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New Delhi: India’s Most ‘Livable’ City?

About a week ago, sitting in white wicker chairs at a beach-themed Italian restaurant in Delhi’s upscale Chanakyapuri neighborhood, a prominent businessman confided in me his belief that India’s capital city had also become its most livable city.

His declaration caught me off guard. “But what about the traffic, and the heat, and the poverty, and the foul air, and the hassles, and the…?” I thought to myself, rattling off every grievance and un-pleasantry I could think of.

In my limited experience, speaking with both expats and Indians, it’s not often that I hear expressions of such enthusiasm for Delhi. It was even more unexpected to hear such praise from a guy with two young kids, who had grown up a stone’s throw from the cosmopolitan bustle of Bombay, and who had spent years living, working and traveling in modern metropolises like Hong Kong, Dubai, London and Manhattan.

But that’s also what made his appraisal so powerful… and refreshing.

Delhi is no longer a city characterized simply by bureaucracy and the bazaar, he explained. Over the past fifteen years, he continued, the city has invested tremendous amounts of money in its infrastructure, its green spaces and its schools.

He was definitely on to something.

New highways—“flyovers,” as they’re called here—seem to be sprouting up over every intersection. There are quiet parks sprinkled throughout the city (like the one behind my house, where peacocks run wild). Delhi buses and rickshaws may sputter along, but they do so on environmentally friendly compressed natural gas (CNG). And a state-of-the-art subway system, destined to shrink this sprawling city and ease its crippling traffic, is just months from completion.

Today, India’s second-largest city plays host to businesses and non-profit organizations from every corner of the earth. Top-notch academic institutions can be found all over Delhi and just over its border in up-and-coming suburbs like Noida and Gurgaon. Ethnic restaurants compete with dhabas and street food carts. And if you’re into sports, Delhi has become an international destination for major competitions, hosting this year alone the Hockey World Cup (field hockey), the Badminton Asia Championships, and in October, the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

And there’s another factor that really makes Delhi an exciting and enriching place to live: its cultural offerings.

In Delhi’s Nehru Park one recent Saturday evening, Ustad Shujaat Khan, one of India’s foremost classical musicians, mesmerized a crowd of about 200—myself included—as he plucked evening ragas on his sitar, perched cross-legged on a makeshift stage, situated just beneath the setting sun.

A few days later, seated among Middle Eastern diplomats and dozens of young Indians, I watched an orchestra of about 30 blind women from Cairo perform—without sheet music, without the conductor’s baton—a dozen or so classical pieces by the likes of Brahms, Beethoven and a few Middle Eastern and Indian composers.

The following weekend, I found myself standing in the back of a sweltering auditorium, scribbling in my notebook as scholars, human rights activists, government officials and journalists (including the well-known and controversial author, Arundhati Roy) debated the causes and consequences of the violence that has ravaged eastern India’s tribal regions for four decades.

Events like these—all free, by the way—are happening every single day in Delhi. Just glance at delhievents.com and you’ll find a laundry list of concerts and art exhibitions, dance performances and lectures, film screenings, poetry readings and guided tours—all open to the public, mostly free of charge.

So, is Delhi India’s most livable city? While it has its warts—and some truly monumental challenges, to be sure—there’s a pretty strong case to be made that it is.

I definitely dig it here. Do you?

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  1. April 14, 2010 at 12:34

    Hi Ben
    I enjoyed the post and I definitely identify with your thoughts. I LOVE DELHI!
    cheers
    sivan

  1. May 14, 2010 at 16:32

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