A Sweet Winter Reverie in Delhi

Posted by on Dec 30, 2012 in Travel Tales | 6 comments

A Sweet Winter Reverie in Delhi

Aap Kalkatta se ho? “- Are you from Kolkata? Asked a tall athletic man, muffled up in a colorful Himachali shawl, a biscuit brown full sleeve sweater, from which waist below hung the remaining edges of a sky blue shirt, loose pajamas below that, and black boots further near the winter ground on which he stood. He had a pleasantness about him, the kind you feel comfortable with, even if it was a first encounter. D and me were talking in Bengali; actually deciding from the extensive menu in front of us, what we would ideally like to have for breakfast.  Around us sat several interesting table occupants. A large group of vivacious sardars, was to our immediate right. In fact, while we were approaching this gazebo- turned- eatery, right in the middle of Buddha Jayanti Park, one of them, out of the blue, waved his hands looking at me and asking me, “Madam ji, aap reporter ho kya?- Are you a reporter?(Around my neck hung my Canon with its longish 75-300mm lens!)  Right behind us sat a coy couple, heads together, reading the menu card with great focus. A table further, a group of assorted morning-walkers were noisily finishing of their fare from the table.

Arre, hum Bhuvaneshwar se hain! “- I am from Bhuvaneshwar, said the pleasant faced man. “Kya banwake du, aap ko?”- What shall I get made for you? We placed a order of chicken and cheese omelette each, with hot buttered toast, and sweet tea, while an attendant vigilantly cleared a space under a huge oak tree, right on the ground where the ochre and sublime winter morning sun was playing hide and seek, and casting playful shadows and patterns.

Amulya Kumar Sahu arrived with omelettes from which circled, hot smoke and a fresh aroma. Buttered golden brown toasts lay restfully in a basket beside each plate, and a glass of hot sweet tea was served. I always find it pertinent to strike up conversations with friendly waiters. Some of them turn out very informative, and leaves you with very subtle afterthoughts. Some of them crib. But there are others like Amulya, that have fallen in love with the work that they do. It was heartwarming to see, how a simple task of serving breakfast to regulars who strolled in the park, can be made to sound so larger than life. And it helped that he has also talkative and hardly secretive about his personal life!  Unmarried, and a family supporter for their financial needs, this young man started his work as a road-side dishwasher 8 years back. Today, very aptly so, he has  risen through the ladder rungs to become the ‘manager’ of this food kiosk. He seemed proud, and that was really what made me smile. Within the next 4 minutes, he had completely opened up to us, sometimes talking in Hindi, sometimes in broken Bengali. We learn very soon,that he was lovingly called ‘Babu’ by his mother, and ‘Amul’ by his sister and ‘Lady’.

Welcome to Amul’s Cafe. A perfect breakfast place, serviced by a perfect manager-who-loves-to-be-a-waiter, serving the perfect breakfast, for a perfect Dilli winter morning.

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

I was in Dilli. Spending three winter days with Colonel Sahab and Memsahib, who stays in a REAL sprawling mansion along with the playful 7 year old Josh and the cutest, snuggliest,dog called “Posto”. Around the family were several Daijus – elder brother in the Nepali language, employed by the Indian Army. One of them cook, one supports Colonel Sahab, one relieves either of them, and if I am not mistaken one does the domestic chores. Pardon me, I might have lost count and the descriptions of their responsibilities. There were too many to allow my mind to focus. But they were there for a good cause. And I was(for the next three days!) included in that cause! The moment I exited from the airport and saw two handsome soldiers carrying a placard that announced my name, to the fact that the vehicle that was taking me to their house was parked at the minimal distance from the exit door( disregarding whether or not that was a parking zone), so that ‘Madamji‘ did not need to walk much, was a prelude to the hospitality and pampering awaiting me. With giggles in my stomach, galore- I couldn’t help the butterflies in my stomach from fluttering the moment I entered the Khukri House, the residence of the Chandas.

I welcomed myself to my winter break in Delhi, with open arms, a tight hug from D and a sloppy lick by Posto.

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi has a perfectly pretty winter.

I often tell my friends, that a success of a vacation depends on how many rounds of re-sleep you manage every morning when you wake up! When the morning you wake up to, is as intensely cold, as it is in Delhi, despite the fact that you might have had a good eight hours of sleep, it feels like you just went to bed. You hide back into your thick razais for some more slumber, and yet another time…and yet another time, wanting to snatch yet another twenty winks perhaps! Suddenly in between your reverie, you hear the loudest of alarms- the peacock’s shrewd yet commanding chirp, and you finally stretch and wake up. You shiver, wrap the shawl around you one more fold, tuck your feet in woolen socks,  shout out for hot ginger tea,warm your hands by clasping the mug and with a lot of effort walk the few steps to look out against the window sill, into the morning light. All you see is feeble layer of mist. You ask for more hot ginger chai, and allow its comforting steam to mingle with the steam issuing from your mouth. Good morning, Dilli!

Mild fog waft past the forts and citadels, turning it into something as fantastical as the castles of Russian folklore. In the same breath,the Porsches of south Delhi shamelessly glide, through the icy air, on the gentle slopes of the Moti Bagh flyover. The people on the pavement underneath flock around a makeshift bonfire, covered in caps and shawls.

The flower vendor, the trinket seller, and the chaiwallas  drape themselves in blankets  and sheepishly bring out a finger or two to sell their retail merchandise. Children  have blushing noses. Children have runny noses.Adults are drowsy almost all the time, and children have permanent apple-cheeks!

In Buddha Jayanti Park, the gates close at 6pm unlike in summers at 8pm. Senior bureaucrats, continue with their morning walk, well shielded from the wind chill in multi-layered cardigans and sport jackets. The musk melon sun plays a game of catch-me-if-you-can. Strands of vertical amber rays seduce you, slicing boldly across naked branches, stoic tree trunks and fallen auburn leaves, to eventually mate with the pristine dewdrops, that would have settled in the previous night. A cycle rests lazily against a tree or a fence. A couple hides behind  a flower bed, stealing a kiss or two.

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Dilli Haat becomes even more vibrant. Shakharkhand Chaat  vendors spring up, selling their tangy delightful mixture of sliced boiled sweet potatoes heated up and perked up with variety of masalas.

In winter, the Capital creates an illusion of less aggression. The city takes a break from itself. Foggy mornings bring in a promise of honey soaked winter afternoons. Winter afternoons are chunks of time stolen from a magical place. The sunshine is warm, yet with a nip, because of the breeze that blows in from snow-clad Shimla. A siesta in the hammock, toes curled up, covered in your razai again, you wait to kill time.  By 5 pm, Delhi is ready to shut down. The shops at Khan market start pulling their shutters down. Cafe Turtle, is still busy though serving their coffee and gooey chocolate ginger cake that they make. It really is a slice of heaven.

The next Tuesday, Memsahib and me headed out to  the Hauz Khas Village. A Village, you ask? Yes. Uses the same  warm logic that makes The Village in NYC one of our favourites.  As soon as we turned the bend,a sign above a staircase  leading to a three storey pink building read ‘ The Open Book’. That’s a pretty good way to describe the location – South Delhi’s Hauz Khas village – a patchwork of small exquisite shops, a serene lake, the ruins and remnants of a fort and a Madrasa, studded for the passer-by’s viewing pleasure, rooftop cafes, antique shops and lots of  spruced up greenery. Hauz Khas has been around for a long time, since the Mughals, and might not have seen such glorious days.But these days it might just be the gayest village in North India. Our leisurely stroll ended up in a quiet tucked away cafe, serving lunch. Barbequed pork chops, served with bacon spotted mashed potatoes. Divine!Delhi Winter

This visit reinstated what I always believed was true ever since my visit to New York, earlier this year. You know you have lived through a vacation when you do nothing, yet everything all at the same time. Its not about how many places you have seen or tours you have taken. Its about the people with whom you can do nothing yet, feel like there has been so much you did in a day. Its about  no early mornings or an agenda to complete during a day. Its about delightful company, with whom even brainless banter, a cup of hot tea in a park, can seem like the perfect soiree. Its about playing with a dog all day, who snuggles up under your blanket and wishes you a glorious morning with a long sloppy lick. It about playing hide-and-seek with the sun and with the little children on the road. Its about discovering that you have ended up doing everything while doing really nothing.

IMG_6033

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

Delhi Winter

But of course, a peg of spiced Captain Morgan rum every evening, a hot water bag tucked inside your blanket even before you tuck yourself inside, a fireplace lit up and replenished for several hours in the evening, a couch where you can read your favourite book, a hammock at your disposal never does anyone any harm!

There could have not been a better way to bring this year to an end. D & J, you better keep a watch. We will be there, again..and very soon!

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6 Comments

  1. Amulya signifies the life of Delhi… there is a need to talk about such hardworking people who make the society righteous and worthwhile… Life is sweet and nice!!

  2. Like I said…you flew in for a holiday. But somehow, towards the end I felt as if the break had been all mine.
    So, thank you.
    And, welcome.

  3. If that’s the case Debbie, let me just say…it is my pleasure! 🙂

  4. Wow! want to go for a holiday again… thanks for sharing your experience. Brought back my memories of Delhi winter way back in 2000 during my first visit to Delhi…

  5. Beautiful, Sambrita! Your slow stroll-around of an article brought back memories of winters in my Pishi’s house in leafy south Delhi, and of their Nepali cook, Bahadur. The photographs are gorgeous, but if I had to choose just one, I’d have to go with the bicycle. Like your words, it has a looking-in feel about it.

  6. Thanks,Pia. Here, all Bahadurs were called Daijus! The bicycle is my most favourite image, too. I like your favourite!

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