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 …

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Karim’s – Take Two

I’ve always liked Old Delhi. Getting out of the metro at Chawri Bazaar and quite literally entering another world: hardware stores, cycle rickshaws, glimpses of faded grandeur and above all PEOPLE. People, people and yet more people.

As a tourist on a fleeting visit to Delhi back in 2007 I covered the staples – the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk. And while living in Noida last year I filled in some of the gaps – Pooja introduced me to a rather wonderful street stall selling every variety of paratha, I chanced upon a sweet shop boasting the sweetest gulab jamin in the world, and I made numerous trips to Karim’s when I needed a bit of relief from the vegetarian fare in my PG.

Udita – in characteristic style – darkly issued several faintly mysterious warnings about Old Delhi not being a ‘safe place’ for anyone, ‘let alone a white girl’ but I always took them rather lightly. She’s the Indian mother I never had, and generally I can take such mutterings with at least a small pinch of salt. Yes, I’d remember to grab a dupatta before heading to north Delhi, but I’d never felt uncomfortable, let alone unsafe.

I’m not sure what was different about last week. I’m inclined to think that it was the company I was keeping. Before, I’ve been as part of a group of foreigners or with Indian girls. This time I was going to Karim’s for dinner with one male – Indian – friend. Perhaps too, the timing? The day after Eid the place was thronging with people and the usual ten minute cycle rickshaw from the metro station took over thirty minutes. Sat in the old-fashioned style rickshaw with no roof I suppose we were more conspicuous than usual? Sitting targets?

It’s not unusual for people to stare at me in the street, and to be honest I’m pretty much immune to it. This time, though, the staring had a different quality. People nudged their friends and pointed. Muttering went on behind hands and smiles weren’t being returned. Perhaps fortunately my rudimentary Hindi couldn’t keep up with what was being said (note: if you want to insult me in Hindi you’ll need to speak slowly and enunciate) but I later received a (perhaps watered down) translation. And it didn’t make for pleasant listening.

I am perhaps a tad naïve. Even when I felt things repeatedly hitting my back I assumed that stones were being thrown up by the road. Only when something landed in my lap did I realize that it was orange peel – a group of boys about my age had been throwing rubbish at us – or rather, me.

Fast forward half an hour and we’re contentedly polishing off Mughlai chicken and seekh kababs in Karim’s. The place is bustling with a mixture of locals and tourists, and I’m waiting for an extra portion of what I regard as the best thing about the place – sheer maal: amazing, stodgy and faintly sweet almost waffle-like bread. The sort of contentment that can only come from eating too much food sets in, and I’m ready to battle my way back to the metro station. Throw what you like in my direction folks – I’ve eaten at Karim’s.