The vibrant streets buzzed with noise as hoards of people navigated their way through the lively market. The low-hanging wires with a few odd bulbs illuminated the dark evening. Motorcycles were parked here and there, and the strange but somehow soothing scent of gasoline and spices infused the already polluted air. You could faintly see the bright signs marked with the names of funky restaurants- “Mamagoto”, “The Big Chill”, “Amici” and “Sidewok” to name a few. Their signs all glowed with tiny fairy lights, a tactic they often used to lure crowds. For some reason, walking through the market, put me at ease. I felt as if I finally had nothing to worry about. Maybe it was the familiarity – I had been a frequent visitor ever since I was born and I knew where all the stores and restaurants were located.
As people walked by me, even if we had never met before, they smiled or acknowledged my existence with a small wave. Occasionally, I would see people I knew and they would come over and hug me, asking how I was and when we could catch up. Before I left India for boarding school in Delaware, I had taken this place for granted. Coming back home, I now realized how valuable this market was. A mere five minutes away from my house, it was an area where I could see people resembled me, and for once understood me. Like me- they were brown and they all knew the struggle of being asked ignorant questions like “Do you have bathrooms in India?”, whenever they traveled abroad. However, our vacation struggles and appearance isn’t what truly brings us together. It’s the real connections- I knew everyone through common friends and relatives. And, they knew me.
Whenever I was in the market, for once in my life, I didn’t feel as if I was a tiny speck in this vast universe. In these rare moments, I actually mattered and people did care. If, for some reason, I looked unhappy, I would be bombarded with concerns from strangers. And, even when I was younger, all the employees at various locations knew me and always asked how I was doing. As a toddler, I was at the market with my mother, when I suddenly found myself lost in the narrow, winding streets. Every single person around me in the bustling area rushed to my aid. In the end, they reconnected me with my grandfather who happened to be in the market at the same time. And together, the both of us, found my mother. This experience stays with me even today. And, so despite New Delhi being full of crimes against women, I know that when I’m in Khan Market, I’m safe.
As a child, I would be mesmerized by how so many cultures and socioeconomic classes managed to merge together in this one space. I would be eating a slice of pizza in a modern Italian restaurant with huge glass windows. The littered street below was filled with barking dogs and malnourished children from underprivileged families. I would observe how easily ladies dressed in saris carrying their Louis Vuitton totes brushed away fruit vendors and other salespeople. I would gaze at the wide array of food options that crowded the market around me. We had Chinese, Japanese, American, Mexican, Thai- the list could keeping going on and on. To me, it felt as if I had the world at my fingertips. I could experience the culture and cuisine of a place halfway across the world right from my hometown.
Over the years, I’ve changed a lot. Today, I’m not that skinny child I used to be two or three years ago. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten taller, started to dress myself in clothes I feel confident in and attained more independence. And, the market has changed too. They’ve amped up their security, gained more visitors and fixed all the broken bricks in those paths where I tripped ever so often. But, even today, I can relive some of my childhood experiences. The people are still just as caring and familiar as they were, the restaurants I ate at as a child still serve the same delicious food and there’s always going to be that one low-hanging wire that will always smack me right in the middle of my face.
Honestly, I’m scared of change. I don’t know what lies ahead of me. As a teenager, that can be pretty nerve-wracking, especially when you receive multiple questions about college and what you want to be. The market, however, comforts me. It tells me that I’ve had a past, and even though, I have no idea what I’m doing next, I will have a future. Whenever I visit the market, I let go of all my worries, and take in my surroundings fully. I feel at peace. I stop worrying about that load of homework sitting at my desk, and forget about college. I go back to my childhood and think about how much I’ve progressed over the years. I think about what I have accomplished, not what I have yet to do. I look at things with a child’s perspective- “I can do it, I will do it!” and I learn to believe it. Even though growing up has taught me that change is constant, this place is a reminder that some things never change, no matter what.