What better way to evoke Delhi than through Amu, Delhi 6, Twilight in Delhi & Bittoo Tikki Wala
We’ll leave it to Khushwant Singh, the grand old man of Delhi to describe the city :
Humpty Dumpty, hocus pocus, hurly burly
If there is a paradise on earth, it is Delhi
Full of people, overflowing
Markets onto the road going
Full of fumes, full of gases
Full of ultra modern asses
Full of shining, made-up faces
Full of heart and cancer cases
Car and truck and motorcycle
Full of vehicle on the vehicle
Full of jolting, full of stoking
Full of lanes and bylanes choking
Full of housing haywire going
Full of sewage into Jamuna flowing
Full of callous indifference breeding
Full of pastures fast receding
Full of power, and still power crisis
Full of smoothly rising prices
Full of girth and grime and mirth
Our Delhi is a paradise on earth.
After being neglected for decades, Delhi suddenly captured the imagination of the Bollywood Bosses a few years ago. Almost every facet of Delhi has now been captured on celluloid – it’s history (Razia Sultan), the gullies of Chandni Chowk (Delhi 6); the bylanes of Paharganj (Dev D, B.A. Pass); its raging political belly (Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi, No One Killed Jessica, Rang De Basanti); the Upper Classes (Aisha, Monsoon Wedding) and the Masses of Bunty-s & Pinky-s (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Band Baaja Baaraat, Rockstar, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Vicky Donor, Do Dooni Chaar). Our pick amongst these is Khosla Ka Ghosla – they had us at Chironji Lal a.k.a. Cherry.
But our favourite movie on Delhi is one that raised so many hackles it never got released in Indian theaters – after waging a long battle with the Censor Board it finally released directly on DVD. Amu – “a story with fictitious characters based on true events” – is set against the biggest tragedy to visit modern Delhi – the massacre of thousands of Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Flitting from the slums of Trilokpuri to the drawing rooms of Lutyens Delhi, the film truthfully captures the vulgar beauty of the capital. The unusual casting is a mixed bag – we would have loved to see Dipti Naval in the role essayed by Brinda Karat, but Konkana Sen Sharma is just right for the title role and there is a brilliant cameo by Loveleen Mishra a.k.a Chutki of Hum Log.
In the words of a reviewer, Amu was a movie that “needed to be made”. We believe that it’s a movie that needs to be seen by every Indian – and especially by RaGa and NaMo.
Also see : Listen…Amaya, a tale of middle-age love, it turned out to be Farooq Shaikh’s last movie.
Trust Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra & Prasoon Joshi to get it right when they say : Yeh Dilli Hai Mere Yaar, Bas Ishq Mohabbat Pyaar
Nothing captures the spirit of Delhi better than these lines from the song:
Kabhi pyaar mein gali bhi deta, Kabhi gali mein pyaar bhi hota hai apni…….. Basti hai mastano ki dilli dilli, Gali hai deewano ki dilli
Golgappa, chaat papri, aloo tikki, chole bathure, aloo poori, samosa, kachori, patties, parathas, butter chicken, kebabs, kulfi, jalebi, gulabjamun, momos, …is there an end to the delicacies that Delhi has to offer? I’m quite positive that the phrase “melting pot” was conceived after a particularly satisfying gastronomical orgy in Delhi!
For years Sunday breakfast at my parents’ house meant Aloo Poori accompanied with passionate debates on whether Bansal’s poori’s were fluffier than Nagpal’s ; a good meal was incomplete without a Kulfi or Cassata (and later on the Mango & Choco Bars) and guests never tired of endless cups of tea served with greasy samosas, stuffed breadballs & veg patties (to be later replaced by the more fashionable chowmein & Chinese idli).
It is futile to choose the best when you are so spoilt for choice, but there are three things I hunger after every time I visit Delhi – golgappas & chaat papdi from the local vendor (without the plastic gloves please – don’t you know the server’s hands lend a special flavour to the paani), mutton patties from Wenger’s and bottled cold coffee from Depaul’s. And of course, a street food trail in Delhi is incomplete without a visit to Chandni Chowk, Paharganj, Prabhu Chaat Bhandar & BTW (Bittoo Tikki Wala).
If you fancy something swankier, then head to Indian Accent for a deliciously contemporary twist on Indian dishes. Just reading the menu will make your mouth water – The foie gras stuffed galawat with strawberry green chilly chutney & the ‘Old Monk’ rum ball with 70% chocolate sauce are especially popular. Khan Market, Hauz Khas Village & Meher Chand Market also have a great variety of standalone restaurants.
The list of books on Delhi is longer than the Delhi Metro’s famous Blue Line, so much so that in 2008 Outlook India published a list of 50 Essential Books on Delhi and more recently WSJ came up with its own list of 10 Best Books on Delhi . From the chronicles of the 1857 mutiny in Besieged: Voices from Delhi 1857 (Mahmood Farooqi) to the trail of eunuchs, ghosts & Ahmed Ali in the immensely entertaining City of Djinns (William Dalrymple) and the struggles of two New Yorkers in Delirious Delhi (Dave Prager), there is no dearth of real and fictitious accounts of Delhi’s intoxicating splendour. It’s difficult choosing just one from the wide selection available, so permit us the luxury of suggesting two (or maybe three).
Start with the brilliant Twilight in Delhi, Ahmed Ali’s aching paean to the culture and lifestyle of Delhi before the arrival of colonialism. As a professor in pre-independence India, Ali profoundly felt the loss of “not only my freedom but also my culture and individuality” in the midst of his “transformation from Indian to ‘brown Englishman'”. The story of an upper class Muslim family (not unlike Ali’s own family) in the early 1900’s (the twilight of the Mughal Empire), the book captures the languorous pace of life in pre British India – the call of the muezzin, the flutter of a bird’s wings and the aromas of food simmering in ghee and jasmine. It is Ali’s attempt to gather the “collective storehouse of racial memory” in order to un-do the “damage done by colonial powers to the heritage of conquered people”.
For a peek into 21st century Delhi, there is nothing better than Delhi Noir, a collection of fourteen tales by popular and aspiring writers. Disturbing and filled with dark humour, the stories take you on a wild ride from NOIDA on Delhi’s eastern edge to Rohini in the west. The stories themselves are a mixed bag, but it’s a joy to find writers willing to twist their pen beyond the streets of Nizamuddin & the bylanes of INA market (for the uninitiated, your only chance of getting published in Delhi is if you live in a barsati in Nizamuddin and you must have a few pages on shopping for baba ganoush & wasabi in INA/ Khan market if you want the book to be a hit).
Finally, try Durbar if you are in the mood for a light political read with some juicy tales on the Gandhis, the Patnaiks & Amitabh Bachchan – journo Tavleen Singh’s privileged position in Lutyens’ Land means she has buckets of gossip on the A to Z of Delhi’s political belly (her grandfather was one of the biggest contractors for Lutyens). Read this to get a glimpse into why Rahul Gandhi is so confused about his role in the Congress.