Chandni Chowk to China (via Scotland)

That’s it. I’ve finally become Indian.

I’m sure you’ll know this by now, but I’ll tell you again anyway: I’ve left India, and returned to Scotland.

(Cue violins.)

It’s only been a few weeks, but it already seems like a lifetime ago that I was snivelling over my last ever Chicken McSpicy in IGI Airport; getting strange looks from a sunburnt Israeli backpacker, who had opted for a Subway sandwich. My Paharganj-quality suitcase was wrapped in industrial-strength cling-film, and, as usual, I held up the queue at Immigration while the officer, oblivious to the line behind me, chatted away in Hindi. “You should continue to live here in India,” he said, when he learned I’d been studying Hindi, “You are most welcome to stay for as long as you like.” But before I could make a half-joking comment about him giving me a green card, he picked up his stamp, and with a flourish marked my passport: Departed, 7th April 2012.

And, later, as the always-apathetic Jet Airways staff poured cups of weak, lukewarm coffee at 30,000 feet, I watched Rang De Basanti and snivelled some more.

I had a great last week in Delhi, though. My landlord had made me move out of my flat early, which meant for six days I was crashing on beds and floors and charpais all over the city, including New Ashok Nagar with Udita and Safdarjung Enclave with Maegan. We spent hours making food and chai, chatting, reminiscing, being nostalgic. We indulged in a bit of weird beauty therapy, some fancy mehndi and a couple too many gulab jamuns. I even squeezed in a final cinema visit – it was the perfect way to say goodbye to my adopted city.

Fancy hands! (And yes, Maegan is wearing pyjamas)

So what’s next? Again, you’ll probably know this, but I’m off to China in August to teach English for a year. It’s funny – I actually applied for the job kind of as a joke. One morning in January, Maegan and I were sipping carrot juice (I’m not sure why)  in our favourite cafe in Majnu ka Tila and I was online, scouring the English teaching vacancy websites looking for a possible Plan B (Plan A involved earning enough money to be able to stay in Delhi, and, as you can see, it didn’t quite happen). “English teacher wanted in Inner Mongolia”, I read off the screen. I don’t think I could have pointed out Inner Mongolia on a map at that stage, but it sounded weird and fabulously obscure. I immediately announced to Maegan, “I’m going to apply.”

When, a few days later, the school replied (mentioning that Inner Mongolia was, in fact, an autonomous region of China and quite different from ‘Outer’ Mongolia (which is basically an informal name for Mongolia, the country. Don’t worry, I learned all this on Wikipedia, too)) and said they had “great interest” in my CV, I began to think more seriously about the job. Anyway to cut a very long story short, I’m going there in August!

Baotou, the small city where I’ll be living, couldn’t be more different to Delhi. It’s in the middle of nowhere, for one thing. Somewhere between the ‘famous’ Grasslands and the edge of the Gobi desert. It’ll be cold there, and people won’t speak much English. But, as well as the opportunity to experience a new culture and way of life, I will also have the major advantage of a WASHING MACHINE IN MY FLAT. And I’m not going to lie; that’s basically what swung it for me. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself!

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m still at home for the next few months, so stay tuned for Scottish updates. And I’ll leave you today with a cliffhanger: I’m not the only Cheesecake girl who’s left Delhi…

The Cheesecake Girls: Delhi’s best blogging trio?

Cheap Eats in South Delhi?

Last month when a friend visited me in Delhi, we had a rather delectable brunch at Elma’s in Hauz Khaz Village. Freshly baked bread in different hues, a German-style handmade sausage roll, and olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes for dipping purposes. All washed down with Darjeeling tea (served in china cups and saucers, naturally) and carrot and cheesecake cake. The bill was Rs.1200.

Tea & Cake at Elma's - yes that is cheesecake!

While permissible as an occasional indulgence, forking out at this level just isn’t possible on a student budget. Luckily for me, my daily expeditions to North Delhi for college take me into the realm of Rs.30 thalis and Rs.5 cups of chai. But what happens when you want to eat local? Six months after moving into Safdarjung Enclave, here is my round-up:

Tiffin in the Village

If you find yourself in Hauz Khaz Village on a sunny day, then you can have the most delicious aloo gobi without breaking the bank (in fact, even if you order it with curd and roti, you’ll still have change from a Rs.50 note). This tiffin-wallah extraordinaire(who also sometimes has rajma, rice & aloo matter) is located just behind the newsagents on the left hand side of the main drag, just before you reach the entrance to the small park/historic monuments. Taking your lunch into said park means that you can enjoy not just delicious food, but also a lakeside view. What more could you want.

Aloo gobi in the village

Bengal Sweet Corner

In the same complex as Kamal Cinema in Safdardung Enclave, and rightly famed for its delicious sweet dishes, The Bengal Sweet Corner also does a rather wonderful thali. Rs 100 for delicious dahl makhani, a paneer dish, raita, tandorri naan, rice & sabzjie, it never fails to sate me. And for just another twenty rupees they’ll deliver it beautifully packaged to your door, with the added bonus of a desert dish (often gulab jamum – yum).

Madras Café

Whenever I find myself in Green Park Market, I always nip into the Madras Café for my fix of South Indian food. Whether you want a cup of chai (served so that you have the added challenge of pouring it back and forth from the metal cup to the metal bowl without scalding yourself) a dosa or a full blown thali, it’s the place to go. The thalis are particularly noteworthy for coming with poori rather than roti, which always goes down well with me. You need to get your oil fix somehow, nah?

Madras Cafe chai, served the south Indian way

Baker’s Byte

Sometimes only pizza will do. On such occasions in the past, I have relented and called Dominoes or Pizza Hut Home Delivery, forked out a large sum of money, and invariably been disappointed by the fact that the pizza claiming to feed two actually barely satisfies one. That was until discovering Baker’s Byte! A small chain of bakeries (with my local being a stone’s throw away in Arjun Nagar), it does very passable large pizzas for between Rs.100 and 150, in a range of (vegetarian) flavours.  Their personal pizzas (the same size as dominoes medium) come in at Rs.55, and they also have a great selection of toasties, pasta, and of course cake. Fast-food fix sorted.

Happy (cheap!) eating.

Late Lies the Wintry Sun A-bed…

The cheesecake girls met up for the last time this year. The initial plan of having me visit the ‘inexpensive-but-awesome’ Majnu ka Tila was thwarted because the market was closed. Both M & S claimed vehemently that they’d never heard of the entire place shut down, but it seemed it was so because of some Dalai Lama event or another. Disappointed! Not completely though, for we did manage to catch a good look of Susanna’s favorite ‘Big Black Boar (Pig)’ from the rickshaw!

The three of us scratched our heads and unanimously agreed that the next best way to honor the ‘tradition’ was to head to Big Chill in Khan and have (yes, you got it!) more decadent cheesecake. Dreamy eyed damsels then couldn’t wait for a long metro ride and autorickshaw-ed instead! Having gotten ourselves to Khan, we scooted over. We write (and hence, advertize) so much about the place that we ought to be given a table right away, but sadly, that’s yet to happen. The good old 15 – 20 min wait later, we quickly ordered a salad (which had so many ‘leaves’ that it made me feel like a cow, frankly) and a pasta. We took care to not order too much because we had to do justice to desert, no?

And then, the cakes… the combination of the brown and the white (much like the three of us) that we attacked and M rightly put it when she said ‘This double chocolate thing looks manageable every time, but it defeats me in the end!’ We did finish both between the three of us and felt very beautiful indeed 🙂

The conversations were warm, the breeze crisp, and the cakes smooth… over cheesecake it began and with it, this year ended. It was a gorgeous Delhi December evening and three very full females skipped (yes, cakes do make us that happy) over to The Body Shop to do what we do every time (another post for that).

Veni, Vidi, Vici !

What M hasn’t been telling you in the previous post is that she’s brave. She has been bravely living in a lot of difficult-to-live-in place lately, the kind of place I could never have imagined existed. But I agree, her new place is awesome.

I, on the other hand, haven’t been a ‘nester’; instead a ‘move’-er all my life. Yet I still find it extremely difficult to set up a home just anywhere. I have to have a proper place to stay in. It has to conform to my standards of how I want to live. Also, I’m deeply sentimental about my surroundings and belongings. Thus, any thought of moving promptly has me wondering if my walls will miss me or if my clothes will like their new cupboard. I am terrible at discarding old things. I carry all of them stupid, silly things (from fair tickets to coffee receipts) along with me. They’re all memories, although reminiscent of Rebeca’s bag of bones, I’m afraid (Rebeca from One Hundred Years of Solitude)!

A long chain of not very pleasant discussions led to me having to move out of my very nice and caring landlady’s beautiful room (and a massive, luxurious bathroom) last month. And thus, house-hunting began.

I looked at one house.

I spoke to one girl (who I’d never met before).

I finalized the place. Period.

Easy.

I guess I am lucky with finding places. I just am very unlucky that I have to try and stop thinking about my previous bed, my previous fan, or some other such thing.

The new place is bigger and lovely. The new girl in my life (we shall refer to her as K) is lovely too. She was a blessing in the tiresome period when I was agonizing constantly about shifting and my massive amount of luggage. These past few days have been exciting, independent, and comfortable enough. I’m glad I’m snug before winter drops all over us. I’m sure my walls don’t miss me and my clothes are definitely happy. As always, V has been the rock of strength and the hammer to drive many nails home!

Looks like we have two cheesecake parties lined up!

 

A Room of One’s Own

I’ve always been a bit of a nester. I was one of those people who arrived in my college room, and had to sting up fairy lights, make home-made cushion covers and arrange my books by size and genre before I could feel truly at home.

The last few months in Delhi, therefore, have been a bit of a trial. Who knew that finding a room would be so difficult? The plan was to live in a girls’ hostel (abundant as they are in Delhi) while looking for something more permanent – preferably a room in a shared house. Having been moved on from my first hostel when the landlady’s (absent) husband decided that he didn’t much like the idea of a foreigner living in his house, I found another, and the real hunt began in earnest.

A series of rooms found in north Delhi near to the University were vetoed by friends more streetwise than me – “not safe for foreign women to live alone in that part of Delhi.” Plans to live with Udita were sadly brought to a halt when we were not able to find a mutually convenient location, so that she could get to work in Greater Noida, and I could commute to North Campus. Susanna? Super keen, but tied into a six month contract she couldn’t escape from without losing her deposit.

Both however took turns to accompany me on a search around the city which ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. The room in Vasant Kunj? Great, except the living room didn’t have a roof. Hauz Khaz? Lovely, but the landlady lived on the floor below, and wanted to impose curfews and ban guests. The one near GK? Wonderful on paper, but would have involved living with two Indian boys who gawped at me as if they had never seen a girl before, and (judging by the house) seemed not to have been introduced to the concept of cleaning. And the hundreds of rooms that came up in Defence Colony? Too, too lovely, but viable only if you have a spare Rs30,000/month floating around.

Meanwhile, the hostel situation started to take its toll. People at home assumed that it was the privacy – “how can you share a room with two other girls?” that would be the issue. Funnily enough, that was never really a problem. My room partners were laid-back, friendly, and we developed that easy type of female companionship that you can only really get when living in such close quarters. Priyanka would ask me to paint her nails, Mridu would help me with my Hindi homework, we’d moan about the food together.

No, what got me – I guess – was the lack of autonomy. The inability to deal with situations – to think for yourself and solve problems. When it became clear that one washing line for thirty girls just didn’t work, stringing up a new line caused political discussions the like of which I’d never experienced. When we found ants in our mattresses, putting them out in the sun engendered the sort of telling off I’d not encountered since childhood, as Aunty explained how I was defacing her house. When mice and cockroaches became a problem, we couldn’t authorize pest control to come ourselves, but had to hand the issue over to another’s judgment. My habit of working at the upstairs dining table rather than on my bed (our ground floor room had terrible internet signal) was vetoed, and I developed the expensive habit of spending my mornings in Coffee Day with my laptop. Something had to give.

Luckily, it did. A room in a shared flat, on the edge of (but not in) a pretty salubrious area came up. The perfect mixture of privacy and company, home-comforts and affordability. I share a bathroom, kitchen and living room but can retreat  to my own room at any time. If I fancy splashing out on Costa I can walk to a swanky market within twenty minutes, but within a five minute radius of my house I have a reasonable vegetable wallah, a small tailor, and a selection of street food.

So here I am, sat on a chair (no less!) at a desk. To my left sits a set of fully categorized books, and to my right the best closet I have ever had the good fortune to call my own. Yesterday, and after only limited chasing, the Holy Grail arrived. A hot water geyser! Yes, after three months in Delhi, I had my first hot shower. And not even from a bucket – an actual showerhead. What can I say? Utter bliss. All that remains now for the house to be truly christened is for cheesecake to be consumed here. Susanna? Udita? Come on over!

Moving & Moving on…

Dark, viscous, bitter… as the syrupy chocolate left a trailing indelible aftertaste in my  mouth, I smiled gleefully (baring chocolate-coloured teeth) at Maegan and Susanna. For this time around, we were seated at a quaint, cozy café called ‘Whipped’ somewhere in Greater Kailash.
Having ordered more cake, we were happily attacking the one on our table with vengeance that only women possess. Nutty and chocolaty, accompanied by steaming mugs of coffee; all of this was (surprisingly) reasonably priced for the upstart part of town that we were in.
I’d cut into the cake with my knife, watching the silver steel slice through the creamy brown; I lifted the piece with my fork in a motion of luxurious indulgence; then munched on it with an expression of having tasted paradise.
As previously pointed out, I’m a small person by British/Scottish standards, with a proportionate appetite. Thus, after about three spoonfuls, I declared I was full and left my two girls to polish off the rest.
I sat back and listened to the general coffee shop banter, sipped on my coffee and felt warm and cozy. However, long after we’d left and move on, the bitter aftertaste of dark chocolate lingered. And as I write this, the memory of the taste entices me, pulling me towards indulgence again.
So it is, I muse, with moving and moving on. ‘Moving’ is an easy enough affair these days. But ‘Moving on’, is different and difficult; like the cloying aftertaste in your mouth, in our head. The past clings on (sometimes in a good, but mostly in a bad way) and ensnares one in the revisit of the times, the places, and the memories. The temptation to go back there, to not ‘move on’ in spite of having ‘moved’. Ah, to sink my teeth into that cheesecake again…
Disclaimer: Udita has hitherto been a writer of pathos and finds it difficult to write in a humourous/comical fashion. She hopes to change that with the help of the general ‘happiness’ of this blog. But until then…

The first bite

Once upon a time, three ladies were salivating over a glass desserts refrigerator, trying to make the hardest decision of their lives.

‘No, not that one,’ I explained to the waiter. ‘The one on the bottom shelf, second from the left.’

‘On the right?’

‘No. Second from the left. With the fruit. Which one is that?’

‘Ahh, the blueberry cheesecake!’

‘Yeah, I’ll have a slice of that.’

It was a typical, ridiculously hot afternoon in Delhi, and we (Maegan, Udita and I) decided that the only way to soothe ourselves from the scorching sunbeams would be to devour a humongous slab of cake in the airconditioned paradise of the Big Chill in Khan Market.

The cake arrived. Maegan took a tiny spoonful of her appropriately named Double Chocolate Decadence and almost died from the pleasure. My slice of cheesecake was bigger than my own head. Udita let the side down slightly, claiming she was full from the gigantic chicken salad she’d just had, and only had a little taste of our cakes. But we let her off; she’s small, slim and delicate, and it was quite believable that she was full. Unlike Maegan and I, who are great, hulking five-foot-eight foreigners, easily capable of shoveling down a few thousand extra calories.

‘We should start a magazine about eating in Delhi,’ I said, my mouth full of biscuit base. ‘And once we’re famous all the restaurants will pay us to review them and we’ll have free food for the rest of our lives.’

‘Or we could do a blog,’ suggested Udita. ‘It could be about our different lives in Delhi.’

We pondered this, spoons mid-air.

‘Joint blogs are always interesting,’ Maegan chipped in. ‘And having the three of us write it would be really unique.’

Udita grinned, ‘We can call it “Cheesecake in Delhi”’.

And so, on the walk back to the metro station, we decided to do it. Not just say we were going to do it, but actually do it. Three girls – an English one, a Scottish one and an Indian one – and one blog. Maybe, or maybe not, on the subject of chilled desserts.