I realise there’s much that Delhiites (or anyone, for that matter) could find to disagree with in this post. Therefore, I qualify this by stating that this is purely based on what I’ve seen so far in the few parts of the city I’ve had a chance to be around, and the few people I’ve had a chance to observe – which I’ll admit is really not much at all. So excuse the seeming generalisations, because I’m telling myself there’s a lot more to Delhi that I have yet to see, know and understand. But then again, can you truly understand any city, can you truly shed the circumstances you were born in and are in?

Anyway, the one thing that perturbs me most is how there is a clear line of hierarchy for nearly everything. I will qualify this again by saying that this is true of the rest of the country too – and perhaps the rest of the world as well. But nowhere in my few travels and the three cities I’ve lived in have I seen it play out as obviously as it is done in Delhi. Every interaction seems tinged with a sense of ‘you better know who you’re dealing with…’ - and I'm not even talking about workplace hierarchical levels. One friend said that Delhi has a strong ‘naukar chakkar,’ and I can’t help but agree. Coming from a middle-class family from Chennai, I’m unable to comprehend the extent to which people rely on – what do I call them, servants? – their maids, cooks, drivers and other kinds of helpers for so many things. I see the idea that because we pay them, we are entitled to much. Help we demand – we hardly request – ranges from bringing up our bags from the car, to bringing a spoon from the kitchen, to clearing our hair off the bathroom floor, to cutting our apple, to plugging our laptop charger in the socket a tad unreachable, under the table. I see that we are annoyed when someone refuses to do anything we ask, because, heck, we deserve it because we pay them so much. I see that we are always suspicious about the very people who help us get by everyday, because if you’re too nice you’re going to be ripped off someday or you’ll be taken advantage of.

I see this attitude translating into how we talk to them – there’s a customary bhaiyya or didi attached to every sentence, but it doesn’t mask the tone of you-better-do-what-I-say. Someone living in my house compound had the audacity to tell construction workers who live in the half-built apartment they are constructing behind my place, and cooking on random fuel they’ve collected, that they don’t cook meat there because the badboo is coming into his house courtyard. The security guard of the hotel nearby proudly yells at the rickshaw-drivers to get out of the entrance to the hotel. The big car honks the brains out of the smaller car and forget how everyone treats pedestrians.

I’m deeply annoyed myself that I’ve employed a cook, and even as I try to justify it by saying that the kinds of conveniences available to me in Singapore – of readily-available, inexpensive food steps outside my office and in umpteen malls and food courts paces outside my home – I feel angry that I’ve also become reliant on someone for a basic need. I’ve been told that I should yell at her when required, for she won’t take me seriously otherwise.

It’s seriously disturbing. I know I’ve not had a chance to see much of Chennai because I never went to college or worked there, but I honestly doubt that most people from a background similar to mine from Chennai would be able to relate to this. Of course, all of our houses employ women who come to clean the house and do the dishes, and I’m sure there are people who behave in different ways with their helpers, but somehow, this attitude is scary. Singapore is also full of domestic maids who immigrate from other southeast Asian nations, and I have heard horror stories of how some of them are treated – as many as I’ve heard of maids who have truly become family. I haven’t, however, seen this overt class distinction play out there at least among the Singaporeans. The average Singaporean, to my knowledge, is respectful – or at least tolerant – of the people who clean her toilets, cook her food, and sweep the roads. The city taught me to be self-reliant, clean bathrooms, pick hair off the drain, and do my dishes on my own – so much so that my mother, who has often ranted about the hair I leave behind whenever I wash it, was surprised that I started clearing it once I moved to my own house in Singapore. Of course, I acknowledge the massive difference in backgrounds, situations and cultures here, and realise that most people I'm talking about, in Delhi, in India, have never had to be in a situation where hiring domestic help is a costly affair.

I’m not judging people for behaving in a particular manner, trying to portray that we treat people better in the South or pretending to be a superior person, etc. – I will not fall into that simplistic trap of painting people with the same brush, or of assuming false morality in my behaviour. I’m simply registering something that surprises me. This is something that I’m taking time to get used to, and maybe months down the line it won’t bother me at all. And, how do I put this without making it sound like I’m judging? I hope that come what may, I don’t change how I behave with people.