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Isha Singh Sawhney
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Isha Singh Sawhney is a writer, musafir and obsessive people watcher. She loves seeing new places and hates leaving them.

Forget the bling-fest, Delhi is still the cultural melting pot of India

here's a popular conception about Delhi, one that isn't wholly untrue: Delhi is the city of the Punjabi. Funnily, even the layest of laymen can't ignore the undeniable takeover of the city by the pretentious, ostentatious, money throwing, fun loving Punjabi. But, behind the shine, sparkle and shooshah, another Delhi exists. A Delhi where you can't take one turn without bumping into a film festival, Fashion Week, artisan mela or theatre festival. A Delhi that functions pretty much outside the gamut of an otherwise Punjabified one.

A city that's seen art and culture flourish for many decades, yet contained a steady decline after the high point of the 19th century. As the seat of the capital for so many years, art flourished because of its patrons. These rich, powerful lovers of arts saw men like the tragic king Wajid Ali Shah – also the last big patron of arts – revolutionise art forms like Kathakali, and then disappear into exile. As the British Empire got busy amassing bits and pieces of India, there came about a distinct silence in the cultural development of India.

In the late '80s, expats like author William Dalrymple moved to discover a mainly "uncultured boorish Punjabi city". An administrative capital, Delhi had lost all hints of its former status as the cultural-linguistic-poetic capital – which it had has been from the 12th century to 1857. Yet, the decade came to an end with writers moving to the city, publishers celebrating them, book parties honouring them. While it still has a long way to go before it becomes Parisian in nature, the publishing and media industry has decided to stay put in Delhi.

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Delhi today bubbles with dance, music and theatre. Round the year, every evening, something or the other is happening.

Delhi, essentially a city of migrants, provides the young, creative, emerging professional an encouraging gamut of creative fields within which to play, and experiment. From music and art to sculpture, fashion and journalism, from party hoppers to writers and readers people come together to form a young, contemporary and modern vibe. There is an energy created across different fields, by people who're well-travelled, experienced and influenced by world cultures.

hey don't have a severe belonging to India or even to Delhi. They have just nurtured their sense of creativity and intelligence through the fast burgeoning digital media. They are people who are influenced by blogs, television programs, and international magazines to form an energy that is truly global.

While Delhi Fashion Weeks aren't exactly making its equivalents in Paris, Milan and New York quake in their Choos, schools like NIFT are monumental towards making it a fashion center to reckon with. Fashion in Delhi today isn't about Bollywood, or one individual, or bored multimillionaire housewives, but actually about fashion. Delhi's ramps, with their more international feel, is where all the important buying happens away from the mindless bling of Bollywood.

While Bombay in its own right is fast and beautiful, and has its own unique charm, Delhi is larger, and inhabited by lots of different types of people who tend to mingle in the same space - everyone from artists and students to wannabe party goers and socialites. Uptight, elitist businesswomen exist with the effortlessly cool, not-so-rich stylist, and super rich artists complement the penniless ones.

Could Delhi then be the Paris of India? Well geographically, the Yamuna, for all its horror stories, has played host to music concerts, and been an inspiration to many an artist, just like the Seine. Despite its shrivelled up, polluted, hopeless nature, it still could be a potential cultural beat for our nation.

Delhi today bubbles with dance, music and theatre. Round the year, every evening, something or the other is happening. A café somewhere bustles with a photography exhibition; a restaurant hosts a festival of obscure cuisines; an artisan fair brings in artists from all over the country under one roof; an auditorium has a play; and an electronica music night becomes a hot bed for multimedia exhibits – all in one night.

With the government, embassies and private patrons pitching in to create an atmosphere of bubbling inspiration and creativity, this virtual downpour of culture is making aesthetes of all of us. Though Mumbai is more experimental and progressive, Delhi is more intellectual, with embassies, educational institutes and foreign journalists. In Mumbai everything boils down to Bollywood.

Delhiites, some could even venture, are like New Yorkers, where the art curators comes from. Talkers, thinkers, debaters, all make up an argumentative Delhiite.

 
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