Monday, July 25, 2011

Musings on a Monday Afternoon

    Trip to Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi, and other things:

Living in North India is like reading an incomprehensible poem where the first few stanzas are so painfully abstruse that you feel you are tackling an obliquely trailing ship with no nautical chart to assert its voyage. In many ways you are the frigate itself, straining at its moorings as you try to comprehend the current of social life that sets you in motion. For the last few months I have incessantly felt the pull of contrary currents; on one side I see plain simplicity, nothing idyllic though -- you can hardly expect that in this part of the country-- yet pedestrian to the tongue, a touch of earth, a feeling of life as it is. While on the other hand, I have experienced artificiality as we know it. Ostentation, a facade of rich and gaudy texture and sequined strokes intermingled to awful debris where in you could seldom locate the sapling of reality even if you have stuck your hands to the ovum of the earth. Such is life in Gurgaon; such is life in my New India.

Delhi and Gurgaon—one the Prima Donna, while the other the Nuevo capital of glamour and style; one carrying in its jorum the culture of centuries, the other a youngster denouncing with iconoclastic ferocity that substantial ethos. Gurgaon is undoubtedly the land of the New. It is perhaps the modern Byzantine stripped off its ancient elegance. Here you will find tall structures, buildings with distinctly regal names and manicured lawns, vehicles that only a few years ago had been objects of dream, shiny floored shopping malls filled with rich stock and many such luxuries. But if you are in search of some old-homey culture, you will have to cross the state border and enter the environs of New Delhi.

Last weekend we had a dinner invitation at some friends’ place in Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi. Chittaranjan Park, or CR Park, its popular sobriquet, is an urban region containing a large population of Bengali people. For years it has been a seat of popular Bengali culture in New Delhi. And once you enter this locality, you will feel that same ancient culture buzzing around you. On my way to this destination I had perused the roads and the scenery, and had observed how the pot-holed stretches with stray trees, dumping grounds, and skyscrapers on either side lead ultimately to constricted alleys with two and three storeys bordering the side roads. Modest shops and open-air flower sprees took over glass-fronted malls and labyrinthine arcades. The whole area seemed to be an anachronism, it was as if somebody had scooped out a chunk of Bengal and planted it out of sheer whim in the heart of North India.

Our friends live in a beautiful house in the epicenter of this awesome locality. Upon arrival we were immediately introduced to evening snacks of great succulence: bread-crumb coated deep fried chop, chicken patties, fried mishti (Bengali sweet) and a glass of cold drink. Our host and hostess added to this initial feast the spice of great conversation. The session of adda (kibitz) touched on all topics under the spectrum—politics, travel, personal updates, and many more. The cozy pink-walled living room with its ethnic Indian décor condensed our sense of serenity. Our days in Gurgaon have left us culture shocked, here we never speak our beautiful native tongue outside our house; in fact, even Hindi is rarely spoken in this area -- English is the (un)official language of Gurgaon. Hence, it was a pleasure dropping our guards and participating in the feast of reason and the flow of the soul and mouthing lovely Bengali.

We had decided to do the week’s grocery from Chittaranjan Park, and our host and hostess gladly acquiesced to the invitation of accompanying us to the shopperies. There was a well-spread fish market only a few steps from our friends’ house, which displayed in temporary scaffolds the catches of the day. The fish lay in arrays; their piscine skins shimmering under warm bulb light. My hostess and I refrained from entering the fishy establishment and stood outside as our better halves marched in with alacrity. The market in many ways resembled a famous souk in Kolkata called Gariahat Market. As I observed the surrounding and took in the human-fritinancy that whizzed through the bustling streets, I felt like home. My hostess drew my attention to a jhalmuriwala preparing in his steel jar a concoction of puffed rice, spices, raw onion, lemon, peanuts, mustard oil and thinly sliced coconut-crescents. This mixture is a Kolkata-special-dish, but we abstained from tasting it just before dinner.

After the fish market we headed for the mishtir dokan (sweet shop), the best in the area which had that quintessential sweet shop name on its signboard: Annapurna Sweets. We procured a dozen of their sugary Bengoli desserts coated with layers of khoya and dipped in running syrup.From the flower shop I got a bunch of their freshly-cut, which now marinate in a tall glass vase. My hostess being a gardening-aficionado herself gave me some awesome gardening tips I intend to follow, in good time, though.

The finale of our visit was announced after a sumptuous dinner of lovely Indian food and another round of adda in which the whole Ghosh family participated with élan. We left CR Park around eleven in the night with just as much space in our stomach as to allow our physical system to merely insufflate without any bodily strain. We reached home in twenty minutes owning to the otherwise busy streets being vacant for the nighttime. As I curled up with the reading material on my bed fifteen minutes before heading for the dreamless that night, I felt I heard time and again in the buzz of the air-conditioning machine the vignettes of open-hearted, pure laughter which had surrounded me that evening. 

                       Pictures from the Web. 

Reading "Phone Therapy" -- A Poem by Ellen Bass