A meal ticket for the needy

Harsh Mander in  a recent magazine  piece in The Hindu  refers to sale of food token by wayside eateries at  Jama Masjid  and Nizamuddin areas  in Delhi. Idea  is customers can buy these plastic tokens  for hand-outs among the needy in the  neighbourhood. Recipients can exchange the plastic token for a take-away  parcel anytime over a period of one month. The food token system  adopted by eating houses is relevant in the context of ,  what Mr Mander terms,  erosion of  religious charity  traditions .

Poor-feeding m-jan-14-10-019A scene outside Raghavendra temple at Narayana Sastri Road, Mysore.

A survey of places of worship in Delhi  found little evidence of  Christian food charities  in the city ;  mosques no longer opened  their doors to the homeless and hungry; and Hindu temples,  mostly served sweet and oily food sporadically, on fixed sacred days, and rarely with dignity.   Eating houses selling  plastic tokens  in Delhi are located in the vicinity of  places of worship that attract alms seekers.  It is a business model adopted by  eating houses ,  for the benefit  charity-minded pilgrims.

The food token system can be adopted for a drive against hunger,  elsewhere in the country.   Traders and restaurant owners associations in various localities should take a lead.  An operating system for the issue of tokens  can be  evolved by management experts.  MBA students can take it up as class project.  OMR Greens  would welcome an initiative  in this regard by management students at   Hindustan University.  We can approach traders association and eating houses at  Padur-Kelambakkam area  with a project proposal.

The  ‘luncheon voucher’  and  ‘food coupons’  issued by IT companies to employees can be a working model for restaurant and  traders associations to adopt.   Food token can be  priced on cost-sharing basis, and  all three stake holders –  traders body, eating houses in a locality, and their customers who buy the food tokens –   would be  partners  in a  CSR project (community social responsibility) to work for freedom from hunger..

London 2012: Pub culture and our Biradhri

When Sushil Nangia  and his  neighbourhood  friends meet for Sunday beer session  at this  Northwood  heritage pub  Raj Singh Mongia  would be very much  in  their thoughts.   His recent death has left a void and a vacant seat at the pub that cannot be filled.   The Northwood beer-and-gossip group is now down to four members –  Davy, Jaggi, Mongia  (not Raj Singh), and Nangia. They were all Delhi Janpath coffee-house regulars,  who came to the UK in the early 60s.  The coffee house closed down decades back,  but the biradhri  of its regulars bond together wherever they meet.

A handful of them in Delhi,  now retired,  continue to meet daily at  Embassy restaurant in Connaught Place.  Its  convener  S P Dutt,  a retired Air India executive and a coffee-house regular since Delhi University days,   stays in e-mail touch many more. And those visiting Delhi drop in at the Embassy to re-connect with the  biradhri.   Nangia does,  on his annual Delhi trip from UK.

His Northwood  pub group can be said to  represent the UK  chapter of the coffee-house  biradhri.  If only they have a  pub in Heaven,  I suspect ,  my friend Raj Singh would start a coffee-house  chapter  Out There as well.  Membership for this  out- of- this-world chapter wouldn’t be  an issue,  I guess.   Coffee-house notables who are  no more  include  Girilal Jain,  Satinder Singh, Richard Bartholomew, Balwant Gargi,  and O P Kohli.   Jethinder Sethi,  recalling his coffee-days in  the 1950s,  names many more, who are still around  and  ageing.  This blogger completed 74 the other day.

If anyone thinks  of creating  a Walk of  Fame for Janpath coffee-house regulars,  at a Connaught Place sidewalk, (like Hollywood Walk of Fame)  we would have plaques bearing names of ex-PM I K Gujral  ( a coffee-house regular in  early 50s),  his painter brother Satish Gujral,  Nihal Singh Inder Malhotra,  Rakshat Puri,  Rajinder Puri,  Ajit Bhattacharjee, Uma Vasudeva, K N Malik (mota),  K N Malik (chota),  Kapila Vatsayan,  Roshan Taneja, and Irshad Panjathan.

As for  the  Maliks,   a  yarn spun around how they got dubbed,  chota and mota,  has it that  someone who came  looking for  K N Malik at the Delhi Press Club was told by a bearer that there were two of them at the club. When the visitor was asked  which Malik  he was looking for, he said,   ‘the one  who worked for The Times of India‘.  To which the bearer replied,  both Maliks worked for the paper.

Visitor:  I mean,   Malik the reporter who shows up,  but rarely,  at his office.

Press Club bearer:   Both Maliks are are reporters and they are rarely seen at office.

Visitor:  I am looking for the Malik  who doesn’t exert himself much.

Bearer:  Both don’t.

Visitor:  My Malik is usually found at the Club.

Bearer:  Yes, both spend lot of time here.

Visitor:  Mine is on the hefty side.

Bearer: Both are hefty, but one is conspicuously shorter than the other.

This helped the  visitor  identify  his Malik  (the short one) and the  bearer promptly led him to the Club card-room, and  to  chota  Malik

Friday after-office hour at a pub on Gracechurch St.

If the Northwood chapter of coffee-house biradhri meets at a pub,  it is because,  in UK,  they say,  ‘A lot can happen over a pint’ (to borrow the phrase,  from the Cafe Coffee Day slogan).  To quote from a website on UK pubs,  “When it comes to doing business in the UK  then the concept of a  “pub lunch”  is something  everyone will encounter at some stage.  A  public house makes an ideal venue for a business meeting in neutral surroundings” .  I had my first  interview with a magazine owner for job in Afro-Asian Echo at a pub in Paddington rail station.  Most office-goers  drop by at their favourite pub on way home.  And in London they have thoughtfully located a pub in every neighbourhood.  Most Underground stations in Central London are well served with street-corner pubs.

A pub on Fleet Street that has been mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities  because its author Charles Dickens frequented the joint.  Among other  English literary figures who visited at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese  in their time  were Dr Samuel Johnson,  G K Chesterton,  Sir Arthur Conon Doyle,  Alfred Tennyson,  Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith.  Dt Johnson  lived close by, at 17 Gough Square. A note left in the pub’s website refers to a teacher of English as a foreign language who brought students to this pub for a feel of the place.

Excerpts from some  comments:  It’s like walking into a Charles Dickins  novel. The place just oozes a dark unspoilt character. The sawdust on the floors may be unnecessary , but it’s still a nice touch.

…was like walking into the set of Harry Potter film set.

…a strong smell of burning wood tinged the air, heavy with the ghosts of London’s past.

Don’t miss Polly, the parrot who lived at the pub from 1884-1926 and is now stuffed in the tap room!

Dark wooden panels, small windows, lack of  daylight, it is like entering another world.

I visited with 8 other real ale enthusiasts. The Sam Smiths was utter crap.

visited this pub with my class while on a study abroad trip.

I have enjoyed the Cheese for 40 years.

Dwarfed by the high-rise buildings,  a Victorian era building that defied development.  Close to Westminster the Albert pub, they say,  has been a favourite watering hole for MPs. The guide on our sight-seeing tour had it that the Albert had Division Bell fitted in it for the benefit of MPs at the pub, so that they didn’t miss out on voting in the House.

London 2012: Lunch was on Kini

Way back in the 60s when Kini T R  and I worked for a magazine in London – Afro Asian Echo – we used to  lunch together at Oxford St. (at neighbourhood Wimpy Bar ? Do they still have them ?)  Kini usually paid for our meal; I was tight-fisted on more occasions than I cared to remember.  Early this month,  revisiting London after 45 years,  I looked up Kini at Herne Bay, Kent.  And the lunch was on him.
His French-born wife Catherine (we hadn’t met till that day)  lined up pilau rice, cheese-on-tomato, salad, fruits, and red wine to wash it all  down with.  Kini is fond of his wine, said Catherine.  She had earlier  picked us up – Nangia and me – from the railhead in Herne Bay,  made us lunch,  and was to drop us back at the station for our train  to London.  Kini, weak and ailing,  relies on  Catherine to do the running-around in and outside their house.

Catherine, Kini  had said , would await us in a sky blue Fiat.  We spotted each other right away.  Sushil  Nangia and I were the only passengers on the 10.52 from Victoria, London,  to get down at Herne Bay, Kent.  On the drive home Catherine filled us in on her seaside town,  and how she and Kini came to make it their home,  after 40 plus years in London.
Herne Bay station,  on  Kentish coast.  The train takes 90 mins. to London;  and there is one every 30 mins. from here to victoria station

We spent some four hours –  Nangia, and I –  with Kini  reminiscing.  On my return to  Chennai  I got mail  from  Kini saying,  ‘it seems like a tear-jerker when one has to accept that we are never likely to meet again in person.  I share his sentiments, though I couldn’t bring myself  to saying so when we took  leave from him at Herne  Bay the other day.  Kini’s  Chronic Fatique syndrome (CFS) virtually immobilizes him.  And his only window to the world  around him  is the Internet.  And for a few brief months we stayed in touch through a blog-to-blog,  which prompted Kini to articulate his hitchhicking experience,  from Delhi to London – a 40-day saga, over 45 years back.

It was some  five years back that I first heard  about his health  condition,  when Kini e-mailed to informed me about his move from London to a chalet bungalow  in Herne Bay, Kent, ‘geriatric town where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting about on electric scooters  than young lads on noisy motor-bikes’.  His e-mail ended on rather disprited note – ‘ uncertainty and hope fills our lives at present’. Kini’s ailment , they say, is incurable.  What’s is worse,  medical science has yet to figure out the why and the how-come  of his nagging  pains in chest and legs,  of his incessant  sleep problem.  Of late  Parkinson’s  has set in,  making Kini rely on Levodopa  (Sinemet),  a drug that relieves him of distressing symptoms for a limited time.

Kini said he took extra dosage in view of my trip,  so that he could,  hopefully,  spend a couple of hours at a stretch without having to retire to  bed because of fatigue –  “I was – to tell the truth,  apprehensive about your visit to Herne Bay – worrying whether you could endure it,  and whether I could,  with my discreet dosage of dopamine”.   I am 73 and Kini can’t be faulted for associating age with some form of ailment.

As it turned out,  our meeting was engaging,  reflective,  and it triggered memories of men and matters long dead or forgotten.  I noticed Kini had even  listed out some  talking points, just in case we fail to cover them .  As we parted Kini handed me a few issues of Afro-Asian Echo – a collector’s item –   that he had thoughtfully preserved.
The magazine,  of 1966 vintage.  Was published by a Nigerian who had fled to London following rioting in Lagos, and assassination of prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (on our magazine cover).

Kini commissioned articles,  from Subhash Chopra,   Adil Jussawala,  and Farrukh Dhondy.  They were no big names then.  Dhondy, writer, playwright,  social activist,  widely known among British Indian community for his stint at BBC Channel 4,  was a student at Cambridge when Kini got him to write for Afro-Asian Echo.  Adil a poet and writer,  who was then,  I believe,  teaching English for a living in London of mid-Sixties.  Subhash Chopra worked at the business desk in The Times,  London,  after stints in a couple of provincial dailies.  Chopra has since authored two books – Partition – Jihad and Peace;  and India and Britannia – an abiding affair.
  On racial prejudice Farrukh Dhondy wrote of insulation of the student community at Cambridge.
A foriegn student rarely faces the despair that haunts the working immigrant when he looks for a place to stay in, or for employment, or for ways to keep up with living. Most colleges ensure that strange faces fit in and are absorbed. They send African, Asian or West Indian students to landladies who confess to having no race prejusice.

When I went to North East England for work,  my newspaper – The Northern Echo – had advertised and interviewed  my prospective landlady to ensure I wasn’t exposed to racial prejudice in my neighbourhood during my stint in the newspaper at Darlington.  In fact the landlady and her husband met me at the station to take me to our residence when I first arrived in  Darlington to take up the newspaper job.

After lunch,  as Kini and I were on our nostalgia  trip  down the memory lane,  Nangia offered to do  the dishes,  and make coffee.  We were waiting for Catherine to return from a meeting of the local Workers Education Committee.  As Kini put it, besides taking care of him she finds  time for weekly Arts group meetings;  for learning skills as a water colourist.   Kini once wrote that Catherine was so enamoured with Herne Bay and Canterbury cathedral  that she spent  there as much time as she could,  hoping to become a knowledgeable guide to visiting friends and relatives.

Catherine would have loved to show us around her town,  if only we had time. On our drive back to the station to catch the 16.32 to London  she talked about her familiarization trip to India,  and of the time she spent at Kini’s village in Mangalore.  This was quite a while ago.  Catherine wasn’t sure, if  they would have another chance to do India.

Oh God, ‘have we overstayed ?’

Australian player Luke Pomersbach of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) team was arrested Friday for allegedly molesting an American woman in a five-star hotel…..

IPl chairman Rajiv Shukla said: “We are not responsible for behaviour of individuals in hotels …

Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR),is banned by MCA from entering Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium over his alleged misbehaviour at the ground Wednesday night.

These lines are excerpted from an IANS report that  summed up IPL-related happenings on a given day.  An edit-page  piece by academic Mukul Kesavan  reckons the business model adopted by Indian Premier League (IPL) celebrates decadance of cricket with ‘contempt for convention and procedural scruples’. Glitzy costumes, chorused countdowns, TV commercials that breathlessly talk up individual players,  blur the distinction between competitive sport and Hulk Hogan-style entertainment,  according to Kesavan.

And then my schooldays friend,  S Balakrishnan,  sent me the other day  his take on cricket ,  in  free verse.

The need for this rhyme
Is that in my time
Cinema, cricket and crime
Never were the news prime

Seeing a 7-column front page
Devoted for cricket coverage
In all the Dailies of the new age
It is difficult to suppress my rage

I and my friends are dismayed
Dear God, ‘have we overstayed ?’

When Tsunami lashed Japan’s shore
Our leaders asked, ‘What’s the score ?’
When houses and cars floated like match boxes
Our media lamented for lost matches
And missed catches

They  shout, ‘Over’
When it’s never over!

When crushed by burden of loans
Our farmers commit suicide
For fallen wickets our media moans
And for every run we take pride

Our Appalling moral rot
Illiteracy,  poverty, dirt and squalor
Appear to matter not
So long as our ladies can visit beauty  parlor

What is all this ?
Here everything is amiss
Dear God, ‘have I overstayed’.

Overstayed?  My friend,  at 73,  is  a practicing  Supreme Court senior advocate. We belong to the era of  Vinoo Mankad,  Marchant and Hazare (Vijay).  Though I haven’t known him touch a bat or ball,  Balu closely followed the course of our Madrasi School team in Delhi. And even offered advice, off-pitch, to our captain and mutual friend Kasturi Rangan.  Even without Balu’s guidance we  managed to come close to the bottom of the chart in inter-school tournaments. But then, as Balu would put it,  it’s the spirit of the sport, not the score , that counted in cricket.   Balu still calls me by the nick name – Mankad –  that I acquired,  not so much for proficiency in cricket,  but because I was the only left-handed bowler  in our school team.

Finding Irshad: A Google-yuga saga

My search for Irshad Panchatan started a couple of years back,  with a blog-post – Irshad Mia, where are you ? –  about a long-lost coffee-house comrade.  We were regulars at New Delhi Janpath coffee house in early 1960s.  It has been so long ago that  Irshad  had remained in my fading memory cells  a forgotten folder , waiting to be retrieved.

This was till a couple of years ago when I happened by on TV a familiar face  in the telecast of  this German movie – Reclaim Your Brain.  The face was that of  Irshad Panchatan,  my coffee-house  friend.  I couldn’t contain my excitement. Of course,  Irshad wasn’t a close pal,  but  sharing a coffee-house table tied us into a biradari (brotherhood).   And then,  it has been over 50 years – time lapse of a yuga,  after which a re-connect triggers excitement of its own. During our lost decades  we   drifted away from New Delhi,  into our separate work life,  and into marriage,  family,  retirement, and now,  ageing .  He must be 80 ;  I am 73.

We now have the Internet,  Facebook,  Linked-in and other social networking tools.  They weren’t of any help in finding Irshad.  Wikipedia entry on him is in German.    I blogged about him – Irshad Mia, where are you ? – in the hope that if Irshad or someone who knew of his current whereabouts were to read my piece in DadiNani ,  he or she would know where to find me.  This was my way of sending a message-in-the-bottle,  tossed out  into cyberspace.

After doing the blog-post I sent the link to  another coffee-house friend S P Dutt  (NDTV Barkha’s dad),  and  he forwarded it to his friends.  Speedy’s (is how friends call S P Dutt) networking  produced a Berlin phone number.  As part of the Janpath coffee-house brotherhood  Speedy got involved in the search for Irshad.  For the next few days the three of us –  Speedy (in New Delhi), Sushil Nangia (in London),  and I (from Mysore) called Berlin. No response.

Stonewalled by unanswering ringtone from the Berlin phone line, we gave up our search.  My wife and I moved base from Mysore to Chennai – this was an  year back.  Irshad lapsed out of mind, till the other day when DadiNani  editor Subodh Mathur    e-mailed, saying,  your message in the bottle made it to Irshad Mia’s daughter.  Rita Sonal Panjatan had left a  comment in my blog post – The message in the bottle has reached, I will forward this to my father.

And within the next two days I get a mail from the man himself –   ‘Your bottle must have touched so many shores of different planets before it was fished by Rita in a German space shore’.  Irshad quoted Firaq to convey his feelings at  hearing from someone he didn’t ever think  he could –   Urdu poets  have a couplet for  every thing,  don’t they.

And then,  added Irshad: I was stunned…your message took me back into the 60s, to beautiful days of our meetings at Delhi Coffee House …. Those meetings played a very important role in my life,….am thankful to my Coffee House friends. Their critique helped me become a Pantomime. You,  RG Anand and Balraj Komal were my main critical guides.  M S Mudder who put me on stage on and on (with whom I’m still in contact) and O P Kohli  (died decades ago) who used to do the lights for me…Two years back,  moderator of German TV show  ‘Weltspiegel’ (World mirror)  Navina Sudarum,  niece of painter Amrita Sher-Gil, sent me the newspaper cutting relating to Dr.Charles Fabri (The Statesman dance critic), who loved and encouraged me as you also know.  It was a lovely and very important time for us all,  that we can never forget.

I left India again in 1971….for Europe, where I stayed, as you know, with Ingrid in Berlin, and later, opened a Pantomime School also. But that I closed in 1995 and after some time also stopped performing. Now from time to time I get offers to act in small roles in German TV and Films.

I am eighty and Ingrid is still beautiful and active. Rita, who did her MA from London School of Economics,lives close to us.

A childhood with grandpa

When you grew up, or raised your own kids, did you have an experience which felt 100% real to you? So said the IndiBlogger e-mail announcing the Kissanpur contest.

I couldn’t recall right away any anecdote or childhood incident that fit the bill. It is easier to think of episodes in life that made you ‘feel good’, but are they necessarily the ones that give you the feel that they are real,100 percent ? The real-feel episode I share in this post wasn’t a feel-good one while I went through the phase. But as I look back on it, I feel it was as real as they come.

If it wasn’t for IndiBlogger e-mail, I wouldn’t have strayed so far down the memory lane, some 65 years back, to dredge up a childhood that I spent with  thatha (grandpa). This was in mid-1940s when I was less than 10 years old, living away from parents, with my grand-parents. When my parents moved to New Delhi – father being in a govt. job – they left me behind under the charge of grand parents in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu.
The primary school I went to,  in Telugu Brahmin St., was across the road from my grandparents’ place. Periappa – father’s elder brother – was the school head-master. Which wasn’t such a good arrangement. My uncle, a stern disciplinarian, was  a terror in the school. What was worse, besides being the school head, he took Class IV.  And, as his nephew, I wasn’t shown any favour, though they counted me among his favorites, off school. He made me stand up on the bench (a standard punishment) even for minor lapses such as talking to someone across bench,  trading match-box labels or cigarette-pack fronts  with classmates during school-hours.

At home grandpa, a retired cop,  ran our household of three – that is, grandma and me – a bit like a police training establishment. I had a time-table for meals, play, study, and sleep. The only grace-time (when I could do whatever I felt like) was when grandpa had his afternoon snooze. But then I was away in school, on week days, returning home at 4.30 p m. By which time grandpa would be up and about.
Grandmother, subject to her time-table, occasionally flouted it.  She would simply disappear next door – like they do for water-cooler breaks in offices –  for a mid-day gossip with neighbour; or she would linger longer than  warranted, at our door front chatting thayirkari (lady selling buttermilk door to door).

Grandma got away with it,  but I wouldn’t dare flout the routine, set for study and play. Regulation play-time started at 5 p m, when I escorted thatha to the neighbourhood Gandhi park. He took a designated park bench for listening the evening radio programme relayed all over the park through a public address system. I wasn’t obliged to listen to radio, though. Grandpa would let me try the swings, slides and things in the play area. An hour and quarter later, 6.30 pm,  we headed home.

Study time, under thatha’s watchful guidance, started at 7 p m. An hour later,  he retired for 15 mins.  to the kitchen for evening meals. On his return, 8.15 p m, ,thatha made his own bed  on a cement slab embedded in a corner of his room. What followed was 15 minutes of question time, when thatha would ask me something, anything,  from class lessons, lying in bed.  At 8.30 p m, as if on cue, patti (grandma) showed up at thatha’s door to summon me for meals. That was the signal to which I looked forward the whole evening; the signal that my day was done.

Such small delights made my day. Grandma, as most of the clan are,  was considerate. She would even let me sit in at after-dinner gossip session grandma held with neighbours at the door-front thinnai ( a cement platform to seat a gossip group).

I hate to admit this, my feelings were mixed – sad, if somewhat relieved –  when thatha passed away . At the age of 11  I rejoined  my parents in New Delhi

Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.