Delhi is a city most writers have written about. Just like Mumbai, which was formerly known as Bombay, wonderfully depicted and glorified in powerful books such as Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. Still, when I purled through cities in my mind - where I could set my first novel, The Abysisnian Boy (DADA Books, 2009) - I realised Delhi was just the right one. Funny enough, I had not travelled to India before, but I felt the city itself could vindicate my writing, so it seemed to me. The possibility of getting to India was rare, like I needed an air-fare, travel allowance and visa. I applied for visa, which I got and bam! I was already on my way to India, after 'exorcising' family relatives to raise money so I could travel wide and maybe, write 'wild'.
I arrived Delhi in a sloppy way, as an 18 year-old, with the breezes of a new culture blowing right there into my face. It was a very different experience; that I had to listen to my heartbeat and felt I regretted the decision I had made coming here. While fresh out of high school, my friends were running around like small insects, filling up their college applications, hoping to settle in universities, getting laid and whatnot, and I decided to part with some money from my father to take up this trip to India, which got them scared to the feet! But I had a novel in mind to write; a novel I hoped and wished would be read and enjoyed by most people, not because of the beauty of the writing, but because of the way I was going to handle the city. However, my friends felt I could go to 'better cities', like London ("At least, you will see Africans everywhere!" one had exclaimed), Paris, New York or as one brilliantly added, 'You could even write about Lagos'.
I didn't want any of that.
I was taken in by one of Delhi's finest short story writers, Abha Iyengar, who saw the desperation in me and was ready to help. In her mother's house on Rani Jhansi Road, just by the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute, I was given a room with views: the balcony was splashy, the toilet sparky, the kitchen roomy enough and I had enough to eat. I could leave the house after the morning chai, roamed the streets of Delhi, frequently visiting Pahar Ganj, one of the noisiest areas of Delhi and chatting up with foreigners who thronged there and returned in the middle of the night. It scared Abha's mom, who was to me, a grandmother. But she understood.
Nevertheless, Delhi was alien to me. It was hostile in a way. Just 18, I was away from my siblings and family. There was no source of income; I kept calling Nigeria and demanding for money. My life was almost in a shamble. But with little patience, I worked on my novel, making sure I got it completed within three months, which I did. With that, I felt Delhi is a city where any writer could write what he wants to write, when he wants to write and how he wants to write. Through these difficult days, I began to ilk some kind of love for Delhi. It began to sink in me, it swallowed me into its belly and made me a child.
By the time I left Delhi, with a completed manuscript, I wanted to return. The more I was out of Delhi, the more I missed it. And this made me start coming back to it all the time. From this moment, I knew that Delhi had eaten deep into the fabrics of my life and there's nothing I could do. Even at the moment, I compare it to any other city, no matter how 'better' people think those cities are. It is a city of inspiration; a city of greatness and a city of bountious wealth.
Delhi is a city of uncertainties!