Monday, November 06, 2006

What happened in Delhi this time

A little background. From experience in Pune, I stay away from places recommended by natives. Here’s why.

When I was new in Pune, I put up at the company guest house. Naturally, the first people I befriended were other displaced-to-Deccan people. Once the sun went down and the last shot of ire was flared at the rickshaw fellow, we didn’t know what to do. For night-time entertainment (i.e.- clubbing, lounging, etc.), we turned to our local Pune residents. And they recommended with fervor and passion, with gleam and steam, with verve and vigor – Ten Downing Street (TDS).

For that, I hope owls squat and poop on their heads every Sunday.

Here’s my question: why would you direct unsuspecting people to a place that has not seen ‘crowd’ (meaning more than seven people) since the first time an Englishman bought spices in India? Why? Plus they don’t tell you that you PAY for entering a place slightly more somber than a coffin, get a wimpy inky tattoo from Frankenstein himself, and then creep up to a place that looks a little odd without Lady Havisham in it. Spectres meander around you – one for each person – with menu and funny recommendations. Funny because they’ll recommend a mocktail when you want a cocktail and vice versa.

So, my friends and I sat in TDS, looking scared at being trapped in a timeless bubble when all the people in Pune were dead except for us. This is when there was a ‘Thousand Oaks’ close by or even a ‘Toons’, or ‘ABC Farms’ for God’s sakes. They sent us to Ten Downing Street. Stephen King, were you there?

Then, there was the matter of non-vegetarian food and my Pune pandits recommended ‘George’ for biryani. Where do I begin with that place? Hmm. The selection of poultry is from a heap of chicken that committed suicide out of boredom. The rice is always in an ambitious state of marination and the spices date back to the time when the aforementioned Englishman first bought spices in India. And this was ‘good biryani’. (On our own, we discovered ‘Blue Nile’ and some other excellent, excellent joint at E-street.)

And Chinese – we were gently nudged toward some restaurant near ‘George’ which shares the same position when it comes to culinary dismays. This place is Chinese, right? So, it has to be red. (Because all things Chinese are Schezwan, which means all shades of red in happy commingling.) But food here wasn’t just red…it was sweet. Now, the only acceptable thing that is semi-solid, red, and sweet that goes into a human mouth – should be jam. Not gravy of minced lamb. But…sigh. What to do?

Getting to the point, here are a few things that I really liked about Delhi. Because I’m not a localite yet (won’t be for many years because I can’t find my way around at all), much of what I say must be taken with some seriousness because I ‘discovered’ how good it was. So, no, I won’t tell you how breath-taking the India Gate is and all. You see it once and that’s enough, really. Nothing much to gush about. But here are a few other things that surprised me so, so, so pleasantly.

1

Suji puris (in pani puris):

J tipped me off on this one. And frankly, I had no idea just what magnitude of difference the type of puri made to pani-puri. What I’ve always had in Maharashtra, (even Orissa – but the ones in Cuttack are the best…no contest there!) are puris made of aata. They are thinner, crispier, yet sharper when they break. They sort of splinter in your mouth when you bite into them. Added to the tart water of the chaat, this makes for an especially piquant experience. Well, no-one’s really complaining here, but the suji puri is a more …umm...mature, refined, polished version of the same thing.

The crust is slightly thicker, and the texture is smoother. When you have one of these, the pani softens the crust and it just fills your mouth more sedately. I suppose you could say that on the palate, it feels as the sharp edges have been rounded off. The remnant of the last bite lives nestled somewhere in your taste buds until you get to the next one. (In my case, it was every two and a half hours.)

Oh, and very strangely, most people who stood with me in a semi-circle around the pani-puri waala, preferred the aata puri without the meetha chutney. Now, this is something I cannot understand. If there is no meetha chutney, you huff and puff and demand it until you get it. If there is meetha chutney, you take a lot of it. But what is this business of not taking meetha chutney? Well, what do I care.. I got to have more of it. My favorite version is when a bit of the paani-puri gets completely soaked in the chutney itself. Then when you bite into it and roll your tongue to taste that bit, it’s pure bliss.



2

Deer Park and the drive along Lodhi road:

It’s a landscape etched into space, I tell you. Visually…it’s fragrant. But, what’s with all those Kwality-ice-cream stalls? So many of them? At first, it was cute – all those tiny little carts selling cornettos and other tri-color ices. But then, it got alarming. For some very weird reason, it reminded me of Dadar station, except with ice-cream stalls instead of people. They look like they’re taking over the city.



3

The Raan at ‘Punjabi by Nature’ in Vasant Vihar (or Vasant Kunj - I get confused…it’s in that place near that swanky multiplex.):

{What follows can prove to be offensive to vegetarians and non-vegetarians who don’t crack bones, suck marrows, or have gravy dribble down their chin, etc. The kinds who eat chunks of meat like chunks of potatoes.}

Now, on with the rhapsody.

The Raan here is the apogee of roasting grandeur. It’s quite a sight to begin with. There’s a huge platter. On it, is a little hill of mutton strips in a shade of brown one associates with adroitly spiced and immaculately marinated meat. Also adorning the gourmet caveman’s dish are huge bones, indicating a formidable carnivorous lineage.

Ordinarily, when you look at a pusillanimous goat, you can hardly imagine that such an unremarkable bleat of a life form has the potential of being transformed into something so, so, good.

To do full justice to it, tuck into it without the accoutrements of rotis, kababs, daal, etc. etc. Raan and only Raan is the way to go. (At least that’s the way I have mutton – wholely, solely the meat and nothing else.)

A is not much of a meat-eater. He has his tender chicken-tikkas wherever he goes. So, when my eyes gleamed and I almost leapt a good three inches from my seat on seeing Raan on the menu, he ordered it for me.

‘What’s Raan?’, he asked me.

His friend (an ardent meat-chomper himself) and I explained it to him, taking turns to inject all forms of primal eating behavior that goes with this dish. I think we scared him a little bit, because he meekly asked for malai tikka. I’m happy to inform philistine suggestions were not entertained.


4

A South Indian joint called ‘Nyevedhyam’ (I’ve got the spelling wrong):

Interestingly, the yummiest stuff I had there – hot rasam and papads – are complimentary.


5

The metro:

Clean with AC. (No return tickets though, which was a cute departure from what one expects). And nice people. I have this theory – that one is likely to find more helpful people in an area where public transportation is available rather than places designed to limit access – restaurants or parks where you pay to get in or even movie-halls (tickets less than 50 rupees don’t count).

It was wonderful to see so many people from such varied walks of life share the same space that was taking them all somewhere. There has been no dramatic breaking of walls yet but I think the metro will go a very long way in melting social divides. Next to a really good-looking young girl (in short red hair and a blue nose-ring), were two ladies peeping through their gauzy ghoongats. The man escorting them looked around rattily for an empty seat. (Ah! The evolutionary stirrings of the train commuter. Slowly, this species will evolve to gauge body language and predict who’s going to get off first, it will know where exactly to stand in a crowd and fold a newspaper just so that it can be read comfortably and tune the body clock such that senses get sharper at the approaching destination, etc. etc.)

A was being quite difficult.

‘I have to STAND upto Dwarka?!’, he hissed in my ears, as if non-vacancy of seats was my doing, just because I come from Mumbai. His mum and I chatted merrily, while a little boy with a mushroom-cut pulled A’s finger and laughed. It did nothing to brighten A’s mood, who was just being dour on principle. He scowled fiercely and the child who turned his attention to his father. Dad anxiously looked around for Mommy in the way all dads do when their children suddenly start taking interest in them…at least to ask questions like: ‘Papa, what is this?’, ‘Why?’, ‘Why?’, ‘Why?’, ‘Why?’

Finally, a couple of stations before Dwarka, someone got up and A almost collapsed there. (He must have stood for a measly 20 minutes.) ‘You don’t want to sit, do you?’, he asked me.

‘Nope, go ahead’.

And it wasn’t love, really. I honestly didn’t want to sit. The thing is, the metro has seats line alongside the panels of windows. So there aren’t any window seats, so to speak. I may as well stand and enjoy the view.

Finally, we finished our train ride. However, the station of many exits presented an honorable conundrum and we got out the wrong way. And while I know I must go on with the incident, I shall take a few moments to extol the many splendors of Connaught Place.

It is the prettiest thing I have seen in Delhi so far. (This includes Deer Park – very woody and all, but as far as looks go, concrete is my thing.)

CP is so…buzzy. I like buzzy-busy places. All shops open for business, throbbing little waves of pulse in the opening and closing of doors, the beautiful park in the centre, bluey lampposts, neat little benches. There’s a sort of alacrity in the variegation. It is tricky and amusing and happy and full of verve. And you know, the rick guys actually looked at me and asked me where I wanted to go. Now, this may seem like a small thing to most people, but here in Pune, this seldom happens to me. No-one ever asks me where I want to go, so sniff! it was an emotional moment.

And the little carts that served steaming cubes of sweet potatoes with mirchi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sample that because Grouchy Marx muttered something about not finding his beloved car anywhere around.

‘This metro business will never work! How can you remember where you parked your car?’

‘So that’s why people shouldn’t take the metro? Because they are likely to forget where they parked their cars?’

‘What’s the point of saving time traveling by metro if you’re going to waste it circling CP?’

I look at those huge coliseums and the colorful wares displayed on the roads and the pretty park in the middle, the lovely arterial roads, misty in the exhale of the winter-evening fog,…. how is wandering around this place a waste of time?

But I should’ve guessed knowing A’s perambulatory prowess.

0 - 10 steps – okay, let’s go.
11 – 20 steps – groan
21 – 30 steps – this better be worth it
31- 40 steps – STOP THE EXPEDITION ALREADY!

I couldn’t figure out what he was getting so het up about. I told him in a very reasonable voice that we had parked the car near a Mac Donalds and a sweet-looking fellow in a red and green shirt had parked it for us.

And in a not so reasonable voice, he snapped, ‘Do you know how many Mac Donald’s CP has?’

Well, it’s not my fault if every place in Delhi is divided into goddamn blocks. And if they are ‘blocks’, why are they in circles? Although they are very pretty circles, straight-forward squares or rectangles would do just as fine, right?.

Anyway, we finally reached the car and A kept muttering under his breath why we couldn’t be happy roaming around that blooming Hauz Khas village. (Close to home, see…the car goes there.)

I mean – puh-lease. CP and Hauz Khas? Really. That’s like missing a fire-cracker lit sky for the flicker of a tubelight.

I am besotted with CP. Once I move to Delhi, I shall roam there, every day.


5

Coming back to my round of suggestions. There is Urban Pind in GK some block. (My cuz here told me that there is a ‘Great Kailash’, then there is a ‘Greater Kaliash’, and finally there is an ‘O Kailash’ which is the greatest of them all. He insisted that I ask about this to someone there. I did. I was laughed at. My cousin doesn’t have much longer to live.)

It’s a club or lounge or something of that sort. Nothing spectacular for anyone but me because A and I had our first dance there. Also, there was a private party going on, but they let us in because we were just the two of us. Sweet.

Now, something happened here that I can’t quite make anything of.

A and I were sitting, having our drinks. (The Margarita was very nicely done.) This group of men, slightly tipsy were dancing next to our table. They were steadily getting a little boisterous, and sort of encroaching our space…but not really. A was already getting uncomfortable. (Sheesh! Little things…) Then this bald guy, who had been looking in our direction for a long time, came up to us. A, already on his guard, looked up, getting the Amitabh in Agnipath gleam in his eyes. The guy, looked at me, looked at him, and said ‘I’m sorry.’ Then he went away.

‘I’m sorry.’ ‘I’m SORRY?’ He was sorry for A because he was with me? What did that mean? Now, my friends here laugh it off, and A said that sometimes alcohol gives one more insight than sobriety. (I understood the dig when I was back in Mumbai, so he escaped a mean pinch this time.) But I am not amused.

Hmph! I’ll prowl around and someday I’ll go up to the lady the bald guy is with and tearfully hold her hand and weep, ‘I am profusely apologetic! Ah! The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune! Boo hoo hoo!’

Yep. That’s the plan.


6

And finally, what makes Delhi the olive on my pizza, the ache in my poetry, the rhythm in my song, the longing in my love, the dream in my sleep, the tizzy in my dream, the mystery in my beyond, the solitaire on my ring….is the evening sky.

There’s a dreamy sadness in the way strings of orange, red, and pink trickle across a cold, grey sky. Some parts are bright like a sword flashing in the afternoon sun. And the rest of the expanse looks like this harsh battlefield, where a warrior bleeds in victory. And this valiant blood spreads forth to color and illumine for a population parched of courage. I have seen skies that are ethereal, sublime, amenable to lyricism, vibrant, and whatever else that lifts one from the ordinary plane for a few moments. But the Delhi sky is noble.

If ever in Delhi, look up when the sun’s going down.



*************************************


So, this is it. Enough memories… of the Delhi I fell in love in… and the Delhi I fell in love with.

My tale of two cities.






13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"It’s a landscape etched into space, I tell you. Visually…it’s fragrant. But, what’s with all those Kwality-ice-cream stalls? So many of them? At first, it was cute – all those tiny little carts selling cornettos and other tri-color ices. But then, it got alarming. For some very weird reason, it reminded me of Dadar station, except with ice-cream stalls instead of people. They look like they’re taking over the city."
=============================
can only be written by a pompous and long winded person. Madam, it’s their attempt to earn a livelihood. But of course, all of your talent is for pani puris and raans. How dare those ice-creamwallahs upset your equilibrium, residing in a pea sized brain? I wish, if you get off from your I, ME, MYSELF horse and tried talking to at least one of them. You would have been thankful to them that instead of not having doting parents like you and not having your kind of education, they had still made a choice, a choice of earning an honest living in this land of unemployment called India (I hope you know that that our country’s name is India), they had NOT chosen burglary and snatching your cell phone from your carefully cultivated delicate hands. But yes, how can I forget, all those eating joints are waiting to be graced by you and later on written by you miss high and mighty. I wish, if instead of using tongue and finger tips, you make use of a bit of your brain too, or if it’s too much then there is a thing between tongue and your typing finger tips, called heart.
==================
Vardarajan Arun

Sai said...

Lol at your post about Pune. I lived in Pune for 2 years (98-00) and I totally agree with you. I loved ABC Farms, especially that place owned by the Russian guy. They served excellent chateaubriand. There were these two other restaurants near Osho Park, one had excellent french food and the other thai and vietnamese. My hubby being a typical Mumbaikar, hated Pune and felt the city was so dead!

umang said...

TDS... went to the place about 5 yrs back when I was in Fergi..dint like it either, we liked crystal ball though.And ur account of Delhi here made me go back to ur "Delhi daze" post once again...

the mad momma said...

you fell in love with delhi just as i did ten years ago.. please come have dinner and watch the sunset from my terrace... love my city and u've made a place in my heart.. !!!

Uptown Girl said...

My God... your post makes me hungry!!! :)... good one.

neha said...

Try bhel puri opposite miranda house.
and that no. 4 on your list is it near the state emporiums?
did you try nizam's in CP?

and there used to be this really nice cake and pastery place in friends colony - i guess there are a lot more now.

ps: i was actually enjoying timtams - but that was before i read your post. for some odd reason chat is not a regular at any of the indian restaurant around here!!!

anish said...

mouth watering.. i didnt see the metro. have only seen the'Big Dig'. Huge holes in the middle of CP.

Anonymous said...

ULTA story of Pyaar Ke side effects....Delhi Guy and Mumbai Girl....

everthing looks beautiful when you are in love n with ur love.....otherwise there is nothing in Delhi...trust me..

my gf enjoys Vashi creek n she calls her SeaShore....can you imagine?

-pravin

Mukta said...

:-)

I didn't eat the pani puris with my 'delicate' hands at the Taj, you know. And see things in context, pal...it was said in jest. And even if I did write with my brain or my heart (which according to you I don't), how would you ever understand? Obviously, being acrimonious and judgmental is what gives you your reason to be, right?

hey sai,

are you talking about Arthur's theme and Malaka Spice? They are a little away from Osho Park (they're in lane 6). But still around and going strong...:-)

Hi Umang,

Where is 'Crystal Ball?'

Hey the mad momma,
You have a terrace? Wow! And as for dinner - sure! Thank you! :-)

hey girl,

:-) Thanks.

Hi neha,

My friend did tell me of this pastery place in Defence Colony.

Hey anish!
DO SEE THE METRO!

hi Pravin,
It's all about the perspective...and in any case, every place has something you can absolutely love! :-) By the way, I'll be in Bombay on the 20th of November. When are you coming?

umang said...

Crystal Ball somewhere around MG...
dunno if it still exists

Sai said...

Hey Mukta:

BINGO....Malaka Spice and Arthur's theme....OMG....I just couldn't remember the names. Yes they are in lane 6....thank you!

asuph said...

now now, who are these local sources of yours? i mean Blue Nile has always been THE thing for biryani in Pune, even Tiranga -- if you want maharasthrian istyle biryani, but George, for god's sake? even Polka Dots, which isn't known for indian food serves a much better biryani.

you should have asked me if your sources are authentic (although there is a little problem that you don't know me). but then i'm no local either. maybe that explains it :D

cheers,
asuph

Dadoji said...

Beautiful but I can live without all that as long as someone puts up a decent Thai joint in Mumbai. n star hotels do not count. Tamnak Thai at Shivaji Park is absolutely hopelessly non-Thai.