October 5, 2015:
Woke up alone in a strange bed in a strange city, watching the half-light streaming in through faded curtains, to fall on stained purple upholstered lounge chairs. Bewildered, for a moment. Then a sense of sudden exhilaration as realisation hit: I was in Delhi, the first leg of my trip to Badrinath! A sensation that was immediately followed by the ever familiar one of ‘Oh there’s so much to do!’
Sometimes I suspect I’ll just wither away and die if I run out of the ‘Oh-there’s-so-much-to-do!’ that wakes up with me in the mornings. Maybe if I were to give myself a tagline, it would read something like ‘I am because I do’.
Pulled myself out of the bed and made use of the unexpectedly clean bathroom (Panicker’s Guest House in Karol Bagh is no Ritz Carlton, you see), and was ready to step out.
Delhi, here I come!
It was to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus that I had to go. Somebody recently told me all Indian cities basically look similar. I beg to differ. Each city – each part of each city, in fact – has its sights and sounds and smells; ubiquitous perhaps in a broad sense, yet singularly its own, somehow. You can’t imagine seeing monkeys on Kochi – or even Bombay – roadsides, for instance. Or be punched in the gut by the all pervading smell of fish in Baroda or Ahmedabad. Or… Oh, you know what I mean.
So I tried to capture as much as I can of my short road trip through our capital city, from inside an autorikshaw that was in an almighty hurry.
I miss the ‘auto’ so much here, in Dubai. Imagine standing on the curb of Sheikh Zayed Road somewhere near Jebel Ali and flagging down a three-wheeler, then zig-zagging your way to Al Nahda 2, dodging Range Rovers and Pajeros and occasional Bentleys and Ferraris… Wow! I do hope they bring it in as a form of public transport someday!
But… I guess it will then be the world’s smartest, suave-est, comfiest and fastest air-conditioned autorikshaws, possibly manufactured by Mercedes… Which will kind of be an anti-climax.
Nah. Let’s just leave it be. Autos are better off where they are.
Ok, so I flew down the Rajpaths of Delhi in an auto driven by a white kurtaed Sardarji who told me his life’s story, asked about mine, and tut-tutted at my travelling alone across nations (and being allowed to do so) with three men at home. The men at home would have shrunk in disgrace had they heard the tone of censure in his voice.
JNU campus was quaint; very old-world, with red brick buildings dotting the verdant waysides. I have a thing for the posters and other wall-life that are an essential part of any university campus, and JNU did not disappoint me in that department. The colourful, wordy proclamations scattered around the campus were a treat.
I met with my friends in one of those red-brick buildings with a grape vine outside and terracotta wind chimes inside. An interesting home, with signs of much life lived in an accepting sort of way. Isn’t it fascinating, how homes speak so much about their inhabitants without uttering a word! A quiet lunch later, I stepped out with Susan Paul Visvanathan, the lady of the house, to explore more of Delhi.
Dilli Haat was pure paradise!
An open air craft bazaar cum food plaza run by Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), it had everything designed to part the unsuspecting visitor from her money. It was out of respect for Susan (whom I was meeting properly for the first time) that I maintained a level of restraint – an impressive level of it, though I say so myself. I did not squeal, nor did I break out into a song and dance. Which was huge, considering.
Susan took me to INA, which was teeming with people and things and whatnot; there were even signboards in Malayalam that offered ‘Syoots’ that will be sewn and ready in an hour’s time. If you can read Malayalam and are in a hurry to be suited and booted, you know where to go! We then went to Sarojini Nagar, where incredibly beautiful handcrafted items were being sold by the wayside with as much decorum as potatoes and onions. For a while I was ready to love Delhi, putting aside all my prejudices.
My heart, however, was still in Dilli Haat. So after leaving Susan home, I went back again, and walked around the place in a daze. Drank in the sights and sounds of Dilli Haat, ogled shamelessly at the artefacts, touched a few, bought a couple, ate some heavenly ‘momos’ dipped in red-hot chutney and then, with mild regret, headed back to Panicker’s.
There was just about time to freshen up and pack. And then I was boarding (being boarded, rather) the bus that was to take me to the Himalayas.
Dilli Haat at close quarters: