Saturday, 28 July 2012

As the scooter dangerously swerved towards my rickshaw, I closed my eyes and gripped the hand- rail ever so tightly. After five seconds and feeling no impact, I peered at the lane in front again.  Realising I was safe until the next maniac decided to ram into us, I bravely used my free hand to pry out my phone from my pocket. The digital clock on the screen showed that there were five minutes to go for my appointment. I looked at the labyrinth of traffic, interspersed with pedestrians and stray animals, crammed into that tiny by-lane of the Walled City again. The view unceremoniously informed me that I was going to be late.

 I looked upwards at the sky and thanked God for the pleasant weather. Then wondered at the incessant romanticisation of Old Delhi, especially, but not exclusively by Bolly-wood. The food is good, granted. But inadequate compensation for the congestion, the noise and occasionally, the foul stench one has to endure to get in sniffing distance of the same. Recent newspaper coverage again, is hardly a winning advertisement for its famous secularism. Then why do writers and lyricists wax eloquent about the magic of the place?  Why do sons of the soil (ranging from film stars to political leaders) yearn for a visit to what they still call home, and tourists tout it as a must-see, even as they have to brave the heat and the heckling at every step? At that moment, I failed to understand the charm.

I was ruminating thus, when it seemed like the source of this particular jam had been resolved, and the rickshaw stirred out of its stupor to start inching forward again. The two children in the rickshaw in front of mine cheered. Then one of them pointed at something on the other end of the road. Their mother, seated next to them, also leaned forward. I faithfully followed the child’s finger to see what he had seen. It looked like an old brown bag lying unclaimed next to a sleeping dog. On second glance however, I realised that what I thought was a bag, were the crumbled robes on the body of an emaciated old beggar. His face wasn’t visible- he had his head on his knees, and his curly grey hair were covered in a skull-cap of the same colour as his clothes. A begging bowl at his side, gave him up.

It seemed that the woman had seen the beggar before, for she quickly fished out a twenty-rupee note from her purse. I inwardly sighed, preparing myself for another delay while she got off and made her way through the melee to give out the alms. Instead, she let the rickshaw continue in its stride, while passing on the note to a man on a scooter next to her rickshaw. He accepted it but stared back at her in incomprehension. She indicated the old man. He nodded, and further passed on the money to another rickshaw-wallah, one going in the opposite direction. The rickshaw-wallah swiftly leaned over and passed on the note to the beggar. All of this happened in under a minute. The woman in the rickshaw had gone on ahead, without a backward glance. The beggar lifted his head and looked around to spot his benefactor as the rickshawallah pointed in the general direction. He saw me in stead, then smiled revealing a set of crooked, yellowing teeth. I smiled back. And understood.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


With the sun training its arsenal at me, post a packed metro ride, it’s a rare morning that sees me smiling. Today was one such. That’s because I spent my first hour in college sipping ice tea while reading Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. If you were born after 1980, it is likely you have discovered the pleasures of the latter (and if not, I really don’t know what the world is coming to, anymore). It’s possible of course, that you haven’t sampled the D School Ice Tea yet- a loss as big as any. When it’s ordinary, the tea's a wonderful antidote to the Delhi summer. When well made, it can inspire poetry. But commonplace or heavenly, it has in oodles, what other packaged and branded varieties sorely lack: character.

On any given day however (and especially if you are a first-timer) you may have to go through the following, to get a glimpse of that famous character.

Iced tea, Courtesy: JP Tea Stall, D School

Step one : You order a glass. The familiar bhaiyya at the tea stall tells you that you have to wait as no tumblers are available.

Step two: You look around and spot two people leisurely making their way through their drinks. The boys is wearing a loose t-shirt, and is periodically tucking in his long unkempt hair behind his ear. The kurta- clad girl has her hair tied in a tight bun, and her eyes are heavily lined with kohl. They are discussing something fervently, throwing around words like emancipation and feminisation. You silently will them to shut up and finish.

Step three: Once the glasses are returned, Bhaiyya takes them to a tap attached to the ground and half-fills them with water. Then unconcernedly gives the glasses the slightest shake. The glass cleaning ritual is over. You pray that the previous users maintained better hygiene than what appearances suggested- that they were free of flu inducing virus. Or worse, tuberculosis

Step four: Avoid voicing your concerns aloud. Reactions to such behaviour may range from Bhaiyya shaking his head disapprovingly, to his clientele contemptuously branding you a fuccha.

Step five: Wait for Bhaiyya to work his magic. Again, stop yourself from thinking about the source of water for the drink or the places where Bhaiyya’s hands went before he used them to dexterously break lumps of ice to put in the glass.

Step six: Behold the glass, admire the colour. Use the straw to stir the ice a little in order to cool the beverage down. Smell the tea.

Step seven: Take a sip. Wait to be surprised. Every single time.