Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Dilli Ho! Part 1

Time for a travelogue people! :)
I spent the past six days in and around Delhi. It was my first time in Delhi and I wonder why it took me so long. Before I left Pune, I was in two minds about my travel reading and by a fortunate coincidence; I picked up Mark Tully’s No Full Stops in India. It is one of the most appropriate books you could read on a trip to Delhi. Tully’s love for Delhi makes you want to walk out on the roads he so fondly describes in his book. And when you drive past the formidable and unnaturally clean neighbourhoods of Racecourse and Janpath towards the old Delhi, you can’t help but chuckle at Tully’s apt description of the two faces of the city.
But that is not what my post it about. I have discovered a lot of things that I would want to do over and over, every time I return to Delhi. The first and perhaps the most important is a visit to the Bengali Sweet Centre (BSC) in SouthEx 1. If I were a teenager right now, I would have described my experience at BSC as, “Oh My God (OMG), OMG,OMG!! It’s like totally awesome.” When a salesgirl at Meena Bazar (Ansal Plaza) told me that if I want to taste Delhi food, I should go to the Bengali Sweet Centre, I was not really impressed by the name. But I went to see what it was about anyway. Even when I saw the rather humble looking board outside and a huge dish of neatly stacked barfis through the glass, I wanted to change my mind. But when I entered and started ‘checking out’ other patrons’ food (Yeah. I check out other peoples’ food. You can label and box me now), I realized that I am going to have to come back again, preferably every day, for the rest of my stay to sample all of what I really felt like eating.
It really depends on what you feel like. The first day, I was desperate for a paratha and lassi. Next time around I tried the ‘mixed chat’ and golgappe. I agree that assembling your own golgappe in a hygienic manner goes against the spirit of eating them.
But I changed my mind again when I had the ones at BSC. And let me not even get into the shondesh, malai chop, hot jalebis, dhokla, kachodi and rasgullas. Sadly, I did not get a chance to eat all of those but I looked at them through the glass long enough to get a funny look from the bhaiyya across the counter. You don’t just get a variety of food there; you also see a variety of people. You can find people from every age group and socio-economic background (Geek!) at BSC. I found out later that Amitabh Bacchan and Rajeev Gandhi were regulars at this little joint.
If anything Delhi has taught me, it is how to eat and more importantly, how not to think when you are eating out. We went for a wander around Chandni Chowk. Initially, I was a little reluctant to get into a bicycle rikshaw. I found the idea of a human being pulling us along a bit embarrassing. But it has nothing to do with the previous paragraph. So when we got into Salim’s bicycle near Red Fort, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of sad compassion for him. Fortunately it evaporated in about three and a half minutes. I think the cycle rikshawallahs around Chandni Chowk could prove to be tough competition for the auto rikshawallahs in Pune. He was fearless, rude and ruthless, to a point where I started apologizing after him. If he got a penny for every angry person he left behind his rikshaw, he would not need the rickshaw anymore. He promised to stay with us through the ‘tour’ but asked my mom to hurry up and move on to the next shop. She asked him to leave but he stayed on. Then when we went to look for him where we had left him, he had happily disappeared. So we went for a walk to the Paratha Galee (Paratha Lane).
Every shop was full and it looked as if the Paratha people had a lot of mouths to feed. I had been chirping about this lane pretty much since I came to Delhi. But the transparent and honest process of making a Paratha on the street got me. Paratha chacha was happily shoving a handful of stuffing into the dough. The rolled Paratha however ended up in a wok of pure desi ghee and was literally deep fried. The ‘menu card’ of the shop was proudly displayed outside. It included some unusual combinations such as rabdi (condensed cream) paratha, karela (bitter gourd) paratha, bhindi (okra beans) paratha, kela (banana) paratha, and papad paratha! I could not muster up the courage to eat a deep fried paratha. So after expressing my sincere respects for the occupants of the shop, I moved on to the lassi shop and had a huge glass of lassi in a kullad (clay pot). The shopkeeper told me that the kullad was mine after I finished the lassi. As I was walking about in mild bewilderment as to where would be the proper bin to dispose off a clay pot, I saw Salim approach me with his big beetle nut stained smile. When enquired where he was when we came back to fetch him he gave us the typical “I was there madam, you did not see me.”
So off we went again in his lightning bolt, avoiding accidents by a quarter of an inch and getting dirty looks from all the vanquished he left behind. He left us at the “Old Famous Jalebi” shop. Our driver had told us that leaving Delhi without having one of the Old Famous Jalebis was a crime and we are god-and-government fearing Maharashtrians. So we went to see what this old famous jalebi business was all about. Well, I wish I had been blind folded. Only that could have helped me not commit this crime. Hot jalebis, about half a foot in diameter, soaked in desi ghee for thirty rupees a piece! I have never been in two minds about something this toxic. But my wimpy mind won again and I chickened out. The Jalebi wallah did not even try to convince me. He had a long line of eager customers that he was busy managing. As we walked towards the Gauri Shankar Mandir, we saw little shops selling neatly stacked piles of kachodis and samosas; every shop had its own happy clientele. I overheard someone get angry in Hindi. In an even voice he said, “aap apni ijjat ka khayal kijiye. Agar hamari buddhi kharab ho gayi to sochiye aapka kya hoga”. Quite a contrast to the street fights back home in Pune! It is really remarkable how much respect a language can spell for the listener. Listening to the Chandni Chowk shopkeepers talk to each other was a treat to the ears.
It was a Monday and the temple was very busy. The Gauri-Shankar Mandir has an idol of Shiva and Parvati. But many other Hindu gods also have an office each inside the temple, complete with a personal priest. We paid respects to all the gods and just as we were about to leave we heard someone sing. It was a bhajan with a twist. The artist was singing a Shiv bhajan that sounded suspiciously similar to a famous Bollywood song. Ironically, the wordings of the original tune were, “Maar diya jai, ya chod diya jai, bol tere saath kya suluk kiya jai”. A very crude English translation would be, “Should I kill you or should I let you go?”


Akanksha said...

It's really a nice travelogue, Saee... Would tempt the reader to visit Dilli at least once

Saee said...

Thank You! :)

Anonymous said...

Saee, visit to BSC and paratha galli is guaranteed when I visit Delhi. Your blogs have made my cameras very hungry!!

Saee said...

:) Thanks a lot. I am sure you would do more justice to the experience with your camera. :)

Harshada said...

Too good! I could actually imagine u roaming around in Delhi. This worked better than photographs :)