Top 5 things I will miss about Delhi

I’m all set to go to Edinburgh and begin my course, this time next week, I will have reached. I have no idea how my life will fit into two suitcases, but I hope to figure out soon. So here we go about the top 5 things I will miss about Delhi (I have been here for 2 yrs 8 months now), in order of increasing importance…

Number 5

The Delhi charm! The city. The absolute bling that only Delhi can be, from the sparkling choodas on most Punjabi hands to the absolute disregard for any kind of rule or law. The red light jumping, the not-free left taking, the rickshaw, the auto, and in general the complete madness!

Number 4

My workplace… at STMicroelectronics. It was almost always good, sometimes nasty, but it has been a helluva ride. I have learnt and taught others; I have faltered and succeeded, and it was very hard to leave behind the long saga of the reason I ended up in Delhi.

The Sexy Campus!

Number 3

The Noida-Greater Noida Expressway. My daily commute to work, oh what a gorgeous road. I loved the rolling fields in the monsoons and the way we used to peer along at 40 kmph in the winter fog. I will miss the long conversations with V and the McD breakfast on the go. The winding roads, nostalgia…

On a crisp January morning

Number 2

My lovely lovely home, where I put up for but 10 months. It was the nicest place I have stayed in so far. I had my books, my clothes, a beautiful space, and a very comfortable room in a flat. It has been one of the few places I have lived in that I can imagine staying in for years together, cozy and snug.

Number 1

K. My love, my flatmate, my soul sister. She is my twin from a parallel universe. We think alike, we talk alike, we read each other’s minds. We say the same things together, invariably, always. K has been a rock solid support, a brilliant friend, a caring flatmate, and basically the awesomest person ever! If there was anything that would’ve kept me in India, it was her.

U & K

Advertisements

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?

Fishy business (but good for the sole)

It’s not easy, being a girl. Especially a great, big, pink, sweaty, foreign girl, who has to live every day amongst thousands of beautiful (and petite) Indian women. The kinds of women who do that irritating ‘effortless chic’ thing with their glossy black hair, never-smudged eyeliner, glowing skin and expertly shaped eyebrows. The kinds of women who wear jeans in 40 degree heat without expelling a single drop of perspiration. I’m sure you’ll understand when I say this really doesn’t do much for my self-esteem.

But I think I’ve finally come to terms with being comically tall and constantly sweaty, and have faced the fact that wearing eye makeup (or any kind of makeup, for that matter) just isn’t an option in Delhi post-February.

What I can’t deal with, though, is having disgusting feet.

Living in a big, polluted city with a climate that makes wearing any footwear other than flip flops out of the question, it’s not surprising to get home after a long day and realise your feet are coated in a thick layer of dust, dirt and god-knows-what-else.

The thing is, I’m so lazy that during all these months of trudging along Delhi’s streets, and thus making my poor tootsies increasingly worn and disgusting, I haven’t been for a single pedicure treatment. And I’ve now reached the stage where I just can’t cope with the idea of expecting another human being to restore my feet to their former – softer and cleaner – condition. No person should ever have to perform a task that horrific.

A fish, on the other hand…

Well, that was my logic. Although I have been told by several reliable sources (including Maegan’s boyfriend) that most of these ‘fish pedicure’ places have been closed down because of hygiene reasons or, possibly, because animal rights activists thought it was cruel to make poor, defenseless creatures nibble the dead skin off the general public’s feet. Which, I suppose, is fair enough.

So it made perfect sense, then, to give this fishy foot fiesta a try before it was made illegal in Delhi too. And since it was Maegan’s birthday last month (and I hadn’t got her anything…), I thought it would be nice to drag her along with me and treat her to her very own aquatic ordeal.

We went to ‘Happy Feet’, a stall with a slightly misleading name in Select Citywalk, and plunged our feet into a glass tank full of small, innocent-looking brown fish, which quickly swarmed around our toes in exactly the same way that groups of students flocked round the aloo tikki stand after classes at DU.

It tickled. A lot. And then it started to hurt, which was unexpected. Nobody had told me there would be pain involved!

The small, innocent-looking fish were frantically chewing at my living flesh. They were basically mini pirhanas; the presence of my big, pink, foreign feet sending them into an ecstatic feeding frenzy. The whole concept, I suddenly realised, was horrible. Why was I doing this?

Ezgi, our Turkish friend from college, and who I’d also lured into this pirhana preschool, was watching her feet with great interest. ‘In Turkey they have spas where you sit up to your neck in water like this. With fish.’

Maegan and I grimaced.

But, fifteen minutes later, our feet emerged from the tank and – if you ignored the bite marks – did look a bit nicer. We were then treated to a bit of industrial foot-scraping, followed by some nice moisturiser and a relaxing massage. And, until I went outside and walked about in the dust, my feet did look incredibly well looked-after. It’s just a shame that the effects only lasted a few minutes.

I suppose these fish pedicures are more of a gimmick than anything. I don’t imagine I’ll be going back for another one, so I’m sure I’ll be able to cope if (or when) they get banned everywhere. As an experience, though, it was probably one of the only things that’s been ticklish, hilarious, painful, ethically-questionable and nausea-inducing at the same time, so it’s got to get some points for that. But I do feel a bit sorry for the fish.

A lot can happen in Cafe Coffee Day

Mr Ramakrishnan, the President of CCD!

So, as we all know, 2012 is the year in which the world will end, and a clear sign of this impending apocalypse is Starbucks, which will be subjecting India to its undercaffeinated beverages and irritating jazz music before the year is out.

I’m particularly devastated about this because we already have a couple of our own perfectly good coffeeshop chains: Barista, and the cheaper (and perhaps more cheerful?) Cafe Coffee Day. The latter, with its iconic red sofas and Bollywood background music, has become something of an Indian institution – no mall or market is complete without the CCD red inverted comma.

But it’s all change at our favourite cafe chain. No longer must we rely on the sloth-like waiters, as we now place orders at the counter. The menu has also changed to incorporate some slightly fancier sandwiches (although, tragically, Maegan’s favorite lemon tea has been axed). Oh, and they’ve just opened a brand-new ‘Lounge’ branch by the Saket PVR.

So while everyone is busy raving about St*****ks, we have decided instead to celebrate CCD, by compiling this list. Enjoy.

Relaxed: The MIT CCD at Manipal (by Udita)

The CCD that has only ever housed students, almost always those that pretend to be studying heavy engineering books, is located in the heart of the University town that I lived in, Manipal. This CCD is witness to ‘filmy’ drama everyday, in the form of hook-ups, passionate making-out sessions, impromptu break-ups, and groups so large that all 9-10 of the tables must be joined. The conversations range from new crushes to the last exam to the latest bike in town. Often, there are local gigs (pioneered in my times by Anamol’s band) and one can listen to Floyd and Dylan while sipping not-so-well-made coffees. But when the music and the ambience is so laid back and ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ types, what more can one ask for?

Chilled out in Chennai: Adyar CCD, Indira Nagar (by Maegan)

Prominently located in one of south Chennai’s most amiable suburbs is another CCD that scores highly in the rankings. With an abundance of wicker chairs and sofas tucked under the shade of a leafy green canopy, its outside area may well be CCD’s most picturesque. Notable for its sizzling chocolate brownies (which are always proudly served with a suitable amount of drama and gusto) and unpredictable opening hours (I’ve known it to be open past midnight when busy but closed at nine on quiet nights), what really sets it apart are the staff. Willing to let you use their toilet when you’re passing by & just can’t make it home, they also came to the rescue by providing a small cup of (free!) milk when I ran out while baking a birthday cake for a friend late at night. Now that’s what I call service …

India’s best CCD?: Amber Fort, near Jaipur, Rajasthan (by Susanna)

When my parents were visiting, my dad developed a sudden and intense fondness for Cafe Coffee Day (the same way he did for ‘Ducky Duck’ in Japan). After a heavy thali, what could be better than a coffee in CCD? After being harassed by hawkers in Connaught Place, only CCD would provide some much-needed tranquility. And after traipsing around the Amber Fort for hours in the midday sun, when we spotted that little red inverted comma, and drank cappuccinos while looking out over the fort’s golden stone walls, we probably were the happiest tourists in all of India.

Engrossed: CCD Counter at STMicroelectronics, India (by Udita)

I consider myself fortunate to have a CCD counter at my workplace, where… wait, hold your breath… prices are half of what they are outside! Yes! It’s almost half the reason why I get myself to work everyday and since I am a very regular customer, I get goody-bags, free coffees etc. every once in a while. One can usually overhear people having intense discussions about the leakage graphs of a device or the capacitance of a BJT. The coffee is good and even lemon tea is still served here. The best part, they still makes ‘Coffee Toffee’ for people who request it; it used to be on the menu a long time ago.What can I say, I feel blessed…

India’s worst CCD?: Rajiv Chowk metro station, Delhi (by Susanna)

It would only be fair, while describing the best, to also include the polar opposite, which can be found in the sweaty, stale-smelling interchange metro station underneath Connaught Place. This CCD is always packed, but even if you can find a table you’ll immediately want to die because there’s no airconditioning. Once, I went in here to be told there was no milk. ‘Um, so what can I have?’ I asked the waitress. She heaved a sigh and eventually found the strength to reply, ‘only black coffee, madam.’

Tested  & Infested: Noida Sector 18 CCD, UP (by Maegan)

Susanna may have already taken the title of ‘India’s worst’ for Rajiv Chowk’s undeniably unimpressive branch, but in Noida’s sector 18 I think we have a contender. Tucked away not far from the metro station up an insalubrious looking staircase, its ambiance leaves much to be desired. Best-known for its acute cockroach problem and long-term out of use toilet (‘currently being fixed, madam’) the massive amount of time that I spent there is perhaps the most damning indictment of my Noida PG. Either that, or I kept going back because of the lovely waiter who enjoyed helping me with my Hindi homework.  As they say, you win some, you lose some …

(Photo of Mr R borrowed from here)

The Streets are Paved With …

Those of you living in Delhi will I am sure empathise with me when I say that it’s become very hard to get out of bed these days. No, not because I’m lazy (or not any more than usual) but because inside my bed, under two double duvets and a wool blanket, is the only place I’ve been able to achieve anything resembling warmth.

The thought of stepping out of this mini haven onto the icy cold marble floors or worse still into the bathroom is all just a bit much. Anything that can be done from bed is fine – eating, drinking tea, chatting on the phone, working on my laptop … all possible. Getting dressed and going outside? Not happening.

The Arts Faculty bathed in the winter sunlight

It’s a good job that I’ve got more than Hindi class to tempt me towards North Delhi on a daily basis, or  I’d have a serious problem sitting the exam come March. Luckily, the streets around Delhi University’s north campus are paved with – if not gold – the best array of street stalls you could wish for.

First stop – momos (choose from chicken, vegetable or paneer) from the Nepalese family near the metro station. Lunch? Tick. Need a notebook? A brightly coloured pen? Or a plastic folder with Sponge Bob Square Pants on the front? The stationery wallah has it sorted. Then for the ten minute walk down Chaatra Marg towards the arts faculty. The incentive? A steaming hot cup of chai from our favourite Uncle-ji, delivered with a smile, all for the bargain price of Rs.5.

Chai!

This chai has to provide sustenance through the first two hours of Hindi class. There is just about enough caffeine and sugar to last through revision of the present continuous tense and a lesson on when to use ‘apna’ before it’s back to the same hut for another cup and a freshly-fried samosa. For the last hour of class it’s the sheer amount of oil that you have consumed that’ll see you through.

The scrum at our favourite jewellery stall

Post-college, a reward is required. This comes in the form of the jewellery-wallah, perfectly positioned between the faculty building and the metro station. Even better, his stall is a bit up-market. Rather than his wares being laid out on a sheet on the floor, he has a giant tray attached to the back of his bicycle, making it all the more browse-able. Genius. You want glass bangles, a novelty bear or a Minnie Mouse mobile phone case? He’s got it covered. Even better are the beautiful wooden carved earrings in all colours – just like the ones in Fab India, but for a fraction of the price.

Finally, it’s back on the metro, but not before picking up an aloo tikki. I maintain that nothing can make you feel as good as fried potato inside lightly fried bread.

Aloo Tikki, fried with love

A good routine, no? The only problem being those days when it all goes to pot. Like yesterday: chai accidentally made without sugar, aloo tikkis finished before we reached the stall, and the jewellery wallah on holiday. It better get warm soon, because if things carry on being this unpredictable I’m going to need another reason to get out of bed and go to University …

Painful purchasing in Primark versus sublime spending in splendiferous Sarojini Nagar

This Festive Season (notice how politically correct I’m being!) sees two thirds of the Cheesecake trio temporarily back in their British homelands. I had an uneventful journey from Delhi to Heathrow, during which I realised with some embarrassment that I’d already seen ALL of the Hindi films offered as in-flight entertainment, and then took a sleeper train up to Edinburgh. Yes, a sleeper. A British train with beds. But no, there were sadly no samosas and tragically nobody was screeching ‘chaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiii!’ at all hours of the night.

I’m now home safe and sound and there have been no major developments in my fair Scottish city. Oh, except one – we now have a Primark. Slap-bang in the city centre, Edinburgh residents now have access to four floors of morally questionable – but super cheap! – clothes, shoes and accessories. Hurrah. The thing is, though, I haven’t been able to inspect much of this because the shop’s so busy it makes me want to die.

‘But wait!’ you cry. ‘Aren’t you used to shopping in Delhi? To squeezing through the Old City’s bazaars like vacuum-packed sardines, with all those beggars and angry aunties and men with groping hands?’ The answer is yes, of course. But the truth is, shopping in Scotland annoys me much more than shopping in India.

Why? Well, there’s the incessant queuing, for a start. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in a line for hours – often while being simultaneously aurally assualted by pre-recorded blastings of ‘cashier number six please!’ – when all you’re buying is a pair of socks. Then there’s the customers with children. Either they run around demolishing everything, or they sit screaming in gigantic pushchairs (or ‘travel systems’ as I believe they are now amusingly called) which take up entire aisles. Staff are trained to be sickeningly friendly, even though the falseness is almost always obvious, and shops are now getting so big that you’re not just confused anymore; you’re actually lost.

Shopping in Delhi’s markets is less mechanical and much more human. One of my absolute favourite places in the city is Sarojini Nagar market, where factory rejects (of well-known Western brands; even Primark, actually) end up in great, crumpled heaps, waiting to be discovered – and ironed – by bargain-loving, but fashion-conscious, Delhiwallahs like yours truly. Sure, it’s busy, and yes, there are plenty of screaming children and a few lurking gropers, but the atmosphere is fun and the stallholders are enthusiastic and – mostly – genuinely friendly; powered by paan and regular refils of garma garam chai.

‘Woh wala dikhaana’ – ‘show me that one,’ is the line to use. The stallholder will then take a comically long metal pole to lift the garment at which you’re pointing (on its coathanger) and hand it to you for inspection. He will use encouraging English phrases like ‘size good, madam’ and ‘very nice quality’ and then inform you that the price is 250 rupees. You will scoff in mock disgust and, with a pained expression, tell that stallholder that you’ll offer him a hunded bucks, and not a rupee more. Then, after a minute of two of dramatised arguing, you’ll most probably receive a hefty discount and be handed your purchase in a small  polythene bag. Then you’ll move on to the next stall and repeat the script.

Of course, for some people, this kind of shopping will sound terribly time- and energy-consuming, but I suppose it depends on what you’re used to. I admit that Delhi markets not only terrified me in the beginning, but they completely boggled my mind – there was so much language and acting required for each transaction that shopping was quite an ordeal.  But now the impromptu conversations are a fun part of the experience, and as well as the bags of bargains, you come home with a satisfying sense of achievement too.

So I’m glad I did my Christmas shopping in Delhi because there’s no way I’ll be braving the high street in this city! And by the time the January sales are underway I’ll be safely back on Indian soil. Yay.

PS Merry Christmas, lovely readers!

(Photo borrowed from Toastwife, via Flickr)

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).