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A Dilliwalli in Switzerland

July 06, 2018 12:00 IST

'The Swiss show their love of cows by letting them graze in meadows, plump and healthy, instead of by killing minorities.'
'Women drink and kiss their dates in public while wearing tiny skirts, yet walk home unraped.'
Mitali Saran on how much she misses Switzerland.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

I've just returned from spending a few days in Switzerland after years.

I rarely visit my old stomping grounds, especially since stomping is frowned upon in quiet alpine villages with wooden floors, but it was a family occasion, and one shows up for a family occasion, if only to justify the 8,000 e-mail and WhatsApp messages leading up to it.

You know how, in childhood, you associate each of your aunts and uncles with one main trait, and grow up thinking of that thing as normal -- telling good jokes, say, or climbing mountains, or taking off your bra without removing your sari blouse and swinging it wildly over your head at a wake -- and it's not until much later that you see them as three-dimensional people?

Well, in my childhood, Lake Geneva was like some ho-hum big blue aunt that I took for granted.

Only now do I realise what a magnificent beauty it is, though it can be moody and cold and isn't in Delhi. Now I love it tenderly.

In fact, what I noticed about Switzerland right away was that it's like an almost perfect inversion of Delhi, if you shoved Delhi back through the looking glass of corruption, apathy, civic chaos and official incompetence, to a prelapsarian time when everything was as it should be (an illusion bolstered by the presence of vast numbers of Indians on the trains).

Not in terms of geography, obviously -- Switzerland is all mountain and lake and burbling brook, while Delhi is a dusty plain, not much you can do about that -- but in terms of making the best of what you are handed.

In Switzerland, things keep working because they are constantly repaired and maintained.

Perfect strangers still bid each other good day and good night as they pass on the street.

Traffic is not a fight to the death.

Tap water keeps coming out of the tap until you close it off, and does not smell like faeces.

The summer temperature goes from nippy to hot, but humanly bearable.

The hillsides are littered only with wildflowers.

The Swiss show their love of cows by letting them graze in meadows, plump and healthy, instead of by killing minorities.

Women drink and kiss their dates in public while wearing tiny skirts, yet walk home unraped.

You can plan a train journey with connections just a few minutes apart -- although sometimes trains can be a few minutes late, which causes the Swiss to shake their heads and murmur darkly.

In other words -- everything works!

It's weird.


When you live in a place like Delhi and then suddenly fly into a place like Switzerland, you have an odd sense of anxiety.

You can't quite believe that people live like this on a regular basis, their whole lives, with clean air and water, wholesome fresh food, and train tickets that work largely on the honour system -- the honour system!

It's enough to make a Delhiite feel faint.

It's as if your own bathtub keeps evilly trying to suck you down the drain, so it's hard to completely relax in another bathtub where the water is warm and soapy and scented and there is a candle and a wine glass on the ledge.

How is no horrible atrocity happening in some corner of the country at all times?

The worst I saw was one escalator cordoned off at the Lausanne train station, and a news box about the village of Saint-Prex being menaced by a horrific psychopath who steals people's flowers.

How long can this last, you wonder, biting your nails.

The Swiss have plenty of first-world problems, of course, but I have only one: A confirmed case of Delhiitis.

Mitalii Saran