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     Volume 9 Issue 34| August 20, 2010 |


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Food for Thought

Delhi Days

(Part II)

Farah Ghuznavi

During a recent trip to New Delhi, I had been indulging in my favourite - and pretty much only - form of serious shopping at the excellent establishment run by Bahri Sons in Khan Market, when my book browsing was interrupted by an obnoxious expatriate customer who made a point of referring to the events of 1857 in a barbed tone as "the Indian Mutiny" rather than the way South Asians prefer to think of it, namely as the first war of independence.

Outraged as I was by his gratuitous rudeness, I found myself reacting in a slightly unusual fashion - for me, that is. Details of the encounter can be found at the following link:

http://www.thedailystar.net/magazine/2010/08/01/ food_thought.htm

After my run-in with the irritating Englishman and his pompous perspectives on history, it took me a while to stop grinding my teeth. Fortunately, I was somewhat soothed by my subsequent discovery of an interesting poster in the same bookshop, which rather appealed to my (usually well-disguised) "peace and love" side. It read as follows:

We are all Indians

This particular poster may have been about Indians, but we would all undoubtedly benefit from remembering to apply its message more broadly. Anyway, it was just as well that I had the memory of this example of tolerance to console myself when I encountered the next taxi driver of the trip - one of a series of, ahem, "interesting" characters at the steering wheel. This one insisted on loudly singing along to the religious cassette in his music player, manically chanting "Victory to Lord Hanuman", as he rocked enthusiastically back and forth to the rhythm. Quite apart from his excessive zeal, I felt convinced that this could not really contribute to safe driving…

The excursion took my friend and myself to the impressive Select Citywalk mall in the suburb of Saket, and I must admit it was one of those places where you really could forget which country you were in. Though I have to say that that's not normally a draw for me when I'm travelling! Luckily, this place retained a number of more appealing local flavours alongside the bland international brands of Gap etc.

It offered not only some of the more familiar Indian ethnic brands such as Anokhi and FabIndia, the latter with a whole new range of jewellery and organic goods, but also a tiny tattooing booth which offered both 'temporary and permanent body art' (I had to talk myself down from the ledge in terms of availing the "temporary tattoo" offer - just a tiny one I was thinking of, perhaps on my wrist). There was also a wooden cart selling an exciting range of stickers, some of which I bought for the five-year-old in my life, and various spicy little eateries from which delicious aromas wafted.

In the end, we opted for a seriously vegetarian place called 'Satwik' which rang a bell in some distant part of my mind, referencing the purest form of yogic vegetarian food. It turned out to be absolutely fantastic, offering a wide variety of vegetable curries including a yummy one with mushrooms and lentils as well as an array of dals, and rotis made from some unusual grains.

Though I have to say, the manager clearly expected us to disappear when he'd initially explained to us in some detail that this was a 'pure vegetarian' restaurant. Either he'd already had earlier customers leave the place dissatisfied when they realised too late that there were no meat options, or maybe he was just correctly identifying two unrepentant non-vegetarians, who were insufficiently "pure" to be allowed into the hallowed premises of his restaurant. Whatever his logic, we were not dissuaded, and were subsequently grateful for that, having sampled the wholesome but delicious fare on offer the latter a difficult combination to pull off at the best of times!

Delhi Red Fort

Of course, the recent proliferation of malls in Delhi notwithstanding, shopping options from an earlier time remain just as enticing; sometimes more so, depending on the nature of what you're looking for. The enormous Central Cottage Industries Emporium (CCIE) offers everything from textiles to home furnishings, to jewellery and ceramics, to decorative items, toys and games, spread out over several floors. It's a South Asian version of Aladdin's treasure trove, with goods brought in from all over India. And invariably, you will find reasonably priced delights that come with a built-in assurance of high quality. The latter is not to be disregarded in a city that has its fair share of junk, and pseudo-antiques masquerading as genuine, in the midst of more authentic items found in the shops along Janpath and elsewhere.

Even for non-shoppers, opportunities to pick up fun or interesting gifts - whether for oneself or others tend to pop up all over the place. At the Red Fort in the older part of the city culture vultures can wander around the historical site, soak in the atmosphere, and have a quick browse in the souvenir shops on the way out. Two items that invariably work well as gifts, particularly for children, are the sets of a dozen colourful glass animals (available in different sizes, including incredibly cute tiny ones), and the minutely carved fragments of animal shapes that require a magnifying glass to see properly and are packed into a single red, hollowed-out seed.

After an orgy of retail therapy, the flight to London the next morning brought a whole different set of challenges, not least the enforced and very early start to the day. Other "pleasures" included messages blaring out of a tannoy system which kept instructing certain passengers on our flight to report to the British Airways staff. Unfortunately, the sound system was so ancient (and further aggravated by the style of delivery of the person operating the microphone) that no one, including the rogue passengers named, could understand who was being paged.

Meanwhile, on the ceiling nearby were mounted two state-of-the-art machines that looked like something straight out of the Star Wars movies. Presumably they were part of the wi-fi system at the airport. In fact, with their "antlers" pointed at each other, they almost looked like metallic electronic beetles out of some futuristic movie that were readying to lock horns at any moment in a duel. I couldn't help feeling that some of the money spent on those should perhaps have been diverted to upgrading the tannoy system!

Be that as it may, although the only instruction issued by the British Airways staff that any of us could actually understand was "passengers are requested not to even approach the queue until the relevant rows covering their seat numbers are called", my trip ended on a good note.

After carefully scrutinising my passport - just as a gentle sweat began to break out on my brow as I wondered what was taking so long - the Immigration Officer turned to me with a pleasant smile and said, "With a Bangladeshi passport, travelling to London, I'm trying to understand why you speak such good Hindi!!" Just goes to show, that creep of a taxi driver who claimed not to understand my efforts at Hindi earlier on in the trip clearly didn't know what he was talking about…




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