Monday, December 17, 2007

Delhi: A Wonderful Culinary Expedition

If the sights of the city have impressed me, then the food there has bowled me over completely. Throughout my stay for 6 weeks, I made it a point to satisfy my taste buds in all possible ways, and so checked out almost all the notable eating-places.

Near the hostel where we had put up, there were these two places in Gole Market, which served a palate of delectable culinary fares at a reasonable rate. One was the Bangla Foods, where I had the best Chocolate Mousse, some amazing cocktails and bought an assortment of cookies for home. The other one was Kaleva, located just beside Bangla Foods, which stocked close to 1000 varieties of sweets, namkeens and other traditional sweetmeats. They are famous for sweets that are made in the traditional way passed on to generations for the past 500 years. But what it is famous for is its fruit-flavoured kulfis. The kulfi is frozen inside the whole fruit and is served alongside. I was simply bowled over by their variety of kulfi and chuski flavours.

Speaking of kulfi, (for the uninitiated, it is a solid chunk of thickened milk, topped with saffron, cardamom, nuts and generally, falooda i.e. rice noodles), I must mention Roshan Da Kulfi located in Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh. Though it is known to be the best in the business, I somehow found it over hyped and overpriced at Rs 30 per serving.

The Connaught Place houses many eating-places in and around, ranging from a number of McDonalds outlets, fine dining restaurants, cafes, dhabas etc. Shopping at Janpath usually meant a quick bite at the ‘Mc D’, a stroll at the CP Park with friends meant mouth watering chaat alongside, while CafĂ© 100 was the restaurant where we chose to have our farewell dinner along with our room-mates of the hostel.
But two eateries of CP, which earned my eternal love was a confectionery and fast food shop called ‘Wengers’ and a shake joint called ‘Keventers’. Wenger's is the oldest name in town and still one of the pioneers of Swiss confectionery in India, with a wide range of delectable viands to offer. For the past 75 years Wenger's has maintained its standard & quality introducing new items from time to time. Wengers’ Cheese Ham Sandwich and Chocolate Truffle remain my favourite, while one MUST try out the ice-cream shakes and milk shakes of ‘Keventers’, located just beside Wengers, around the corner. The chocolate ice-cream shake was perhaps the best that I have had in my life, and scores over Baskin Robins also, which till then was my favourite.

Another place that has won my heart (rather, tongue!) is the Andhra Bhavan. Their lunch thali has been voted the best in the capital city by the Times Food Guide. The vegetarian thali worth Rs 60 served us with rice, puri, two types of sabji, one bhaji, rasam, sambar, curd, pickle, chutney and halwa. Along with this, we had ordered Mutton Fry for Rs. 40 per plate, instead of Fish curry. (Being a Bengali who’s fed fish everyday at home, I, of course preferred mutton. But I have heard that their Fish Curry is even more famous) Even after all these months, I remember what a delicious lunch it was and how full and satisfied it left me. In my opinion, this is a must-experience for foodies if you are in Delhi.
A few tips from the author:-
Before you enter the place, be warned,
1. If you're the fork-spoon-napkin type, forget it. This is as basic as it gets.
2. Carry a couple of hankies. The non-vegetarian items are S-P-I-C-Y!
3. There are no bookings. One might need to wait for 15 to 20 minutes if you don’t arrive before 1 o’ clock on a weekday.
The entire staff is from Andhra. So is 80 percent of the clientele. All the Telugu chatter can be a little overwhelming sp. for non-Andhra-ites.

Another part of Delhi, which serves mouth-watering culinary fares, is Chandni Chowk. This stretch of road houses the oldest sweetshop namely ‘Ghantewala’, which went into business in 1790. Down the centuries, it has remained in the same family and is now in the hands of the eleventh generation. There’s an interesting story behind how it got its name. Ghanta actually means a big clanging bell in Hindi. Legend goes that whenever the royal procession moved down this road, the emperor was in the habit of stopping here for a snack – a habit that his elephant acquired too. We all know how passionately fond of sweets elephants are, so of course came the day when he found the way to the shop himself. Apparently he refused to budge and kept on shaking its head until people rallied around with assorted sweets. The bells hanging from the elephant’s neck would tinkle whenever the animal went into stubborn mode and shook his head. And from there came the shop’s name – beat that! The Ghantewala Halwai is celebrated for its sohan halwa, a sweet made from dry fruits, sprouts and sugar. I was in so much love of this particular type of sweetmeat, that I went back to the place on the last day of my internship (after my senior handed me the cheque!) and bought some for my sweet-crazy mother.

There we also had amazing kesar jalebi in the famous shop named ‘Jalebiwala’. It had been a long day at the Akshardham Swaminarayan and by this time, we were raring to sit down for dinner, and what better place than the super famous Karims, located in Gali Kababian near Jama Masjid! It is one of the best non-vegetarian restaurants in all of North India, and serves exquisite, "royal" Mughal cuisine at popular prices. Once you locate and meander through the tiny passageway leading to the courtyard of Karim's, the restaurant itself is really nothing to look at. The royal cuisine so revered by generations of Delhi-ites and international epicures are served in a shabby setting that belies the delicacies on offer.

There were six of us, one being a pure vegetarian ‘Tam Brahm’. My friend and I were staying in a Working Women’s Hostel, which served only vegetarian food. So we were raring to savour the first taste of non-veg food in 3 weeks. We started off with sheek and shami kebabs, and ordered some four plates of them to share among ourselves. I ordered Keema Naan with Mutton keema and discovered heaven! My friends tried out the Biriyani along with Chicken Rezala and raved equally about them. We have had these culinary fares before, at famous restaurants in Kolkata namely Aminia, Arsalan, Shiraj etc, but that day, all of us unanimously agreed that Karims served the best of them. Are you wondering what my veggie friend was doing all the while? She waited with a bottle of Pepsi and romali roti for the plate of paneer butter masala, which never arrived! At last, we had to cancel the order and my friend came out of Karims hungry. So if you are a strict vegetarian, take her advice and ‘do not go to Karims. It is only for those meat lovers’! Well, the rest of us left with vows of another return for that ‘raan’ in the menu, which sadly, never happened for me. For those who badly want to know the pocket pinch, it was only Rs 135 per person!
It was especially for our poor hungry friend, that we rounded off our dinner treat with mouth watering halwa and gulab jamun from a nearby meethai shop. And then came paan time. It was so jumbo in size and full of so many stuff, that my friends competed to put the whole of it into their mouth at one go.

I also had lunch at Sagar Ratna, a restaurant famous for south Indian food, thanks to the junior advocate of my sir. I really loved it there, especially some unknown chutney served alongside my dosa.
Whenever we used to be out in the streets of Delhi, we always cooled ourselves with soda shikanji, and the lip smacking gol gappa. Coming from a city where all of us swear by our phuchkas, it was surprising that I actually liked the sweeter version of it in Delhi. It is tad costly, with a serving of only six pieces at ten bucks, compared to the five pieces at two rupees in Kolkata. Though a hard-core phuchka lover, I became a fan of its Delhi counterpart also.

There are places, which I could not explore. I did not try out the roadside kebabs near Jama Masjid, (my friends did not let me, due to hygiene reasons, though I was all game for it) and also the famed Khan Chacha’s Kebabs. I missed out on sipping coffee at the old fashioned Coffee Home and numerous small eateries in and around Connaught Place. Well, I know there is a second time. I can go back to Delhi again and again just to eat. Who needs any other reason?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Delhi Journo: My First Impression

My workdays at Delhi consisted of either going to the Supreme Court or paying a visit to my senior’s chamber in Noida. The first glimpse of the Supreme Court left me absolutely awed. The majestic building, teeming with men (and of course, women) in black robes instantly filled me with a sense of great pride. This is the seat of justice where different lives are made or broken, laws are formulated and legends are born. During my tenure of internship, I had caught glimpses of legal experts like Mr. Arun Jaitley, Mr. K K Venugopal, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Mr. Harish Salve, Mr. Rajeev Dhawan, Ms. Indira Jaisingh and many more. It is indeed a wonderful feeling to be able to walk alongside them in the corridors of the Supreme Court.
I was also required to attend the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal, being heard among the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. I had to take a bus from my hostel in Mandir Marg to Bhikaji Kama Place and traveled for about 1 hour, enjoying the highlights of the city. The wide roads, lined with abundant greenery were an extremely soothing sight for the eyes. I used to pass landmarks like the Parliament and the India Gate and never ceased to crane out my neck to drink in the wondrous sights.

My real woes began when I started going to my senior’s place at Noida. I had to reach Barakhamba, from where I surrendered myself to the only available bus no 355. Not only was it always extremely crowded, but also the journey lasted for more than 45 minutes. Sometimes, I hardly had space to keep both my feet. Sometimes, I desperately wished to get down even before reaching Sector 17. After braving this torturous journey in the sweltering Delhi heat for almost 30 days, I was not unhappy when my internship came to an end.

I also had my share of unpleasant experiences that come with traveling in public transport in Delhi. It is rightly said that a woman cannot be aboard a bus for 2 minutes without being felt up. I have heard many girls complaining about roving hands of Delhi male crowd, but thankfully I did not face it. What I was always putting up with was constant stares from all sorts of men everywhere. It was extremely disconcerting to find them staring at you, even at the danger of twisting their necks at a degree of 180. Most surprisingly, they never flinched if I glared back. As if staring at a woman was the most natural thing to do!

May be because of this reason and much more, Delhi buses had more seats reserved for women than what I have seen in Calcutta. But it hardly seemed to solve the problem. Men occupying the ladies seat refused, more often than not, to vacate them for a woman. I had seen two young men offering an elderly woman their lap (!) to seat instead of vacating the seat for her. A woman got barked at by a perfectly gentleman looking male, after she requested him to let her occupy the ladies seat in a particularly crowded Noida bus. I now knew why the women in Delhi never asked the male species for the reserved seats. I guess it is better standing and jostling in the crowd than get a rude answer on the face. A woman did not let her grown-up son to vacate the seat for me, saying ‘agar sab seat ladies ke liye reserved hain to bacche (!) kahan baitheyenge?’ It is not hard to guess how polite that ‘baccha’ will be towards women once he really grows out of his mummy’s pallu.
But it would be entirely wrong to assume that all men in Delhi behave in this appalling way, but this is definitely the general picture. The men used to be miffed at the scenario of reservation and cited the feminist argument of gender equality as a reason. But I feel that as long as there is no equality in the way women are treated in a crowd, then we are still a long way away for a society with no gender reservations.

Another thing about the Delhi population that put almost all of us in some kind of trouble was their sense of direction. Since we were new in the city, we had to depend a lot on the local people for information on direction. But the surprising thing is that even if they did not know, none of them admitted that and gave some kind of confusing direction! Many times it had so happened that we have been moving in the wrong way for quite sometime until someone put us in the right track. The traffic sergeants also fall in the same category. So if you are in Delhi and need help regarding direction, always go to the panwallahs, and other such small vendors. They have never failed me till date.

I should also mention my experiences as a single woman in a city notoriously famous for the most number of instances of sexual violence. As a precaution, we always returned early to our hostel and hardly ventured far once it was dark. But it was not always so for me. I took almost one and half hours to travel from Noida and more often that not, I returned late. One particular incident scared me out of my wits. One day I was caught in a dust storm, while returning from CP at about 8 pm. I was walking against the wind and could hardly see anything in front me because of the flying particles. Suddenly I found two men on either side of me whispering ‘akeli hain? chalna hain kya?’ I momentarily froze on the spot expecting the worst, but felt them brushing past me. This happened very near my hostel and god only knows, how I felt once I reached its safety.
My friend faced a nasty situation on the second day of arriving at Delhi. Her senior had arranged for a cab for her and another woman lawyer who was coming the same way. After the latter got off near Bengali Market, the cab driver informed my friend that he did not know the way to CP, let alone Mandir Marg. She reached the hostel at 9 pm after directing the driver herself using her scant knowledge of Delhi roads. There were times when she made the wrong guess and found herself in completely alien roads. But we could not help but wonder how a cab driver could not know way to one of the most important places i.e. CP.
Here, it is needless to comment on the scenario of security in Calcutta, since this journal is not about it, but I can say one thing that, there is absolutely no place called a ‘safe city’ for women. I guess that says it all.

One thing about the city, which I really loved, was the signals and marks on every bus stand and road indicating where exactly one was. We never had any difficulty in knowing which bus to take, or whether a particular bus stopped at that stand, as it was all described on the board. Also all roads had signposts spelling their names. But the rash traffic took some time for me to get used to, despite the fact that I have lived my life in one of the most crowded metros. Even in Calcutta, motorbike riders do not perform stunts (like riding on the hind wheel only) on busy thoroughfares, as they do in Delhi.

But there were some basic flaws with Delhi roads. Most often that not, they used to be plunged into darkness due to absence of streetlights (at least this was the case with the roads all around my hostel and some more). This meant that all you could see of the oncoming traffic was specks of headlights and it became difficult to ascertain how far they were, while crossing. Another inconvenient feature were the narrow dividers on Delhi roads. While crossing a road one evening, I found myself on the divider waiting for the rush of traffic in front of me to stop. A bus went past behind me with such velocity and force, that I felt almost pushed onto the road due to the impact. That memory still makes me shudder with a chill that has nothing to do with the weather around me.

But there are some things, which took my breath away, and Delhi Metro Railways is certainly one of them. Coming from a city with the oldest and first underground system, I was absolutely amazed after a ride in the Metro. May be because of the stark contrast between the ill-maintained, technologically-deficient and suicide-prone Calcutta Metro and the new, super fast and efficient Delhi Metro, I absolutely fell in love with the latter. I think the city has overcome most of its traffic problems due to this three-line underground system, which covered a wide area. Last seen, the city was working fast to extend Metro till Noida for the Commonwealth Games 2010.

So it can be said that, while I absolutely loved the sight of the capital city, the population there put me off in a big way. Be it for their attitude or their rude disposition, I would think twice before I decide to settle there permanently, if the situation so arises.

My Delhi Journal: The Begining

When I had bargained for a career of law, I had not foreseen the immensely exciting opportunities that NUJS would throw at me. I had done things at college which I had never thought of, met luminaries from all walks of life, learnt nuances of one of the most fascinating and stimulating courses, and so on and so forth. But nothing can surpass the chance that a legal curriculum offers to have a glimpse at the practical aspects of law through different internships at NGOs, trial court, High Court, Supreme Court of India, firms, banks and corporations. After I had finished my third year of studies, I knew that I was in for some memorable experiences of working under a senior advocate of the Supreme Court in Delhi.
While my parents worried about me leaving Calcutta for the first time and staying alone at Delhi for 6 weeks, I happily anticipated whatever that was in store for me. The days flew by and at the end, I knew that I have acquired a new dimension to my outlook. This series of journal is to share with all, an outsider’s (or may be, a Calcuttan’s) perspective of the capital city.