Part 6: Things to do/ Places to be in
I promised a riveting personal entry. So, here are the top 3-4 things that I have done, in both cities, in no rank order. Most of these are replicable, with some luck. By the way, I have steered clear of ranking the cities on this dimension at the moment. If provoked, I might!!
4) Singing outside Toto's at 1:30 am: I am not much of a sucker for the nightlife. The noise and the lights makes me feel unwanted. However, standing outside of Toto's on a February night in 2003, I felt like a star. We had gone pub-hopping that night and finally had found ourselves in Toto's, Bandra. At 1:30, they asked us to leave. We were six of us. We came out and started singing Wonderwall. Maybe the song was playing inside. Soon, this group of four men joined us. We switched to American Pie. They didn't leave our song. We sang together, at the top of hoarse voices. At the end of fifteen minutes of song, the auto-rickshaw and taxi-drivers gave us a standing ovation.
3) Getting free ice-cream at Taj at Bohri Mohalla: This is a shop which makes ice-cream by hand-cranking method. We were there on a Ramadan night, looking for the kababs, paya and baida rotis that we had heard so much about. Gogo, N and I had our fill in various holes in the walls and pushcarts. Then, we saw Taj. It looks rather non-descript and was quite hidden in the bright lights outside. However, I had read Busybee and was ready. We ordered three different ice-cream flavours for us - sitafal, watermelon, black currant. Then, having loved all of this, ordered two more flavours - mango and anjeer. Three of us sitting there and eating ice-creams with a determined purpose caught the eye of the owner. He came to us and asked which flavour we liked the best. We said watermelon. He said, "Phir strawberry to kha ke dekho ek baar" (Then, try the strawberry ice-cream) and ordered a strawberry ice-cream for us. When we went to pay, he only charged us Rs. 100 for five ice-creams. "Main chahta tha ki tum strawberry ice-cream khao. Kaisa laga?" (I wanted you to eat strawberry ice-cream. How did you like it?) Needless to say, it was very good.
2) Watching Hariprasad Chaurasia and Jethro Tull jam: This was at the Homi Bhabha auditorium. Hariprasad Chaurasia had played a nifty set for an hour and warmed the audience up sufficiently for Ian Anderson and his boys. Ian came to stage playing his flute. After his first song, he looks at the crowd and remarks, "It's good to see such a young crowd here - I mean, most of you are barely out of your forties." That was true. All around me was salt and pepper hair of various shades. The way they head-banged, sitting on their seats gave me goose-bumps. And all of us sang together. Then, at the end of the show, for an hour, Chaurasia and Jethro Tull came together for us. Liked it a lot, I did.
1) Walking from VT to Regal: The railway hub will always be Victoria Terminus for me, with its wonderful stonework and sculptures. I could stay at the opposite side and keep on looking at the grandeur of the building on top and the mosaic of people down below. However, I rarely do that. For the walk from VT to Regal, via Flora Fountain is one of the splendid walks. There is much to do here - from buying the knick-knacks (coolest of sunglasses to vibrators) from the shops on the way to just let the gaze wander up the friezes and the pillars on the walls. My favourite corner is just before you reach Fountain, where HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank are on one side and a spectacular set of pillars (almost from Fountainhead) on the other. Do wander.
4) Reminiscing on the Butterfield Express: Rail Museum is one of my favourite haunts in Delhi. It is full of old train engines and the bogies, as the name suggests. Amongst other favourite installations was a monorail which belonged to the Patiala State. This time, in 2002, there was a large green bogey, freshly painted, next to it. It had a middle-aged British couple inside, who were still painting the bogey. I found out that Butterfield Express was a bogey which they used to run in India in the 1970s and 80s. It was attached to back of trains and offered customised journeys to English travellers, wanting to see the real India. After fifteen years of service, they stopped. They had come back to restore the bogey and give it back to India. For half an hour, they stopped their work and talked to us about the train. Do ride, when you are in Delhi.
3) Hunting in the Bookfair: There are bookshops, of course in both cities. There's the Strand and Lotus in Bombay. There's Fact & Fiction in Delhi. Then, there's the bookfair which takes acres of space in Pragati Maidan in Delhi. This is the place where I have laid my hands on obscure books like a book of Caribbean fables, when I was ten, bought my first Spiderman digest when I was eight, and at the age of eighteen, found the illustrated Sherlock Holmes, with original illustrations of Sidney Paget. And if you really need a reason why - not many places in Delhi or Bombay would stock a Richie Benaud or a Colin Cowdrey on their shelves. It's been four years since I have gone to this one, but I miss it very much.
2) Shopping at CP: While I can indulge in retail therapy in Bombay, the true shopping experience for me remains Connaught Place. I used to start my journey from KG Marg, where I would go for one of the libraries. The first port of call used to be People Tree, the quaint little shop which has everything from T-shirts to advice on books. After having a look at the music store next door, I would make my way to Palika Bazar for the latest DVDs. Other things to do in the area obviously include the many eating shops including Wenger's and the bookshops strewn across the place. Now one of my favourite haunts in CP is Q'ba, the lounge bar cum terrace which gives a view across CP and the erstwhile Central Park. I would have written about my favourite corner in the sun - Central Park, CP itself but its no more due to the metro.
1) Sleeping under the gate: Two of my favourite nights have been spent out in the open next to India Gate. While security restrictions have curbed the freedom we used to enjoy earlier, you can still experience Delhi and Delhites while eating ice-creams late into the night. Two times, once when a few of us college friends had eaten at Karim's and come for desserts during our college festival and second, on my birthday when after a meal at Pindi's at Pandara Road we dropped by for some air, stay fresh in my memory. I especially like the place for the feeling of belongingness to the city. If you want to see Delhites in action without the chance of violence, do come here.
As I said, most of these are replicable, with luck. By the way, some of these aren't possible in the other city. You are as unlikely to see Jethro Tull and Hariprasad Chaurasia jam in Delhi as to browse through a real book fair in Bombay. Obviously there are many more such experiences in both the cities. Do let me know.