Kunzum Café in Hauz Khas Village attract the young and the restless and encourage them to think beyond the mainstream. Then there are the publishing industry-funded book launches and art exhibition openings, both of which feature open bars and facilitate networking with publishing bigwigs and art enthusiasts. And there’s the music scene with a range of venues like The Living Room and the newly opened Boogaloo that promote emerging and established musicians and bands.

It’s hard to find a parallel for some of these spaces in Mumbai. Is there anything like Yodakin that promotes independent publishers and filmmakers and hosts events every other week? For instance, on April 30, owner Arpita Das has enlisted The Pleasure Project, a group that promotes safe sex, to host an event titled “Share Your Pleasure”, an evening where people will share their fantasies. A few steps away in Hauz Khas Village, Greenhouse, a studio-like set-up supported by the Goethe Institute, calls itself a “community space for creative practitioners”. Part gallery, part store, part school and part canteen, the agenda is to support multiple disciplines and ideas. At the moment they’re hosting “Your Flyer Here: The Indian Music Flyer Project” that hopes to “reflect and define emerging cultures of music, art, design, communication and activism”. Kunzum Café is a two-minute walk away, but once you enter, its easy to feel as though you’re in a cottage somewhere along the foothills of the Himalayas. The hand-painted walls recreate scenes from Ladakh and Leh, the photographs that line the wall highlight the place’s “traveller” theme. There’s free wi-fi, you can make yourself a cup of coffee, grab a few biscuits, or bring your own dabba if you so desire. The price? Whatever suits you? Just drop in some cash in the wooden chest on your way out.

The Bagel Shop and Gloria Jean’s in Bandra come to mind as I look for equivalents in Mumbai. But each time I visit I find myself surrounded by Bollywood scriptwriters and cinematographers working out strategies to convince some hotshot producer to finance their hatke film venture. The bagels at Bagel Shop aren’t half as enticing as those you get at The Bagel Café in Hauz Khas Village, where apart from the free-wifi, the café also allows artists to exhibit their work on the walls. And then there’s Zenzi, the place in Bombay where everybody used to know your name. I’m not sure they do anymore, since the place seems to shut down periodically and in its new avatar is infinitely less charming. Café Goa, in Bandra, was perhaps the one place with a genuinely creative vibe, especially so during events hosted by the Bombay Elektrik Project. But just this morning I learned it was shutting down.

Samovar and Prithvi Café you say? Those are institutions steeped in nostalgia about their heyday. Samovar closes by 6pm and forever lives with the fear of being shut down, and let’s face it, ever since Prithvi Café was taken over by Mocha, it’s never quite been the same.

Over the last decade, Mumbai has lost out not just to other metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore, it has faded in comparison with its own avatar as a cultural hub. Waves of migration have put serious pressures on space. The result—escalating rent rates, congested streets and commercial success at the loss of its cultural lifeline. Although the city is still home to a few of the country’s finest writers like Kiran Nagarkar, Vikram Chandra, Arundhati Subramaniam, and artists like Akbar Padamsee, Sudhir Patwardhan and Jitish Kallat, to name a few, it has lost its lure and can no longer provide refuge to future generations of bohemians who can’t afford to make a living there and yet be true to their art, unless of course, they have aspirations to Bollywood stardom.

“In Madras, if you say you’re a writer they say, which police station? In Bombay, if you say you’re a writer they say, ‘which movie’? In Delhi, you don’t need to say you’re a writer. They already know,” said Jeet Thayil, the poet, musician and novelist who only recently shifted from Mumbai to Delhi.

Vijay Nair, a music entrepreneur, festival organiser and director of the indie music company Only Much Louder, who splits his time between Delhi and Mumbai, has similar reservations. “I will never do a festival in a place which doesn’t feel like one,” he said when asked if he would consider hosting a music festival in Mumbai. “Delhi has more indoor venues that support live music.” This, he believes, sets the scene for an assured, critical audience. “Check out,” he said. “You’ll find there are always more gigs happening in Delhi than there are in Mumbai.” He had a point. Apart from the gigs listed on the website, there are regular open-air concerts featuring some of the best Indian classical musicians in the country, courtesy the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (Spic Macay), as well as Sufi and qawwali festivals, and occasionally, productions like Roysten Abel’s “The Manganiyar Seduction” an outstanding concert featuring the Manganiyar tribe of musicians at Delhi’s Purana Quila.

Does Mumbai share the same fate as Greenwich Village, the hamlet in New York that once attracted some of the most phenomenal artists who were drawn by its promise of cheap rent and the presence of like-minded individuals? The Village, which was at one point in time known as the Bohemian capital of the world and the birthplace of the Beat movement, is now an affluent suburb that is home to the upper-middle class. Is the story of Mumbai’s cultural glory a thing of the past, another example of the familiar plotline of the rise and fall of cities?

The British built Mumbai as a commercial city. It still has the Midas touch. It’s a city custom-designed for visionaries and entrepreneurs. But over time, the visions have become shortsighted and the quality of ambition is limited to the pursuit of money. Where are the dreamers? Where are the drifters? Where are the thinkers, the “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night?”

Rosalyn D’Mello is a Delhi-based freelance writer. She is currently editing an anthology of women’s erotica for Zubaan.

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Comments (45)

  1. Ameta |

    Hmm. The reaction you’re getting is pretty predictable since you’re praising Delhi on a website called Mumbai Boss.

    The debate is of course never-ending. I’ve myself lived in both cities twice now, and am constantly comparing them. I gushed like this when I moved to Bombay the first time in 2005, and hated Delhi with all my heart. But after my last 2-yr stint in Delhi, I’ve changed my opinion and want to eventually move back for good…more for the space, greenery and peace than anything else. (It could be an age thing as well :)

    This article has some interesting observations and quotes. I also feel Delhi’s changing for the better, and Mumbai for the worse.

    And Bombay isn’t as unbiased as I thought it was 6 years ago. Or as safe.

  2. Anon |

    The writer felt more important in Delhi than in Mumbai is what I am able to gather from this article. I prefer Manu Joseph’s critique. I have lived both in Delhi and in Mumbai and I much prefer Mumbai because it doesnt expect you to conform to its ‘intellectual’ persona which demands you dress a certain way and meet certain people. Delhi from this article itself sounds elitist and full of itself. And I definitely think that the movies of today affect the youth a lot more than the so called intellects of Delhi who attend a lot of festivals and go back to their Colonial liefstyle.

  3. MerulaEnigmata |

    Better yet, minus the censorship. This says it all:

  4. Suj Pill |

    @Chelu: Would you rather riyaaz not take over and have people say it’s on the verge of shutting down like samovar? give the man credit for taking it under his wing. if you think he wasn’t making more than enough money before that move, you need to think again!

  5. Duggu Z |

    Sure, the endless debate conjurs up the possibility that one is better than the other. The fact is shit is shit, no matter what shade of brown. Both cities are totally lacking in intelligent debate, genuine culture and new ways of engaging their own urbanity. William Darymple, for fuck’s sake – is he representative of a what makes a city “interesting”?? I’m pure Bombay, so excuse my cynicism but Hauz Khas looks depressing – like the backpacker/ Kathmandu version of a fantastical Greenwich Village. I think we’re spending too much time here thinking about whether bagels are cooler than paninis, and not enough time imagining what our cities could actually be… where does class intersect? how does culture get manufactured? who gets to create culture? let’s elevate the discussion!

    thanks to Regina P for trying…

  6. Anon |

    Dolc, I was tempted to post a wikipedia link which clearly states that India has about 39 central universities. Four of these happen to be in Delhi, UP also has about 3-4. There is 1 for the whole of Maharashtra, located in Wardha for the promotion of Hindi language. For anyone who’s ever considered teaching as a profession, the Central Universities pay much better salaries.

    Among the state-owned institutions in Bombay (by which I mean centrally owned), there’s the NGMA which is infamous for being remote-controlled by Rajeev Lochan, Director (NGMA, Delhi). Whether or not you can have a thriving student or artist community in the absence of state funding is debatable. But I can’t help but feel that assessment of Bombay’s former glory, like the present glowing appreciation of Delhi, is uncritical. Delhi’s always had more than it’s fair share of artists and writers, it’s just the investment and scale which has changed. But yes, they have always been relatively less approachable, more hierarchical and certainly clannish.

  7. Dolc |

    Speaking as a foreigner living in Bombay for many years, but also having spent a lot of time in Delhi, as well as someone working innthe cultural sphere, my personal view is that both cities are really culturally malnourished. That having been said, I find Bom to be a much more pleasant place, though Delhiites are on average more interesting to talk to (though that in general is not enough to overcome the other deficits detailed by other commenters above… especially aggressiveness, snobbery and clannisnness).

    If anything Delhi is less open, both socially and culturally, but it’s one big advantage over Bombay will always be there… it is the capital, and the benefits of being the capital of a big country in terms of cultural offerings are invariably huge…

  8. Pallavi |

    Dear Rosalyn,

    Wow !!
    Reading something good about Delhi after a long while. It has that romantic lyricist meet journalist tinge to it with an undercurrent of longing for having such cultural spaces in Mumbai as well.I liked it because you mentioned the Universities, cultural society such as Spic Macay and Sarai,in the same article. These are institutions/societies that are often left out from the cultural descriptions of social spaces. Delhi University and JNU play a vital role in nurturing the aesthetic consciousness of youth through societies like Spic Macay. Sarai is doing some good research work on urban media spaces.

  9. AB |

    Ms. D’Mello… I’m not a pseudo-intellectual or a successful gate-crasher… Will you still be my fraaaand?

  10. Raju |

    Stop harshing D’Mello, man.

  11. AnasuyaRC |

    ‘Or when I crash a dinner at William Dalrymple’s farmhouse in Mehrauli and am serenaded to by Paban Das Baul’ – You were serenaded both *to* and *by* Paban Das Baul? I wonder what William D had to say to that.

    Rosalyn, I’m very happy for you that you met so many Famous People in Delhi, and got to rub shoulders (and much else) with them; however, I cannot, in all conscience, recommend gate-crashing house parties as your claim to fame. Sometimes, one does not invite people for a reason.

  12. AB |

    ‎”Mama… I just killed a man… Put a gun against his head; pulled the trigger now he’s dead…” … A rhapsody that is, hopefully, “bohemian” enough for Delhi…

  13. Vijay Shetty |

    Samovar was always (even in the eighties) almost shutting down…
    And when did Prithvi Cafe get taken over by Mocha?
    In Hyderabad we have Lamakaan… Which may or may not be anything like the places you’ve spoken of but they continuously work at it…!!!

  14. I’ve lived in Bombay all my life and I just moved to Delhi about two weeks back, after stiff opposition from family and friends. I currently work with an online bookstore here. On my first visit itself, I was convinced Delhi is certainly a much more livable city – god bless the roads and public transport – and this article is certainly re-assuring. What’s more, it’s given my ideas about all the places I can now explore. Thank you for the wonderful read, Rosalyn.

  15. chelu |

    ummm…. riyaaz is the owner of prithivi and has a rep to do anything to earn money with no ethical boundaires so please don;t count his opinion.

    i wll say there are loads more art events (please do not conufse ‘art’ with ‘culture’: it completely distorts the discussion…).

    we constantly have new events and people flowing through the city with ideas to open more community events made for expression of whatever form. the art conspiracy last year was great. we the people has juts kicked-off and has some excellent plans. the art loft is there, though it, too, is quite elite. bombay elektrik had its day before turing into a boys’ club of a greedy, money-grubbing shallow insiders who betrayed the people who made them worthy of notice to begin with… but i do laud the effort they made. and loads more things starting up and doing there best here all the time.

    and please don’t forget that bomnbay has a far mroe diverse population than delhiwhich manes the community based events are constant, on-going and truly rich and diverse.

    i know rosalyn and love her dearly. but i think these anglophonic events for tye elite in a.c. spaces with firnagi products like wine are hardly a measuring stick for ‘culture’. and, i am guessing that gate-crashing and watching the same old drunken elite artists hobnon will grown dull for anyone over time.

    so, to each her own, i prefer this city for a variety of reasons but fully grasp why rosa is so excited by delhi since it offers her things we have less of, ‘cept for the old sobo scene which grows tiring if one exposes themsleves to it too frequently…

  16. jai |

    Lets take it as ‘Just Another Opinion’. Good read,however, unfortunately, blatant name-dropping tactics fell flat..

  17. Suj Pill |

    I’ve never been to Delhi, so I will accept whatever you state about the place as the gospel truth. I agree that Mumbai may have lost a bit of it’s charm. Ok maybe a lot of it. But you start off by saying you lived in Kurla where you only got to rub shoulders with a gladrags model. Whereas Delhi offers you a chance to mingle with famous folk who’re excited that you, YES YOU!?, are throwing them parties. I wonder what the chaps mother thought about it but we’ll save that for another day. If you were covering an event at mumbai times cafe, i’m sorry to burst your bubble but, you had a terrible job! I know of people who’ve left Delhi cause apparently what happens at parties haunt you for the rest of your life. So that rule about what happens at a party is applicable only to certain parties, in which case thats the same here! The fact that nobody knew that you rubbed shoulders with that Gladrag model bares testament to it! I honestly don’t care for art and culture and yet i know a couple of musicians as well as artists who’re doing fairly well! they pay rent and everything! it’s amazing! if low rents lure people to delhi who then have no time to spare cause they’re busy hobbling from one do to another, are they ever going to make a living? i hope prices of weed and hash are really low for their sake. i mean come on man, gimme a break!
    and how can you mention Prithvi and forget about..ermm…PRITHVI!
    So nobody gave you a chance here and you’ve somewhat made it in Delhi(i assume since i’m reading this garbage), wanna go through a list of people who’ve come from Delhi and are probably better off her than you are there???
    ThatSlyGuy and Regina P, amongst others, have already proven what a terrible article this is, hence i choose to dwell on the silly points. besides prithvi theater of course which is Regina’s Point.

    Yeah but they totally screwed ID Rock :(

    P.S. i’m with Riyaaz, whats wrong with Prithvi?

  18. Leo |

    Cheers Roman. Also, Alex, really? Read the subtext man.

  19. Anon |

    Culture should certainly not be mixed with farmhouse parties and wine but if the author truly wants to be bohemian in Bombay, I wonder why she didn’t choose to drink toddy and rent a room in a chawl. It’s certainly more bohemian than Hauz Khas. Oh wait a minute, she probably needs to shop at Khan Market (one of the costliest retail market properties in the world) or catch up with the hoity-toity in order to be able to name-drop some more. Which reminds me, why did she choose to leave out the likes of Rana Dasgupta and Raghu Karnad from her exclusive list of male friends?

  20. Anon |

    So why is Jeet Thayil allegedly chaddi-buddies with the Delhi Police? After their rather hectic work hours, I didn’t think they’d need to read his work to fall asleep… I would like to walk into a police station in Karkarduma or Rajouri Garden (still Delhi, though not the fallalalalala part referred to above) and, upon being accused of something, exclaim – “tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon? Main Jeet Thayil ka khaas dost hoon”… Will the officer then fall at my feet begging for mercy? I think not…

  21. Anon |

    All the critics here have summed up most of what I wished to say… I don’t know how many of you actually know the writer, but I’ll borrow a phrase from RU who has commented above – “full of gas”…

  22. Alex Postelnek |


    thanks for your great article. it addresses a lot of the issues i’ve been going through as well having lived in Mumbai 2007-2009 and now splitting my time between Pune and Delhi since then.

    I used to really dread coming to Delhi in the days of staying at cheap hotels in Mahipalpur and Pahargunj and dealing with merciless traffic, pollution, et al.

    It all changed when i got tapped into the real vibrant art scene happening in places like HauzKauz, TLR, and others…

    I hate to be cliche and just compare Delhi and Mumbai because they are really entirely different beasts…but in terms of overall quality of living, etc… I much prefer Delhi…and i find it to be very cosmopolitan.

    I’ll stop myself here.

  23. Roman Nevikov |

    Rosalyn meet Raj Thackeray … Raj Saheb, meet Rosalyn. You two would get together quite well. Migration has pretty much fucked Mumbai in the ass, I am sure you’ll both agree. Lets all drink some Maharashtrian wine from Nashik and vow to fight this cancer that is eating into our culture.
    *clinks glasses and cheers*

  24. Siddharth |

    While Delhi seems to be liberated from the fanaticism that pervades Mumbai, lets not forget there is a certain organic nature and entreprenuerial spirit that drives existence in Mumbai. So while armchair liberals in Delhi drink wine and discuss Jack Kerouac or the hidden feminism in post modernist movements, people in Mumbai actually go to work in sub human conditions.

    East Village and Greenwich Village (which the author quotes) movements were born due to similar suppression that Mumbaikars face from police, Shiv Sena and corrupt local corporators. Matter of time before they erupt (hopefully) like Tahrir Square.

    Culture should not be mixed with farmhouses and wine parties!!! Quite elitist and snobby….

  25. jaivir singh |

    think we need to applaud the writer for a perspective which till some time ago, would have been hard to believe. Mumbai, has enjoyed, due to its multi cultural influx of Indians looking for a life dramatised by bollywood and dreams of making it big, attracted some of the finest talent in the arts and business. Delhi, whilst culturally just as diverse, did not have the same quality of people, influx. I believe its the change in that, mixed with institutions of repute that Delhi has an abundance of, that is changing this perspective of it being a city of landed gentry from the old days only interested in partying and showing off as one of our fellow contributors have written. As an indian, I hope more cities in India are seen as culturally evolving and setting benchmarks for the world to follow.

    Kudos to MB for bringing to the fore!

  26. RU |

    Frankly, both cities are beginning to get terribly boring and pseudo, especially the art scene. Bumming a cigarette of Pablo Bartholomew (or “Bablu Bathroom-mein-lo” as he calls himself) is no big deal, am sure he musta bummed it off someone else too. As far as Jazz goes, we do have our own lil gigs. Did Delhi get a taste of the Joshua Redman Trio? While Bombay, to you, might seem quite constipated, Delhi, for me, is a whole lot of gas!

  27. Partho P Chakrabartty |

    What I am enthused by is the debate the piece has generated, how it has shocked both Mumbai and Delhi into a sudden cultural awareness. For the first time I find myself rallying together all the different cultural highlights of my city.

    Competition tends to do that to you, and while I whole-heartedly agree that this country needs both Mumbai and Delhi to be vibrant (why not ten culture capitals), I think a little sharp-tongued competitive criticism can be the gadfly we all need from time to time.

    What is remarkable, though, is that the writer, whose work I have followed down the years, has loved Mumbai with a passion we’ll find hard to match. So, if you can, re-read this article as written by one whose love has been, in some ways, betrayed. She writes so angrily and feels the lack of something so keenly because of how significant the city still is.

    I say, let’s have lots more of this kind of sharp-tongued debate, and some real-world responses. If Mumbai needs more parties and Dilli’s other artistic face needs visibility, let’s give Mumbai parties and the other face visibility. Our grouse with the writer is of no import; our working to improve our city is.

  28. Asha |

    I’m not sure Mumbai was ever a cultural hub for our generation. Delhi has had the luxury of a wealthy cultural elite that loves to show it off through parties and events and exclusive house parties that somehow end up being made available to gatecrashers who are friends of a friend of a friend. The fashionistas and the artists gel well together and the more grand and flashy it all is, the better.

    Mumbai’s cultural scene is more formal and deep rooted, galleries in the south and ncpa concerts and tea parties on fancy terraces. Its not a party scene at all and its almost impossible to get in. Its no wonder the suburban bollywood scene is more open and booming, given that this is where the ‘gatecrasher’ mentality works.

    The author seems to aspire to a certain type of definition of culture and “coolness” that is currently uniquely Delhi. But this doesn’t mean that Mumbai giving the title away, the country is big enough for both to thrive in their own way.

  29. chelu |

    nicely written rosa!

    as a firang who has stayed in bombay for many years, i have witnessed my home city changing i0n ways which sap some of the delight which used to come along when a new venue opens or a new performance group enters the scene. no question we have become pricey, elite, and the soul which used to provide a strange combination of innocent openness and cosmopolitan sophistication is sorely lacking aajkal. sigh…

    that said, i was in delhi for a week in march and was sadly disappointed in so many aspects of being in the city, moving around, interacting with the aam janta, the massive empty spaces filled with rubble and more rubble… the horrific air quality, encounters with aggression from more sides than i could count (from the rich boy in his a.c. car thumbing his nose at the world around him to the boys in the park who seemed to want to fight with me just because…).

    it was for sure a quick visit but two things struck me quite strongly: the surliness, lack of smiling, and generally unpleasant way people greeted me, from rickshawallahs to the myriad people i watched wearing their privilege way to boldly on their sleeve in a way somehow less palatable than the snottery i experience here in bindaas bombay… and, quite shockingly, the vast expanses of incredibly ugly slabs of urbanity. from the decrepit and completely charm-free lado sarai market to the endless spaces filled with half- or un-built edifices… many of which were hard to see through the thick, dust and pollution-swollen air…

    it is my home in the end but i must say i was very happy to leave delhi and return to a calmer, happier land called bombay…

  30. codex |

    As much as I love Delhi, this article is waaaaaay biased. Bombay lacks infrastructure and Delhi doesn’t. But you forget Delhi was quite the slum pre Common Wealth Games! OFCOURSE it’s great and ofcourse you’re going to love it if you’re hanging with Sarnath or at William Darlymple’s farmhouse in Mehrauli. Looks like the “I know this one” and “I know that one” bug bit you? How is who you’re hanging out/being seen with even relevant to this whole comparison? meh

    Nicely written though…more facts and less of whatever it is you’re trying to convey next time please! Bombay has more music FYI… no one even tours Delhi :) justsaying!

    Bombay’s where it’s at! Delhi just has nicer weather :)

  31. et |

    That was a good read indeed..

  32. Roman Nevikov |

    Wonder why most writers on this website have all at some point written for TimeOut. Is no one else noticing the pattern out here?

  33. critical_someone |

    Your upper middle class bias is clearly evident in the fact that you were able to count Delhi University and JNU as the only two central universities in Delhi, obviously missing out Jamia Milia Islamia, which has been a central university for well over 2 decades.
    Clearly a place like Jamia isn’t cool, hip, or ‘fab-india’ chic enough to figure on your list. What I am really trying to say is that, while I love Delhi and Bombay in equal measure, your article/piece/commentary reeks of a certain class bias, which is the one thing (in my opinion) that makes Delhi lose out to Bombay. The air of self importance and exclusivity that every Delhi-ite feels somehow divinely entitled to. There is so much more to Delhi than the kind of get-togethers that khadi/cotton clad frequent and the clique that most Delhi-ites (and wannabe Delhi-ites) feel so utterly proud in being part of.

  34. Leo |

    “Waves of migration have put serious pressures on space. The result—escalating rent rates, congested streets and commercial success at the loss of its cultural lifeline.”

    Nice argumentative leap there Rosalyn. Bombay is in decline, as you have proved with numerous examples, and what is the only reason you offer? Migrants! It’s all their fault. They drive up our rents, clog the streets and dilute the culture. They take our jobs and sleep with our women.

    Have you considered joining the MNS? I’m sure Raj would be delighted to have you as a representative. And I promise I won’t tell anyone you’re a migrant in Delhi.

  35. Meeta |

    Come on guys. This is her opinion. You’re free to have your own without knocking her’s down.

  36. ThatSlyGuy |

    And to say Mumbai lacks such parties/Salons is kinda silly especially on this website (MumbaiBoss) itself.
    I remember Nayantra one of the editors of this website had written a piece a while back
    where it was clear that such ’salons’ happened in Mumbai too.

    Really has Mumbai lost out to Bangalore? Just the other day I read Rahul Akerkar and his wife Malini say they wouldn’t bother opening up an Indigo in Bangalore since the city shuts down at 11pm.

    Does Ms Dmello want us to believe that Delhi isn’t over crowded? That there is no traffic congestion in Delhi and that living rates in Delhi are cheaper than Mumbai? That migration hasn’t affected Delhi? To believe that would be ludicrous! Delhi has traffic conditions far worse than Mumbai during peak hours.

    When did Kala Ghoda become the art festival or literary event that mattered? For far too long its been something that only attracts crowds that are interested in buying over priced street maal. Most writers that frequented the (f)art festival really didn’t

    What happened to Kala Ghoda Cafe? I believe that’s a place many writers frequent? Though I haven’t been there in a while, I have read many good things on Mumbai Boss about it.

    Delhi has more music events? Probably smaller events happening at the various consulates or the IHC. Delhi couldn’t even manage a Bryan Adams event. Hahaha

    Delhi cannot be called a cultural heart centre if a female producer of a news channel is punched in her face while on the job at India gate and the police just stand by as mere spectators.

    As Chetna an earlier commentator stated, Manu Joseph of Open is quite right when he says that Delhi is exactly the opposite of a cultural capital. Its got none of the intellectual types that Mumbai can boast of. What it does have is a bunch of folks many who have made a lot of illicit money and would like to spend it on whatever they can. While in Mumbai? You will see the real intellectual types that actually spend on art because they love it.

    Honestly I feel Rosalyn D’Mello is like one of the freebooters described in this article


  37. Sohini |

    I would rather live in a city that’s safe for women over the so-called culture hub of Delhi.

  38. chetna |

    Funny, Manu Joseph of Open Magazine says exactly the opposite of Delhi as a cultural capital. He looks at the same intellectual atmosphere of Delhi – but asks, what of it? What does it amount to? He is of the opinion that it is mere self-indulgence, and I think it is the truth. Because if Delhi was genuinely the cultural capital – we would see new ideas, new fights, new ways of life emerge from there. But we don’t.

    I think Joseph’s argument is more interesting to read … a lot more than Ms D’Mello’s bumming ciggies of Pablo!

  39. Regina P |

    Sounds like the writer was more successful at gatecrashing parties in Delhi than she was in Bombay. Now there’s no denying that Delhi has had a sort of late flowering. It’s always been smarter than Bombay because of it’s various universities and cultural institutions, but it’s become a freer, less oppressive place to live in, especially for women. Low rent neighbourhoods have given rise to pockets of artistic residents. Both factors have no doubt enhanced the city’s cultural experience.
    I’m no apologist for Bombay, but I’d argue that the cultural scene here is on par with the capital. Some parallels that the writer might have overlooked are Blue Frog, which has overhauled the city’s music scene, The Hub in Bandra, which routinely has music and theatre events, which hosts film screenings and Prithvi. In her self-congratulation, D’Mello naively underestimates Prithvi, which continues to be a relevant space for social and cultural dialogue. Delhi has nothing like Prithvi.
    D’Mello says that Bombay’s visions have become shortsighted. No doubt. But one thing votaries for Delhi, including D’Mello, overlook is the capital’s extreme myopia with regard to its underprivileged. The city has an impressive history of activism on national issues. But it’s local poor are voiceless. In Bombay, if you demolish a slum there is, not always but often, a clamour. At the risk of sounding simplistic, the poor have some sort of voice. In Delhi, colonies of slums are erased noiselessly. That’s why in one sense, Delhi seems a disturbing aggregate of several parallel worlds that float alongside each other without quite touching. To be truly vibrant, culture must constantly engage in dialogue with society, with politics. Parties are of course important cross-currents of cultural debate, but they’re not the only thing.

  40. Brilliant read! You have not just compared two cities but have also described the differences so vividly that I almost felt I was in your place experiencing everything myself!

  41. Aania |

    While I agree Delhi has far more and better venues given the space availability there are options in Mumbai if you know where to look. A variety of events on a smaller scale have started popping up as I’m sure Mumbai Boss can attest to.

    Some of the more well known ones – Alliance Francais, Shamiana and some multiplexes have movie screenings including short films. Mocha has a variety of events all round the year. Various music events happen at NCPA, Blue Frog, Mehboob studio.

  42. OhSoBigDeal |


  43. Riyaaz Amlani |

    Hey I completely agree with you that Delhi is leading the good fight.
    But why do you say prithvi cafe is no longer the same.
    Its gotten better.

  44. kim |

    Well written – enjoyed! Shows that the writer actually experiences what she writes on which makes the writing lively & bursting with energy.

  45. Lily |

    Dear Rosalyn, please do tell me where this ‘barsati’ in Hauz Khas is that cost you ‘just’ Rs 8500. Having come from JNU (where I presume a samosa is ‘just’ Rs 4 and an entire month food bill is ‘just’ rs 1000) I am quite surprised that you should find solace in the elitist, super firang air of Hauz Khas village. Not to mention how awful that jazz festival was and why most big bindi-salt pepper hair junta should feature at most of what you call cultural events. While I do not disagree with you that there is always something happening in New Delhi, I would have liked it better had you been slightly more critical of this ‘cultural capital’.