Sunday, January 27, 2013

Delhi - 6

Endless lanes,
With twisting curves,
Holding secrets,
A mysterious world,
The smell of spices,
Myriad of colours,
A historian’s treasure,
A woman’s delight,
Numerous names,
For this heaven on Earth…

Try as I might… I just cannot encapsulate the soul, the essence and the spirit of Chandni Chowk in a few words. This area, also known as Delhi-6, is the real heart of Delhi… or rather ‘Dilli’ as the people here like to call it. It is almost like a city within a city… a parallel world.

Built by the Mughal emperor Shan Jehan in the 17th century and designed by his daughter Jahan Ara, Chandni Chowk continues to be the trade hub of India. Merchants from all over the country flock to this busy center of trade.

Yet, in spite of the influx of such a heterogeneous group of buyers, sellers and tourists, Chandni Chowk is untouched by the luxuries offered by the shopping malls, the sophistication of modern stores. Remove the traffic and you will find a Delhi still unaffected by our new ways of living. The real dilliwalla still sweats it out from morning till evening to earn two square meals. The shops still have hand-painted banners and touts to attract customers. The owners still sit on gaddis. The goods they sell may have changed to suit our needs, but the work culture remains the same.

A man’s worth is measured by his work, not by religion. We have the Gauri Shankar temple, the Jama masjid, the famous Gurudwara and a Church here… all in close proximity to each other. This just goes on to show why people of every faith claim Dilli to be their own. It presents a cultural mix witnessed nowhere else. True, this mix might turn explosive if mishandled… but it generally presents a picture of communal harmony where a Hindu and a Muslim can be best friends.

On the surface, it appears to be just another market with exceptionally old shops but once you wander deeper into the kuchas and katras, you find yourself in a whole new world. Every kucha invariably has a chaatwala who dishes out some of the most exquisite delights. Long queues with people squabbling to get their kachoris and gol gappas first is a common sight.

 The shops are smaller, their warehouses larger. Khari Baoli specializes in spices. You can smell the cardamom, the cloves, turmeric and chillies long before you see them. The waist high stacks of spices look beautiful, like colours of Holi. The cashew nuts look so appealing. But I often end up sneezing my brains out.

The sadar market has huge shops dedicated to cosmetics and personal care items of all kinds. Nai Sarak with its endless piles of books is every student’s haven. We have shops exclusively selling rangoli colors, calendars, surgical equipment, medicines, spectacle frames, shoes, candles… the list is endless. Every lane you turn into will open up its secrets for you, just like a blooming flower. You just need to know where to look. I have been roaming the streets of this City of Poets for a decade, initially with my mother and now on my own, but I cannot claim to know everything about it. Every time I do manage to find a lane with a pleasant surprise waiting for me at the end.

 The people are friendly, often greeting you with a warm Namaste. They work with a silent efficiency. The whole atmosphere suggests two contrary states of being. One that is relaxed… the other bursting with energy. On my trips to Chandni Chowk I am often left confused by these conflicting emotions.

There is a strange contentment in the hearts of people here. True, they have open sewers. The roads are crammed. They often work in dingy and squalid quarters. The workers might not earn enough. But there is an under-current of satisfaction, something bordering on joy, not only for the lalas doing brisk business but also for his workers. I might be terribly wrong here but that is what I felt when I interacted with them. They made me understand that Old Delhi is not just made up of heritage buildings. It thrives and pulsates with life because of the people here.

There is so much to Old Delhi that it cannot be squeezed into one article. I simply cannot decide about what to include and what to leave out. Each area has a different story to tell… it has been witness to a different history, good or bad. It has seen it all… from the princesses coming down to shop in curtained palanquins to the people today, driving down in their expensive cars. It has weathered many tides of time… stood unshaken when everything around it crumbled… yet the spirit of Chandni Chowk remains unchanged.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Loveless World

We love to love...
Better still, we love being loved...
But what if,
We live in a loveless world?

A withered flower
Few shattered dreams
A broken heart
And unheard screams
Is the famed legacy
Love left me...

Long hours contemplating
What went wrong
Took you away
Snapped our bond
A dream felt
by my fluttering heart
Blown to smithereens
Before my eyes
Life's beautiful song
Silenced by this void...

Crying into the pillow
Night after dark night
Smudged tear tracks
Tell  all their plight
I yearn to hear your voice
Crave for your touch
Lose myself in those eyes
I once loved so much...

Caught in a storm
Within, about
This loveless world
No space for doubt
A broken heart
And unheard screams
Are all, left to me
By this cruel play of destiny...

Sunday, January 13, 2013


After days of staying under the covers till 9 am, today I opened my eyes a little earlier (pretty unwillingly!). But I’m glad I did. Pulling on a jacket, I went out for a drive with my daddy dearest (He let me drive)!

The streets, in the early hours of the day, when the sun has just begun its ascent across the sky, look no less beautiful than a flower about to bloom. The seemingly ordinary scene left me awestruck. The semi- deserted roads made me feel strange. I'm used to seeing so much activity, so many people on that stretch of the road. The empty road took me by surprise. It looked pristine... pure.

As I saw the florist arrange his flowers, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who’ll smile today when they receive them. It was business as usual for him, but for all the people, unaware of the flowers about to reach them, it will be a very special day. They looked like gifts from heaven, against the pale concrete of the sidewalk.

As the newspaper man spread out his newspapers, I wondered what they have to say today. Will it be another edition screaming of scams, murders, rapes and protests? Or will it contain positive news bolstering my confidence in my city and the government? Will it make my mood plunge into the depths of despair or give me a reason to be proud of who I am?

Moving further, the sight of fresh chhole bhature being made, left my mouth watering. Our breakfast table floated before my eyes. It was piled high with the most delicious dishes my mum prepared. My super sensitive note could even pick up their aroma. I suddenly grew aware of my empty tummy. Bad timing!!!

Looking across the road, I saw a tent being dismantled. Somehow my attention was drawn to the rags the workers wore for clothes. They were in sharp contrast to the plush interiors of the structure. I found myself thinking of all the people who spent the previous night on the cold pavement, braving the winter chill, while I slept on a comfortable bed. It made me feel uneasy in my warm clothes.

All this while, I spotted uncles and aunties out for their morning walk. Clad in a dizzying array of coloured caps and shawls, they looked like cute little toys braving the wind. Pardon me the comparison, but that is exactly what they looked like. It was really heartening seeing them though. It encouraged me to take my exercise routine more seriously.

On this single drive, I experienced a plethora of emotions. But one feeling over-shadowed them all… Happiness! Though I was moving around in a metal box with the windows rolled down, I felt so close to nature. And in those intimate moments, I understood why I love mornings. Up until now, mornings were good only because I could study undisturbed…or because my parents said they were nice... but there is much more to a morning than that.

The restless energy… so evident in everything around us… is infectious. The enthusiasm for a new day, the zeal to live is so strong in those morning hours. It infuses you with a sense of well-being, a feeling of satisfaction so intense, that it keeps you smiling through the day. Why? It is evening… I have raunchy music playing outside my window… but still this morning scene has made me smile. I just closed my eyes and the world seemed to rewind its clock. Trust me… mornings are awesome!

Try them out yourself… give the early morning wind a chance to ruffle your hair!