A space to call their own

Jama Masjid

It is Sunday morning and the roads leading to Chandni Chowk are deserted. We cross the chaotic merry-go-round of Connaught Place in a trice and head to old Delhi. Where are all the people? The buffaloes that amble through the roads listlessly? The children who dart at unexpected moments across the road? It is so quiet. Where are all the vehicles? There is no orchestra of blaring horns, no tinkle of cycle rickshaw bells as they weave their way through the narrow lanes, just managing to miss running over innocent feet and getting run over by speeding cars. Before I realize it, the Red Fort is to my right, imposing and grey in the early morning light, not fully awake.

And inside the Jama Masjid, the sense of stillness follows us. On an earlier trip late one afternoon a few months ago, I remember the contrast the interiors of Jama Masjid presented to the Babel of the streets and market surrounding it. At one of the gates, the cap seller is just taking out his stock, arranging them carefully into a delicate house of cards. He ignores my intrusive camera, shrugging his indifference even when I show him his photographs. I can see he is pleased though; he summons his friend to see them and then calls out to me a few minutes later to share the meagre breakfast of parathas they have all carefully carried from home.

I stand near the gate that looks on to the Red Fort, sharing the moment with families sitting on the steps. And later, from the top, having made our way up the narrow, winding steps, we see old Delhi sprawling before us, bursting at the seams. My mind keeps going back to the past, to the place this must have been, to the better days this area has seen. Now, people are washing their clothes on a tiny stream between the mosque and the fort, vendors are setting up shop all along the road, children are running around trying to catch chicken and each other in a game that makes sense only to childhood.

Back again on ground level, people are quietly doing their own thing. Near the pool in the preliminary cleansing ritual, under the arch staring out blankly into space, on the corridor offering prayer, behind the pillars fast asleep; all outside noises are filtered by the thick red walls along with their worries and anxieties.

Inside Jama Masjid, each individual seems to have found his own space.

***
Published in the Mumbai edition of Sunday Mid-day…

Sin and the city: street snacks in old Delhi

And if all the oil and spice of parathewaligali has not left you sated and/or with heart-burn, walk on…

As you walk out of Chandni Chowk station towards parathewaligali, ignore the Haldirams on your right. Or not. Of all things to eat in Delhi, I found their khandvi of the rare melt-in-the-mouth variety. So Stop there for a quick snack or two. Or head on to unhealthier things.

Chutney in a previous life

There was some news a couple of years ago about street snack stalls in Delhi facing the chop but nothing came of it finally. So now there are the samosas and kachoris, the moong and mirchi pakoras, the fried papad (especially in winter), the fruit and alu chaat.

Spicy snacks

Fried papad

Pineapple chaat

End with a dessert of nankhatai biscuits…

Naankhatai

And finally the lassi, to wash down – sadly not away, all the sins… Or in peak summer, nimbu paani.

The lassi lad

Nimbu paani

I am not enough of a Delhi person to tell you where to go for what – I know people who insist on eating kachori only at a particular place and then walking a few hundred metres for the next thing – me, I just stop where the eyes and nose lead me – and the camera. And then all those sari shops and sign-boards along the way. But that is another post in itself…

Sin and the city: in parathewaligali

Established in 1875, says the board. Five generations. That is what Kanhaiya Lal Durga Parshad Dixit’s strangely spelt parawthe are about. It is easy to believe it. True, now the employees wear spiffy red T-shirts with yellow aprons and matching yellow caps, all carrying the shop logo; there is no such thing as too much advertising.

Spiffy uniforms

There is something elemental about the way parathe are fried and served in the tiny shops of the famous parathewali gali of old Dilli. It is almost as if nobody there has heard of cholesterol and fat and the nasty thing these can do to the human heart.

Smoking hot

But why think of such things when you have the most delicious parathe fried right in front of you? And a range larger then you can ever sample. From the staple aloo and gobi to the mildly adventurous papad and mirchi (both rock, I am glad to report) to the outright bizarre fillings of karela (bitter gourd – which my husband insists on sampling) and rabri (a milk sweet).

The long list

The four of us, we squeeze our way through the narrow benches and find a place by the wall at the end of the room. The boy who is obviously too young to be working there places the steel plates in front of us, small crevices filled with the chhole and alu sabji. Who needs all these when each of the parathas comes bursting with flavours? Accha, methi chahiye, yeh lo mein gobi ka laaya, yeh kha lo, says the waiter with a benign smile; we are already down several bits of parathe – shared generously across the four plates, each with different flavours – and we can only weakly nod and take the gobi, begging him to forget the earlier order of methi.

Parathe and people all stuffed
It is fascinating to watch how fast the entire process is; the waiter takes our order (that is just to make you feel happy – in his mind he has already decided what you are going to eat), he goes near the counter and yells the order to the man with the dough. He places a handful of the stuffing in the middle of the rolled out disc and folds it carefully and lets his hands fly lightly over the atta, he then passes it on to the oil man and in a minute, another paratha has made its way into the world.

Behind the scenes

Flying fingers

A kind word of advice: it is best to close your other senses and let taste rule in the time you are there. Focus on the food.

And when you wearily stumble out, try not to think of the teddy bear which told the world, I am stuffed.

Morning at Jama Masjid

Silhouetted

It’s Sunday morning and the roads leading to Chandni Chowk are deserted. We cross the chaotic merry go round of Connaught Place in a trice and head to old Delhi. Where are all the people? The buffaloes that carry on listlessly and children who dart at unexpected moments across the road. It is so quiet. Where are all the vehicles? There is no orchestra of blaring horns, no tinkle of cycle rickshaw bells as they weave their way through the narrow lanes, just managing to miss running over innocent feet and getting run over by speeding cars. And before I realize it, the Red Fort is to my right, imposing and grey in the early morning light, not fully awake.

And inside the Jama Masjid, the sense of stillness follows us. On an earlier trip late one afternoon last September, I remember the contrast the interiors of Jama Masjid presented to the babel of the streets and market surrounding it. Once inside, it is another world, people finding themselves quiet corners to pray and meditate and even sleep, all outside noises filtered by the thick red walls along with their worries and anxieties.

The cap seller is just taking out his stock, arranging them carefully into a delicate house of cards. He looks indifferent to my intrusive camera; even when I show him his photo on the camera he shrugs in a careless manner. I can see he is pleased – he calls his friend to show him the image and then calls out to me a few minutes later to share the meagre breakfast they have all started eating from the packets carefully carried from home.

I stand near the gate that looks on to the Red Fort, sharing the moment with families sitting on the steps. My mind keeps going back to the past, to the place this must have been, to the better days this area has seen… Now, people are washing their clothes on a tiny stream between the mosque and the fort, vendors are setting up shop all along the road, children are running about trying to catch chicken and each other in a game that makes sense only to childhood.

Dreaming in pink

Inside the mosque, people are quietly doing their own thing. Near the pool in the preliminary cleansing ritual , under the arch staring out blankly into space, on the corridor offering prayer, near the pillars fast asleep…

Parent child

Each individual has found his own space.

Repose

And from the top, from another day, another time… life inside and outside the mosque goes on as usual…

Playing pool

Delhi in contrast

***
Also see: Jama Masjid photo gallery

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