It takes a while to digest the city of Delhi. Two weeks after I returned, I am struck with a sense of nostalgia for the city – sometimes. For its clean, wide roads. For the metro and its easy method of transport. For the cheap shopping. For the great food.
Living in a different city means adapting to its daily rhythm and after years of living in this laidback city, I don’t think I’d ever want to live in Delhi.
Regardless, here’s a list of places to see / visit / shop / eat
For The Stomach:
1. Kake Da Hotel:
Location: Connaught Place
Cuisine: North Indian
This came highly recommended and was our first stop for food in Delhi. We landed there after a heavy, true Punjabi breakfast of aloo parathas and I had very little space to fit in more food. But the mere taste of their chicken curry and rotis would make you want to lick more of the gravy. Seeped in ghee, this isn’t a fun trip for your heart, but sure a good trip for the taste buds.
Of course, a little more Delhi visiting and comments later, we did realise that this place was slightly overpriced and overrated… but if it is your first time in Delhi, this is a must-visit.
2. National Hotel:
Location: Connaught Place
A short walk from Kake Da Hotel, the food is quite similar… nothing much to add to that.
3. The Beer Cafe
Location: Connaught Place / Janpat
The first true blue beer place we visited and on a good, hot day. It was recommended by someone on Twitter, and we pretty much fell upon it at the right time. The cafe is supposed to have beer from all countries and at first glance, their menu looks extremely promising. But then you go down the list and realise that they do not have much of the beer mentioned on the menu, which can get disappointing. Still, we managed to try a few kinds of beer. The food is quite delicious, the music is old school and lovely. Of course, being a beer place, the TV gets tuned to the cricket match in the evening.
The manager said that the beers need to be imported and so they stock up according to need and season. Would perhaps be better if they had a revolving menu, rather than a fixed one with everything mentioned on it. A little more on the pricey side, but that’s the price you pay to drink beer from all over the world.
4. Afghan Darbar Restaurant
Location: Lajpat Nagar Market
Such an awesome discovery! A small place, tucked away between a medic and something else, this is the real deal. And you know it the minute you step in, with most of the clientele being Afghanis. The food is the most Authentic Afghani food I’ve ever eaten, with the tenderest lamb and the yummiest quabuli uzbeki! Their service is quite slow and erratic, and you do get the feeling that they’d rather you weren’t there, but ignore it and feast on the best food you have this side of the border.
5. Roshan’s Kulfi
Location: Karol Bagh
The perfect treat for a hot day!
Location: Karol Bagh
Now, they do have several outlets around the city… but the chaat here is a must try, especially if you do not have the stomach to try the street chaat
7. Cafe Turtle:
Location: Khan Market
Located over a cozy little bookstore (The Full Circle) in Khan Market, this is the place for the intellectuals to hobnob and exchange ideas. It is a small place and can get quite crowded sometimes, but the food is delicious, the milkshakes thick and frothy. They’ve a small outdoor section, which can be appealing in the evenings, particularly since you can smoke there. One of the few places in Delhi that I found a woman could smoke without being harassed
8. The Colony Bistro:
Location: Lajpat Nagar
Ugh. That’s the word. Their photographs on Zomato and all the other sites are beautifully deceptive. You expect to see a plush, nice Italian restaurant and what you get is a fly-ridden porch and well, decent interiors restaurant. The interiors are done up nice and the music is quite different, but that’s where the good things about the restaurant end. They don’t particularly care if you walk in and seat yourself and wait. They don’t particularly care if you ordered veg food or not. Their iced tea is so bitter that you can almost taste the plastic bag it came out of. The pastas are halfway decent, if you manage to stick around till then. Better try for the street food around.
Location: Haus Khaz Village
Quaint, at the top and eccentric. The restaurant is located three floors up, and they’ve definitely made the climb interesting with all sorts of installations, including an old scooter hung up with wooden monkeys trying to get to it. The interiors are bold and eccentric. The service is warm and efficient, the food average and they allow you to hang around for hours without any questions.
Of course there are tons of other street food places and it would be impossible for us to list it all, much less give you accurate directions. Best thing to do – arm yourself with a bottle of water, Norflox tablets, electrol and explore the city
There is a long list of to-dos posted on my computer, phone and numerous post-it notes. I continue to avoid looking at them, even as they scream at me in their urgency. I prefer driving through the empty roads of the city, focusing on the question that pushes itself more often into my mind these days. Was the world meant to be this way?
If earth was an actual living creature, Mother Earth, as we like to call it… what would she be thinking, feeling. Numerous weird creates moving over her at breakneck speeds, sounds that were perhaps never meant to exist, things that were never meant to exist. What is humans were an accident of nature that nature has not been able to eradicate. Yet.
My newsfeed on Facebook is flooded with photographs of people eating, posing cutely in various places, marking their territories conquered with a photograph of them with their conquest in the background. Like Alexander went on conquering worlds and never looking back, most of them never look back to pause and admire what they are at. Do they really look at the beauty of the mountains behind them and forget about the camera hanging around their neck, the phone in their hands and the fact that they need to ‘check in’ and tell the world where they are? Do they realise that they might want to keep some of those breathtaking images to themselves, to ponder over in their old age when people have begun to fade away? Has the overwhelming presence of cameras around us made us so obsessed to catalogue every single minute of our day and share it with millions of strangers?
What does the world make of computers, let alone strange wires flowing through the ocean, carrying bits of information in formats that were not even a part of imagination a mere 100 years ago. We cut short our communication even as we increase the mode of it. And much of it is white noise. Photographs of loved ones, loved pets, favorite places, all the places you visited, all the clothes you own, all the shoes you own, all the people you know, all the cats and dogs with weird faces, all the gossip about people you would never know…
If I woke up tomorrow to the sound of mere birds and nothing else, I would be lost perhaps. And that would be the kind of lost that I like. The sound of birds, the sound of silence… days without a watch.
I stopped wearing a watch a while ago, without really noticing it. There are reminders of time all around us. My constantly flashing cellphone, the dashboard of the car, the little taskbar at the bottom of my computer screen. Why wear another reminder of time when it is so constantly pushed into our face? Do I miss it? I did not even realise I had stopped wearing it till so recently. I’m told that it signifies being a little unprofessional, a little casual, a little bohemian. Really? So be it.
There would be a day when we would escape from this structure. When your day would be yours to do as please. Perhaps I would be old and senile and that will be my license to roam around as I please, to sleep when I wish and wake up without the worry of a day ahead of me. Being senile would perhaps give me the right to say exactly what I am thinking, without having to worry about being politically correct, offending sentiments and such nonsense. The wrinkles on my skin would free me from the constraints society puts on you regarding your appearance. The shaving, the waxing, the combing, the tightening.
But why wait? Because, perhaps, deep inside, we are all slaves to something that doesn’t exist. We escape from it for short durations… and then are compelled to return… to pay the price for whatever be it, for a while, till you earn your way to freedom. Till you earn your way to live peacefully. Till then.
Once upon a time, there came the iPhone. They were cool to look at, were fancy and were equipped with all kinds of games and apps that you could show off. Of course, much of this came at a price, but $0.99 seemed like such a small price to pay to show off to flashy apps that could tell you the weather or speak like a squeaky cat.
Then came the FreeBie People. Using phones that were mostly built on the Android platform, these users had access to a vast variety of games and apps that weren’t available on the iStore, thanks to Apple’s parenting policies. Google believed in the free-for-all buffet and they thought their users were intelligent enough to figure out what they wanted. So big companies and app developers had to join the bandwagon. Except, who would pay for an app when they had another 100 of a similar kind for free. So they put their food on the buffet for free.
Nobody can survive in this world too long on a free buffet. There were ‘limited’ apps – the ones that asked you to buy the game for full access. We’ll have to dig into hard numbers to figure out how well this model succeeded. Personally, I rarely purchased an app that stopped me too early to continue the game and one that allowed me to play too long – I would have gotten bored of it before I needed to purchase it.
And then came Candy Crush Saga.
There is nothing unique about the game. It is a reworked version of Bejeweled Blitz. It is candies instead of jewels and you have the same kind of boosters and the levels get harder as you go on.
But the internet works weirdly, and this is backed by a nice company, so there it is on everyone’s phone.
The thing about Candy Crush and Kings.com… they discovered that there is always a loophole to make people pay. Nobody forces your hand outright but it is a nice psychological twist at play.
The strategy, for those who are still living under a rock, is you match 3 ‘candies’ of the same colour to get rid of the blocks. Each stage has different requirements, and you get bonus candies depending on the number you match. The game, however, is completely free.
Unless you read that one line in the description - Please note Candy Crush Saga is completely free to play but some in-game items such as extra moves or lives will require payment.
The items are very cleverly designed to generate more players, or get you to pay. You require “tickets” every so often to move on to the next stage. You have to request 3 friends from Facebook to send you these tickets, or you can merely pay INR 55 ($0.99) and move ahead. You get 5 lives to play, which regenerate every 30 minutes.
You are also told that you can earn “boosters” every so often, except I still haven’t figured out a way to regenerate those boosters other than paying for them.
Sure it is a fascinating game, and there are plenty of ways you can play without ever paying for it. But the amount of factors where you have to pay – lives, boosters, tickets, charms – makes you wonder if we could expect more such ‘free’ games with tons of hidden charges. How many people playing the game have not succumbed to temptation and paid at least once?
The game also synchronizes with Facebook, which means they also get access to your personal information. A world of information right there, at their fingertips, for a game.
What was that story where the girl was offered an apple in exchange for her life? Interesting story this would make.
Every once in a while, someone comes out and says what the others are thinking quietly. They do it with such grace that you cannot particularly be offended.
I ran into one such character today… a bank manager wanted to know what I did for a living. Having been a client of the bank forever, he needed to update my details as a part of the new program. I told him I’m a photographer and I work for myself.
He continued to fill in my details for a few minutes and then ventured that question that was obviously bugging him – please don’t get me wrong but isn’t it tougher for a woman to get assignments in photography, it being such a male dominated field?
In his mind, he couldn’t recall a photographer as a photojournalist. He would not think of me a food photographer, interiors or any such thing. To him, photograph instantly brought to mind wedding photography and that meant difficulties for a woman. He was truly curious about how I got my assignments and how people treated me. Over a cup of tea, I explained to him that me being a woman actually had its advantages to get assignments, since I had a different perspective into weddings and could hang out in the bridal room without people feeling conscious.
He brightened considerably at that thought.
A moment later, he asked – how many times have you been cheated?
As a bank manager, he is too well aware of the kind of swindles people can pull. He explained that for some reason people think it is easier to swindle women. We were out of time and I didn’t really want to explain my business model to him. But it did get me thinking – do we face more con artists than a guy? I’ve faced my share of people who have refused to pay. As have my colleagues.
But is this a gender thing or is do con artists see no gender?
I’ve been trying to put into words the entire Delhi experience. A city as old, huge and vibrant as that deserves to be written about.
But I get overwhelmed every time I begin to write about the trip. Where does one start? The size of the city, the weather, the people, the food, the shopping, the hotels… and the culture, of course.
Delhi was a vague old memory of wide roads. I had been there as a child, for a couple of days or less, when we whizzed past all the monuments. Our brief encounter with the Delhi summer was enough to make us wish never to be out in the sun. The air is hot and dry, and often, oppressing. Your skin keeps looking for that one whiff of cool breeze and you gladly enter any airconditioned building, even if an ATM, just to get away from the heat for a few minutes.
The first few days in Delhi were pleasant, though. Pleasant enough to appreciate the wide, tree-laned roads and feel that the Delhi people and their driving did not deserve these kind of roads. This is a city where nobody stops for anything, least of all a small bump on your vehicle in traffic. Most often, taxis and autorickshaws do not even bother acknowledging such a bump. With over 7.2 million vehicles on the road, it is cumbersome to acknowledge every single bump.
Bullying is the way to drive. You get in, strap your seat belt on (Courtesy the Supreme Court Order) and step on the accelerator. It is like a drag race with a train where you brake at the last minute to avoid a collision. Needless to say, I spent much of my time in autos closing my eyes, one hand holding onto my bag and the other to the railing.
If Bangalore is a laidback, posh metropolitan city, Delhi is the loud, brash, pompous yet lovable metro. As someone put it, the bullying attitude perhaps springs from centuries of being raided by several parties. The city preserves its history, even if grudgingly, seen through the tombs of various kings gone past. Then there are the smaller backyard of the tombs that nobody knows the names of but still contain a curious sense of history. Stepping into these ruins make you think that the history past was only a couple of days ago. Perhaps it is the immaculate way they have been preserved, or the faint signs of ruin before the authorities took interest… there is a sense of timelessness about the place that is rarely seen.
The points of interest for the locals, however, are different. One auto driver or auto wallah as they say pointed to the airport where Sanjay Gandhi crashed his plane. The driver was a staunch BJP supporter but he felt compelled to slow down and point out the place and even suggested we might want to take some photographs with our big ass cameras. That is the history that he has seen. He does not care much about the kings and queens gone by and their stories. The present day is what matters to him, not so much ancient irrelevant history.
The raids, however, have had a beautiful effect on the food culture. “You cannot go wrong with food in Delhi” they said.
Delhi’s street food is famous… and a little risky. However, if you willing to risk the vague chance of a bad stomach, it is worth a shot. Chandini Chowk remains my Yarrow Unvisited, plans shelved due to various reasons. I still cannot believe that I could not make it that little universe of street food, chaats, parathas and the fabled stuffed lamb at Karims.
Nevertheless, plenty of other places were tried and loved, including a surprise Beer Cafe in the center of Delhi. (More about food later!)
Each part of Delhi has a pulse of its own… and given the size of the city, it seems like each is a little city. The way the residents talk about the other parts of Delhi, it almost be another part of the city.
The news that we decided to stay at Paharganj, near the Central Railway Station was met with dismay and disgust by most people. The reactions varied from ‘that’s dirty’ to ‘not safe’ to ‘you are out of your mind’.
In hindsight, this was the best decision we took. The row of hotels in a street adjacent to the station reminded me of the tourist hotel lane in other Asian regions. You look past the narrow, shabby lane, and the hotels are large and glowing in the night light. Catering to a slightly better off firang backpacker and some corporates, these hotels are the lifeblood of the tourist industry. The cut throat competition makes them keep things up to par and hospitable, for most part. Moral policing and Delhi ego do enter the picture occasionally, but if you walk out of one hotel, there are 50 more right outside.
The hotels can cater to all your needs, from water to medicines to a nail cutter to what nots. Of course, you need to tip them everytime… every single time. The person hangs around quietly till you give in and pull out some change and thrust it into their hands. And in a city like Delhi, it is better to tip or you will be ignored for the rest of your stay.
The railway station is always a hub of activity, no matter what time of the day or night it is. Day times have cars full of families, lugging enough luggage for two families making their way into the station. Numerous little food joints wake up early, and the smell of frying samosas or something better constantly colours the air, along with the ripe stench of garbage.
Nights are a little more colourful. Even through the traffic, a drunk weaves his way, shouting and singing. Or he lashes out at a passing car, caught in the throes of emotions known only to him. A little away from the madness, people prepare for the night. Small card games are put on, with 4-5 people crowded around a little handkerchief which serves as the board. A young man lies on his stomach, reading something, like one would on their bed in the comfort of their room. He has earphones plugged into his ear and wears a jaunty hat, a little frayed. It would be the perfect ‘chilling at home’ scene if it wasn’t on a sidewalk beside the railway station. Winter will be a bitch, with its biting wind. But it is summer and cool enough in the night for make sleeping under the stars a little more acceptable. Each one have their spot and they settle in, going about their routine and building walls around them, invisible to the rest of us.
It is always a fascinating picture to watch, seated in the security of your car.
And then there is Haus Khaz… the arty place, or the hippie place. IIT Delhi and a few other colleges around the area keep the place young. The Haus Khaz Village, a little block of winding, narrow streets and a hundred shops cater to the hippies, the richer students. That is the place to set up a shop if you are a budding designer. It is a sign that you’ve taken your first step by setting up here.
Shops and restaurants here have a short shelf life, I’m told. Too much competition perhaps or a seasonal thing. Little designer boutiques with vintage gowns, earrings and other jewelry, old posters of movies, books and much more are crammed into the two lane area that leads into the reservoir.
Restaurants are dime a dozen and each done up eclectically. The prices of goods are three times higher than the street markets of Janpat, Sarojini Nagar Market or Lajpat Nagar Market. But then, they have their fans.
Perhaps the size of Delhi contributes much to the various markets springing up around the city. A little market like Lajpat Nagar has everything from clothes, shoes, furniture and more. Karol Bagh is bigger and that’s where you head from everything from the nicest kulfi to the latest sari designs.
Bargaining remains the way of life in all these markets. It is expected of you to bargain and honor the transaction. A laborious process and exhausting if you hate bargaining. But then bargaining or jugaad is the Delhi way of life… right from groceries, clothes, shoes, furniture, taxi and whatever else – you negotiate.
Delhi expects the best and a lot for the least price. Yet, in weddings and functions, they love to flash the price tags and put on a big show. The combination of thriftiness and flash is a curious one. They are not ants saving for a rainy day. They like their things nice and good… and even as they boast about how much they paid for that necklace, they also brag about their bargaining skills. The original price if often quoted, and then the bargained price. It is an acknowledgement of their skills as a negotiator.
Two encounters over the past couple of days made me realise that we have a long, long way to go before women get accepted as beings with brains and abilities, whatever they might be.
The first one was professional. Another photographer, albeit the kind we like to say ‘the normal, traditional photographer’, at a wedding I was shooting. As we generally do, we started talking about where our studios etc are. He boasted that he had five studios in a part of the city. I demurely said I work for myself and have my own company. At the end of the shoot, he asks me for my ‘boss’s’ number, so he can pass on whatever projects to him. I was a little offended, so I told him I was the boss and I employed two people. He didn’t seem convinced. I guess I shouldn’t wait for any leads from that end.
The second incident was with a kid… a 8-year old at a local chat shop. I asked him if he went to school. He said he did and he served chaat in the evenings.
“Where are you from”
“How did you get here?”
“People manage to get around everywhere.” (In Hindi – logon ka kya hai, kahin bhi pahunch jaate hai)
I was amused by the philosophical words from an 8 year old. I asked him so how did you get here.
Followed his brother into the big, bad city for his education.
“Women work here. Its weird.” he said.
“Don’t they work back in your town?”
“No. Why should they work? Don’t you have fathers, brothers or husbands to earn money? Women shouldn’t be working.”
I was a little amused and a little horrified by his thought. I told him that me earning enabled me to pay the 10 bucks for the chaat I was having, but I’m quite sure he wasn’t convinced.
And he’s just 8 years old. Even with his ‘exposure’ to the city, he isn’t particularly convinced that the million or so population could be right. That women need to work. In his eyes, perhaps for now, women are things that need to be protected and guarded because of family honour. Perhaps he doesn’t even know what family honour is all about. They are terms that are bandied about in his house, and it makes him feel all grown up to be taking care of it. Maybe he even feels very grown up to be able to earn so the women in his family do not have to go out.
But if he was a mere decade later, how would we react to the same? A mere decade later, if he continued to think that women shouldn’t work and be out of the house, and the ones that do are fair game?
He’s a little boy from a little village. But there are scores of little boys from little villages, who grow up to be men in cities. What is the attitude they grow up with? Resentment towards the rich because there is never enough money? Resentment towards women who do not stay in the house and do their jobs? Resentment towards all those things that they could not have?
Or just the idea reinforced that women should not be allowed out to work, minus any justification for this.
The traditions in India often have no justifications. They are mere “because it is so” words that we follow. You are taught at a very young age not to question elders as form of respect. You are taught to respect what they teach you, even if it is something as silly as “women aren’t allowed to work” or “you aren’t supposed to eat meat on a particular day of the week”.
So what happens when you grow up and what you see is contrary to everything you were taught?