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Tale of Two Cities – Part 1

Tale of Two Cities – Part 1

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Introducing Sandip Mukherjee with the story of his nostalgia. The tale revolves around his childhood days in the two cities Delhi and Calcutta.

PART 1

Baba was sticking brown paper on the windows of our house, the year was 1971 and the month was December. I asked Baba why was he covering all the windows? It was then when he explained that we were at war. The moment all clear siren was sounded (We stayed in the meteorological quarters near the Safderjung Airport in Delhi) I along with friends went to the park in front of the house started playing Indians and Pakistanis. The dilemma was that nobody wanted to be a Pakistani.

Delhi was a small town populated by people working for the government. It used to be a “Sarkari” town with echo of the colonial past. Today in front of my very eyes the eighth city of Delhi rose like a Pheonix and encompassed both our physical and spiritual existence.

My childhood days were spent in Lutyens Delhi (current name of than central/south Delhi) cycling carefree since there was hardly any traffic and private cars were far and few. We used splash about in the fountains India Gate/Rajpath (current name is central vista) and made sure we were dry before we reached home via Lodi Garden after pelting stones and picking the dropped raw mangoes with the mali(gardener) in hot pursuit. Sometimes it used to be tamarind and sometimes it used to be Mulberry. For Mulberry we had to climb the tree and was shooed by the mali very ferociously.  Come to it now I think he purposefully acted slow, so that he couldn’t catch us. It was his benevolence towards us little devils.

Connaught place in 1970s
Connaught place in 1970s

Once in a month Baba (I suspect it was closer to the payday) used to take me and Ma to Connaught Place (currently Rajiv Chowk). This was Delhi’s main shopping and amusement district. Dad had two favorite restaurants Standards and United Coffee House. My main attraction was not food but the Jukebox and ice-cream at Standards (pity it closed down). Baba’s favorite fare was coffee and Mutton Cutlets. Mom used to love going to Super Bazaar (India’s first government owned superstore) here one could buy all kind of exotic foodstuff like canned Tuna, canned Beans, coffee, clothes and most interestingly “toys”.

Super Bazaar in 1970s
Super Bazaar in 1970

Once in a while when dad was feeling generous we would also go to India Hobby Centre or Maharaja Lal & Sons the former for toys and later one used to sell records and had small cubicles where one could listen to any record of one’s choice and post sampling one could buy the record too.

All cinema halls were also in Connaught Place or Chandni Chowk. Chandni Chowk used to be the wholesale market of Delhi and it was very close to Red Fort and Jama Masjid. It used to be very crowded and noisy hence was no favorite of mine. However The Red Fort was always a treat since it was an oasis of tranquility and shops of Meena Bazaar held special attraction for kids. The jalebis of Dariba Kalan were sumptuous.

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Dilip Sen

I got my first taste of the famed Delhi Chole Bhature in the restaurants of Lajpat Rai Market, The Bhatures used be like big inflated footballs served with delicious Chickpeas curry and pickle. I wonder how I as a kid used to pack quite so much in my tiny belly. I used to eat without a care of getting Delhi belly unlike kids now a days. The only caveat was coming back home from these places on DTC buses where we used to wait for long time for the almost empty bus to arrive.

Delhi was a small town with a very laid back atmosphere unlike my annual sojourn to a real city full of hustle-bustle called Calcutta. More about that in my next episode.

To be continued…

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