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Daring Delhi
By Onyeka Nwelue
March 19, 2010 05:34AM
Raj Ghat memorial in Delhi, with black marble marking the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. Photo: COURTESY OF TROPICALISLAND.DE

Last January I moved to Delhi from Lagos – two cities that are bustling, over-crowded and noisy. Lagos I hate, because of the chaotic nature; Delhi I love because of its chaotic nature too. This is ironical. But the main reason why I left Lagos, no, Nigeria is because I couldn't stand it, I couldn't fit into the society. I was told that I couldn't speak Pidgin English very well, that I hated Nigeria because I was always whining and complaining and also because I was so irritated by its heavy traffic.

My first visit to Delhi was in 2006 and since then, I've been returning, studying it closely with the eye of an anthropologist and working towards a decision: to stay or not to stay. Gradually studying the treatment of Black people, or Africans in Delhi, I realised it would be tough for me to stay. I kept coming and going. But the more I stayed out of Delhi, the more I missed it. And whenever I went back to Lagos, I would be engulfed with the wind of depression. I just didn't understand myself. The truth is that whenever I was in Lagos, I missed Delhi, but when I come to Delhi, I don't ever think of Lagos. Or maybe, when I think of Lagos, I laugh. Oh, Lagos is a beautiful city, the people are beautiful, but personally, I can't stand it.

Wanting out
I would have moved to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, because of its serenity and solitude, but the issue is that I was tired of Nigeria and I wanted out.

Many circumstances helped my move to Delhi: my university was shut down during the month of January that I was working on the idea because the Vice Chancellor had single-handedly increased the tuition fees. Students found this irritating and rioted.

Two, the Jaipur Literature Festival was taking place here in India and I was attending as a delegate with my publisher. Three, I was coming to undergo eye surgery. Four, I had applied to study screenwriting in a film school here in Delhi. Five, I wasn't staying with my parents and I could move fast.

And my parents didn't get to know that I was relocating to Delhi until the morning of my departure. My flight ticket had been booked; my luggage packed and I had trimmed my shabby hair to look a bit responsible, although it turned out that it didn't work. My kind of hair, many people have said, makes me look irresponsible and doesn't look good on me. “Writers don't keep such hair,” they keep saying. And who does? Musicians, they tell me. Well, well. Music is an art. Writing is an art form too. So?

I'm home
On getting to Delhi from Doha that January morning, it was cold and foggy. I smiled. Yes, boss, I'm home. This is exactly what I said to myself as I came out to the arrivals lounge. My publisher saw the excitement on my face. He probably thought I was smiling at the taxiwallas at the airport or anything. No, I was smiling for I had gotten home. I couldn't hold myself. I was excited. The bit of depression on my face quickly disappeared. But one thing lay ahead. I had left my home, a beautiful house, a comfortable family, where I didn't need to work to eat, to come and settle in India, where I'm not going to get any job of any sort. Still, I was happy to be home.

On settling in Delhi, I began to make contacts, started looking out for newspapers and magazines I could start writing for, at least to support myself. I couldn't find. Quickly, I sneaked into the literary circle of Delhi and began to enjoy the company of its writers that I forgot that I have no job. I could call home for money and if it was there, it would be sent. If not, I try other options, but what other options are there?

My first novel, 'The Abyssinian Boy' has done wonderfully well in Nigeria and it's going to be made into a film here in Delhi by Danish film-maker, Lasse Lau and this is also one of the reasons of coming to settle here. The book put me on the literary map in Nigeria, because people say it is a strange story: about a South Indian Tamil Brahmin essayist who marries an East Nigerian Christian woman, who is stuck reading Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' for nine years.

I never knew I would leave Nigeria to settle elsewhere. I've always wanted to leave, but to settle? No. Never thought of it. And look at my destination: India. I wonder how many that could take the risk. But I tell you the truth: India is a land of inspiration, a country I will always be proud of. At least, I could have access to libraries, research centres under a mild weather and also eat cheap, but very good food, afford to pay my house rent, even without a job here and write on my barsati when I want, with electricity not being a problem. I can attend a writers' gathering and return around one in the morning, without fear of being attacked by armed robbers.

Like it or hate it, Delhi has become my home.
Onyeka Nwelue is author of The Abyssinian Boy. He lives in South Delhi.

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