Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A defence colony experience

On the roads, ordinary men walk
rich men either jog or
in their Mercs, they talk
not to a human but to a dog.
how come they get so rich,
I wonder;
work their a**es off or
a god's blunder.
they live in swank palaces; I marvel
with security as high as Z level
like a destitute..., I glare
"10 years hence, will I be there"?
with enough money to buy a 'Land Rover'
But, is that what I really aspire?
get rich, marry, sire n expire?
naah.., that would be a nightmare.
I would rather prefer
to be a mediocre,
if I could bring a difference,
in the lives
of the children at the gate of the temple,
with innocent expectant eyes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The day when I enjoyed being alone: a trip to SurajKund

Monday, 15 Feb
Hi friends,
I wouldn’t have been able to come up with this post in the first place if I hadn’t read this article about ‘how to enjoy being single’. I had almost scrapped my plan to visit “Surajkund Mela” but when I read this article I really saw great opportunities lying ahead of me (most of which eventually came to be true!) and my hopes got a fresh life almost like a phoenix.
I called my friend Lokesh to get an idea of the place and how to reach there. (For the information, he is the one who first visited the mela and shamelessly praised it to such an extent that it kindled an insatiable desire in me, so strong that I went there braving all odds; rainy weather, injured toe, classes at college and only my backpack to accompany me).
The Surajkund Crafts Mela is organized annually by the Haryana Tourism Department from 1st till 15th Feb.  This delightful handloom and handicrafts fair is planned every year to promote the traditional Indian Handicrafts in rural ambience at Surajkund in the vicinity of New Delhi. The fair was first time organized in 1981 and since then the fair continues to be a strong platform for Indian artists and craftsmen to display their skilled crafts and art work. The whole preparation of the fair is done, keeping a particular state in mind. Every year a new state is chosen as the theme and the entire decoration is changed accordingly and The colorful state of Rajasthan was chosen as the theme for the Surajkund Crafts Mela 2010, which was also the theme for the fair in the year 1989. Surajkund is surprisingly close to Delhi; a ten minutes ride in an auto from Badarpur Border (I hope u know where it is, if not, google it!). However a frickin jam at badarpur border ate up very precious time of mine but for the first time in my life I had spare time for such eventualities. I finally was at the grand and archaic but an Ad hoc entry gate of the 24th Surajkund Craft Mela. The moment I brought out a 50 Rs. note from my back pocket to buy the entry ticket, it started drizzling faintly. I almost thought of snatching it back from the cashier and wait for the drizzle to stop but then dropped the idea!
Surajkund mela has a very unique rustic charm in itself, far too superior than any of these plush malls can give you, and something which can only be experienced when you are in the environment. I entered and almost instantly could smell the aroma of ‘gaon ki mitti’ . To be very honest, I couldn’t fathom the grandness of the fair in the first look. At 4’O clock, it seemed like I had an eternity to see the mela which soon was going to be proved wrong. On my right there were stalls featuring emboss painting and jute bags, brass metal work and jewellery crafted from sea-shells. The sea-shell necklaces were simply amazing and a fellow buyer’s confirmation dispelled all the doubts I had about their authenticity (after all she seemed quite knowledgeable!). On moving ahead, I was really thrilled after spotting a huge and strategically placed stall of Hindustan Latex Limited. I could only guess how busy that stall would have been on the Valentine’s Day and all the other ‘fabricated’ days before it!! The Massiveness of the mela was now becoming clearer to me but still it was in infancy. It offered a platform to some really cool and talented but anonymous painters of the country however, their anonymity didn’t stop them from asking prices, as high as $12,000 haa, I am kidding, its only Rs. 12,000 for few of their paintings which I struggled hard to comprehend in the first place!!!
Let me tell you an insider’s information. Whatever other people might say that the mela primarily caters to women and almost everything on display is meant for girls (n their moms), I have a strong view that it’s a men oriented mela; it only depends on what ‘stuff’ you are looking at – the one on display at stalls or the one moving around in search of that stuff from one stall to another.
There was so much verity and so much yet to explore that I was kind of making a mental note of all the interesting things I was spotting at various stalls so that if I didn’t find anything superior to it, I can get back and buy it. After all, if I buy the stuff right away thinking it to be the best, I run the risk of “Opportunity loss”, in case I find something better later (I am doing an MBA, you see).
There were stalls selling shawls crafted manually and then there were few others selling carpets, creative wooden furniture, bangles and stuff made from glass, marble etc. You name it and you have it there. Handicrafts of some of the states showcased at the Surajkund Crafts Mela are:
Banjara and Bunni embroidery of Gujarat
Phulkari embroidery of Punjab
Lace and crochet from Goa
Sandalwood and rosewood carving of South India
Kantha work of West Bengal and North Eastern states
Chikan work of Lucknow
Chikri woodcraft of Kashmir.
However, it was not all about stalls and shopping. It was and out and out fun atmosphere. What you call – A total package. A rajasthani folk dance group was performing at one place right in front of a massive stone sculpture towering easily up to 20-25 feet. I was enjoying the performance from a height and from there I realized the grandness of the event for the 1st time and felt the crunch of speeding up my excessive ogling at each stall.
On my left I could see the pavilion for International representations; Egypt, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan etc to name a few. I really liked the stall of Tajikistan not because they had some exceptionally beautiful artifacts for display on the counter but for the beauty behind that! I was pleasantly surprised when she started talking with a lady in her highly accented hindi which sounded music to my ears!! For 5 or 6 minutes I was just standing there faking to be a connoisseur of precious stones and talking silly stuff but then I realized that there is a whole world yet to be explored.
Soon I found myself in the Food Court – the heaven of real delicacies primarily from North India. I could have missed everything but the Rajasthani Specialties. I guess, taste developed in early years somehow stick with you. I find Rajasthani taste my very own, closer to me than Dilli ka Zayka; courtesy my Grandma who hails from the state. I realized that you don’t need to be super rich to enjoy life; all you need is a 20 Rupee note! Because that will fetch you a plate of kadhi Kachauri – pure bliss, Period. I was wondering why the hell people were thronging on the chow mein and fast food stalls which they can get anywhere. I savored the taste and moved on to explore the uncharted territory which was still abound.
Few things really impressed me in the mela – the tight security, the neat and organized layout, Clear and regular public announcements, great artwork by painters and sculptors, cheap and very creative jewellery and but of course, the crowd.
If you thought that the mela was all about cheap stuff, think again. There was a dedicated Designers Gallery for the minority with fat pockets and refined taste. One store featured designer showpieces made from Silver and one such artwork, almost my size, containing floral patterns was worth Rs 6, 40,000. Believe it! Surajkund owes its name and perhaps its very existence to an ancient amphitheatre sun pool ('Kund') dating back to the 10th century but alas, the ‘kund’ was dry! At 6PM, I was at the other end of the mela and now it was time for me to trace back and enjoy things which I accidentally missed out in the first go or liked so much that I planned to revisit, if time permitted. But by this time, I had seen so much that I was getting confused where to go first and what to buy. Variety does spoil you.
Can you guess where I made my first return visit?? Oh, damn. You are always right; to the stall from Tajikistan!!!! But I saw something even more fascinating there. There were two little kids (maybe 2-3 yrs old), probably siblings (I suppose). They were playing while their family members were busy shopping. But then out of nowhere, the slightly taller kid kissed the other one so affably and openly that it brought a smile on my face ear to ear which remained for the rest of the day. Thanks kids.
I was feeling hungry yet again and what I saw just accentuated my hunger pangs by the order of two. Have you ever heard of a Rs. 40 Jalebi (I am talking of a single jalebi here)? No. I tasted it at the stall of Lala Maturam, (promoting diabetes since 1956!). When they say “size does matters”, they are right. The size of the jalebis was immense; bigger that a DVD and as thick as the middle finger and the ‘chashni’ was oozing out of it when I took a bite like blood from the head of slain dog on the road. My soul was craving for more but the stomach has got a limit (unfortunately).
I now wanted to just lay back and relax and incidentally there were some cultural performances to enjoy while I recline. A troop from Tajikistan gave a scintillating performance of their regional dance which was being covered live and broadcasted on a big screen at the other end of the mela. I also enjoyed the dance of a group from Gujarat which actually descended from an African tribe. But the festivities were interrupted by the boring formalities like govrnor’s speech and other felicitations. I used this time to do some shopping. I bought a fancy bead belt and a fancy kada (obviously it wasn’t for me if you are thinking so. For myself, I bought a fake Gucci leather wallet for 100 bucks, incredible na!). The penultimate performance was Radha-Krishna Leela. they enthralled everyone with the shower of flower-petals over the spectators. I was craving for more of such VIP treatment. With the last performance of Mahishasur-vadh (massacre of Mahishasur), the mela was formally declared to be over by the governor of Haryana although the crowd seemed unwilling to leave the place so soon. People were busy in the last moment shopping spree, taking advantage of great discounts. I did the same as well and bought a white stone necklace for my mom.
Before I moved out, I spared 5 more minutes to take a quick dekko of the entertainment section of the mela (although the entire mela was an entertainment extravaganza), decked with all the adventure rides like giant wheel, Columbus and other fun games.
The rain gods were kind to us because it only started to drizzle again when the mela was over. With the bead-belt around my waist, the white stone necklace around my neck and spirit of surajkund all around me like a halo, I got in the auto to return to my place where my friends just couldn't hold their hysterical laugh when they saw me wearing that necklace and the belt. you see, the sun sets but the fun never ends when you are upbeat. I will eagerly wait for the next edition of SurajKund mela; what else can I say. till then Good By.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chandni Chowk to 'Jannat'

30 jan, Saturday
Let me begin with the words of  Mr. G. Bose, whom I respect more for his sense of humor than his quizzing acumen (not to mean in any way that he isn’t a good quizmaster). He says, “Don’t sit with long faces in a Quiz because at the end of the day, Quizzing is meant to be a fun event.” His words never felt to be truer than today when one of our quizzing endeavors turned into a delectable extravaganza.

On Saturday, we were supposed to participate in a Quiz at DIAS, Rohini (Delhi institute of advanced studies). Well, cutting a long story short, we were out of the quiz before we could even begin it because the prelims round was no less than the GATE examination with all the crappy textbook questions related to ‘hard-core’ IT. Although, we were told that it was a ‘Business and IT quit’, the question paper had no business with ‘Business’. We didn’t even care about the participation certificate which they had promised to give to all and sundry as if it wasn’t a quiz but an earthquake relief camp and the certificates were packets of bread!!
We were a pack of 5 hungry ‘Grey’ Hounds (Nitin, Raunak, Sonali, Vijay and I), who, after reaching the Rithala Metro station were contemplating intensely which place to attack. Subhash Place, a nearby market- ruled out. CP – ruled out. Aaaaanh… Chandani Chowk. Bingo. That’s the place to go. Although the idea was initially resisted by Sonali, citing the reasons like how crowded it gets on weekends in Chandni Chowk, it was taken care of by Nitin with his animated description of the yummy ‘Natraj ke Bhalle’. He made those bhalles so irresistible that I could almost visualize how great it would feel when I’ll taste them. I was tempted and so was everyone else. Now even if we had to swim across the sea of people anticipated to be at Chandni Chowk, we would. If I put it this way, Nitin really sold us ‘Chandni Chowk’; only he didn’t get any commissions for that!

After an hour, we were at Chandni Chowk and as we had expected, we could see innumerable people of different shapes and sizes all around us. There were so may people in those narrow lanes that it was tough to imagine that it takes 9 months to make each one of them!!! To add to the misery, all kinda stalls, thelas, and patris have mushroomed throughout the length of almost all the roads in Chandni chowk, selling myriad stuffs. One hawker was selling a unique product, a ‘non-fusable’ bulb, enticing passers-by to take a dekko at his bulb with a non-stop audio advertisement and to save the expense on a sound system he was using his crass voice to do the job. There were shoes on sale for as low as 100 bucks; in fact each and every thing which u may need in your daily life was available at throw away prices. A girl at my back was saying to her friend with extreme astonishment, “yar itni bhid maine aaja tak nahin dekhi”. In my mind I replied to her, “Welcome to Chandni Chowk”.
Our mission was Natraj ke Bhalle but we didn’t know the way. With the generous help of people around us we finally arrived at our destination. There was a swarm of people at the shop. “Holy shit, this shop is horribly popular”. I couldn’t see any hope of getting those bhalles until evening. Only when we got closer I realized that the people were not thronging for the bhalle but they were coming out of a 3 feet wide alley just next to the shop!! That alley seemed to me like a conveyor belt in a pharma company and those people were dropping down that belt like Paracetmol tablets; millions and millions of tablets. Raunak and I braved the crowd to order 5 plates of bhalle. well,  the bhalle were simply amazing and truly delicious. I decided to convert to Hedonism there and then, i.e the pursuit of pleasure in life. Our taste buds were not satiated but we couldn’t just had only bhalle all the way so we tried the ‘tikki’ as well and I must say, even if for the sake of repetition that they were mouth watering as well. The famous “paranthe wali gali” was in front of us and only a moron wouldn’t like to enter this gali; a brand in its own. And there we were, on the steps of the shop single-handedly responsible for the christening of the street as it is known today. The owner had proudly displayed the archival photos of Jawar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri having a gala time at the historic shop. The shop was packed to capacity and few more were in queue; our turn was nowhere near and to kill time, we were looking at the 2 meter long menu displayed at the entrance, enlisting some wacky paranthas, easily assignable to the category of “highly endangered species”!! Some of them which I could recall were karela parantha, kishmish parantha, kaju parantha, rabri parantha & papad parantha to name a few. These, mind you, weren’t ordinary paranthas. They were being prepared in desi ghee. The word to watch out here is ‘in’. Yes, the ghee wasn’t merely dabbed on the surface of the parantha, the way our mom cooks for us; rather, they were literally drenched in the ghee. By the time our turn came, enough excitement and craving had developed in us to wipe out 7 paranthas and Rabri (a sweet made from milk) only complimented the awesome paranthas.
Our stomach was almost touching its full capacity but our tongue was still ‘flickering’ like the tongue of a snake, craving for more flavors of Chandni Chowk. They say that ‘man is a slave to his stomach’. Well I would like to differ. We are actually slave to our ‘tongue’ and more precisely – Taste buds. So the five ‘Slaves’ now moved on for some more gratification towards the mecca of non-vegetarians – Karim’s Hotel, famous in the entire galaxy!! To reach Karim’s we had to first get to Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India. It was a long way to go with plenty of flavors, waiting for us to be tasted. We couldn’t resist the Jalebis from which ‘chaashni’ was dripping so profusely like saliva drips from the mouth of a rabid dog! Although many branches of Karim Hotel have come up throughout NCR, the original Karim Hotel, near Jama Masjid is still termed as the best. Their tagline, “the secret of good mood, the taste of karim’s food” says it all. If you think that you would be able to spot Karim Hotel in the Gali Kababian (ya, that’s what they call that street!!), you are mistaken. You can only spot a 2’by 3’ board and that too if you are careful enough, directing you into a narrow alley which opens into Karim’s hotel. Karim Hotel is, unexpectedly, quite spacious from inside and the interiors are suave as well as classic. However, if you happen to be a vegetarian, its strictly advised not to even think of visiting Karim’s because either you won’t remain a vegetarian afterwards or you would kill yourself for being a vegetarian soon after. Only a few brave-hearts like me survive that 3rd degree mental torture. While my non-veg friends ordered ‘Mutton Barra’, Vijay and I ordered ‘Paneer tikka’ and ‘sheermaal’(a kinda bread with half the thickness of pizza base). Even the veg stuff was tastier than most places where I had it before ( At least this +ve attitude saved me from going into depression for not being a non-vegetarian because I must tell you, the aroma of the Mutton Barra was fabulous). We couldn’t stuff ourselves with anything more now without running the risk of a ‘backfire’ (but we still took the ‘saunf’, because it was free!!!). It was 5 in the evening, time to give our body some rest. So we called it a day and head back to the overcrowded metro station.
All in all, it was a trip that redefined ‘taste’ for me (and many of us, I believe). There have been instances when I have tasted some really fabulous preparations but so many exquisite flavors in one single day; never. Don’t just read man, shut down now and catch the next metro to this “Jannat of zayka” and become a slave………a slave to your taste buds.