Last weekend as I whizzed past Nawada (way wilder than Nevada) on one of the capital city’s broad-gauge beauties and inhaled steamy, fresh gobar as the doors opened at Dwarka, I knew I was ready to share my two bits on the Delhi vs Mumbai debate.

Delhi’s new fear: Bombs in dustbins. Mohd. Zakir / HT

Riding the metro is the husband’s idea of a Sunday morning fun activity and after a brief tussle (me: Why not take the parents to Jama Masjid instead?; he: Because it’s just two stops, I want them to experience the new New Delhi and for that we must go to the end of the line), we took the blue line to Dwarka Sector 9.

“This ride has increased my faith in India," my father, a businessman who has spent the last 45 years in south Mumbai, said as he hopped off the air-conditioned coach. “Delhi’s roads are of international standard," my mother kept repeating during her week-long visit. When I pointed out that she had spent most of the week in Lutyens Delhi, she said that she was comparing it to south Mumbai.

Mumbaikars who move to Delhi have an unfair advantage. “Have you settled? Must be difficult, it’s so different from Bombay no?" Dilliwallas ask me sympathetically. “One of our friends is from Mumbai and she can’t stop bitching about Delhi. She’s finding it very difficult," a colleague said. When I announced I was moving to Delhi on Facebook, I got only sympathy from friends in Delhi and Mumbai.

We all know Delhi doesn’t have that big city pulse — and Mumbai’s the only Indian city with a real skyline. But for a quintessential Bombay girl, Delhi is the faux-urban gateway to the north Indian badlands.

Since I’ve moved, there have been six bomb blasts and as many horrific road accidents. If you decide to help an accident victim here, you must be prepared to be slammed by a speeding bus and end up dead yourself.

Mumbai may be a dirty city but in Delhi, everyone fears dustbins. “Look, that dustbin is not upturned. There could be a bomb in it," I told my mother shortly after we heard there had been a yet another weekend blast in a busy shopping area.

In Mumbai we get outraged by the moral policemen who tell our students to cover their legs. In Delhi, a female chief minister has the nerve to say that “one should not be too adventurous" in response to the shocking murder of a journalist driving home from work late at night. Even Raj Thackeray would think twice before making a statement like that.

Dilliwallas sprinkle chat masala on everything, eat only chicken and switch to Hindi at the drop of a hat.

But this city has the most beautiful open spaces (as a resident of Nizamuddin, I can stroll to Humayun’s Tomb for my morning walk). Movie-goers are not forced to stand to attention to the slow-mo version of the national anthem sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle before the screening of Hellboy II at the neighbourhood theatre. They don’t hate north Indians here. And yes, Mumbai entrepreneur A.D. Singh’s biggest restaurant venture is now in Delhi (and India’s first brewpub will open in Gurgaon). 

If Mumbai had the Portuguese, Delhi had the Mughals. Delhi may be the city of upturned dustbins, but once it was the Imperial city of India. It was Shahjahanabad. Now, it has more Abida Parveen concerts, more film festivals that screen subtitled movies and better bookstores. And it’s a relief to hear conversations that throb with political sound bites rather than expert views on the stock markets and real estate.

But Mumbai’s home. It’s the city with non-violent BEST buses and the best edition of TimeOut; it’s a place where you can see and hear and smell the sea; a filthy, swarming dreamcatcher of a megapolis that lives from one Friday first show to the next. Mumbai’s a migration magnet. I quite like Delhi and I’m settled, thank you, but Mumbai still has my vote.

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