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Lavish Delhi

Mumbai may have more money-it is after all India's commercial capital-but it is we in Delhi who spend it

Which is the richest city in India? It's Mumbai, of course, with its reputation as the city of gold. It's not just gold, but diamonds and dollars, and oodles and oodles of crisp rupee notes flooding out of the cavernous coffers of Reserve Bank, day in and day out.

Bombay has everything-not just the Reserve Bank which prints money by the billion every day, but the stock market, which is also a kind of printing press, import-export business through the giant city port, and the headquarters of the three biggest business houses in the country. And, of course, the film industry, where actors, some in their teens, ask for crores just to open their mouths and click their guns.

But alas! With all this and more, Bombay is not the richest city in India. The pride of place, believe it or not, goes to Delhi, which, on the face of it, has very little going for it. It has, of course, the huge damp secretariat on the hill, where the babus are always plotting, and the dilapidated Luytens bungalows, which look as ancient and forlorn as the Qutub Minar, and where the khadi-clad netas wait for the next call from 10 Janpath.

But Delhi sits on its riches like a hen on its eggs. You don't see the eggs, only the clucking hen. As per a report from the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Delhi is the only metro where more than half of all homes have annual incomes above Rs 2 lakh. That is more than double the figure for Bombay and four times for Kolkata.

Almost the first thing that hits you when you arrive in Mumbai by air is its vast slums. So you wonder whether there are any rich people at all in the city. Mumbai's average household income is only Rs 1.8 lakh. Delhi's is Rs 2.8 lakh. Kolkata has to make do with less than Rs 1.5 lakh a year.

I first saw Delhi just before the Second World War, when the British-and the Americans-were still here. What hit me was how expensive the place was. In Mumbai, we could get a cup of tea in an Irani restaurant for just one anna, or six paise. My breakfast - a couple of buttered slices, sometimes an omelette, and a steaming cup of tea-for less than three annas. And a thali with fish curry cost nearly as much.

When we first landed in Delhi, and ordered a cup of tea, it arrived in a tray with two pots, one for tea and another for milk, and a small trainer sitting daintily in its own dish. And it cost four annas, four times the Bombay price. And the tea was not half as good.

Where did so much money come from, we wondered. After all, it was Bombay that had all the money, not Delhi, which was so small you could see the whole of it in a day in a tonga for just a rupee. Everything was big in Delhi, even ten years later when I arrived to take up my first job in the city -the homes, the lawns, the offices, and, of course, the salaries. I was being paid twice as much for the same job I did or pretend to do in Bombay. And even peons got more than clerks in Bombay.

I have a theory. Mumbai may have more money-it is after all India's commercial capital-but it is we in Delhi who spend it. It is we who go to five-star hotels at the drop of a hat for a cup of tea, which sets us back a hundred rupees and buy shoes at five thousand rupees a throw. When I am in Mumbai, I still have a thali for 40 rupees and feel guilty if I spend more.