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From Delights to Dilemmas: Days in Delhi

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1) Savoring the Skies

The skies of Delhi have an imperceptible way of surprising and disappointing you at the same time. Because after a particularly long day of monsoon having reigned over the skies, you would be least expecting a scathing sunshine to simmer down your cheery mood, and that’s if the puddles run over by cars don’t. And then, right in the midst of February when you would be dreading the transition from goose bumps to a light sheen of sweat over your skin, you’d be rewarded by no signs of the sun’s sorry face.

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2) The Means of Traversing

Metros have finally grown on me. Ever since the day I dreaded stepping inside the doors that seemed to close without any prior warning, felt like the crowd inside was closing up on me, held onto the pillars and panels for dear life lest I  be jerked into an embarrassing fall to the day when the inertia beneath my feet holds me still, the risk of getting inside just before the doors close gives me thrills and the feeling of cold emptiness on seeing strange faces everywhere is replaced by the complacent ability to get lost in my own world within a compromised space – I have come a long way, and I’m glad.

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The whistling past of metros as you wait for a friend flutters beneath your skin; as the wind plays with your pants around your ankles, the clock blaring digits in pixels of bright red and people hurrying with earphones declaring their unwillingness to interact- metro stations feel like the tinge of freedom on your fingertips as you navigate your ways towards yellow, violet and blue lines on stairs that move and some that don’t with the bittersweet feeling of being surrounded by people who are strangers but only in faces and the way they acquire spaces.

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3) The Meandering Matters of the Market

Markets in Delhi are one of those peculiar places that refuse to be contained by dimensions; whether it be the ones that are surrounded by cubicles of glasses reflecting the yellow fancy lights of a mall or the ones where the stalls have encroached on the streets so that you would have to walk in compromised spaces displaying the fanciest replicas of branded clothes. Then there are the ones where the shine of oxidized silver pulls at the strings of your aesthetic soul, the jingles of little bells and reflections of small glasses promising to go with every traditional wear. And just when you thought that by barely skimming through the streets of Chandni Chowk you have had a taste of the real Delhi; you land in Majnu ka Tilla – a place that takes your breath away with its culture, tradition and a disciplined behavior of the inhabitants. The little Tibetan Colony would make you regret spending money on visiting Dharamshala or McLeod Ganj with the prominence of culture coming in the form of streets that diverge and distribute into cleaner, quieter and peaceful spaces.

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And that’s not all. Similar but broader lanes of Khan Market feel of a totally different time with buildings of colonial designs, looming and tall in their sculpted and whitewashed glory of a million cafes with their expensive menus. Even the IPhone cases hung against the walls feel posh and unaffordable, but you let yourself splurge for the sake of guilty pleasures and treating yourself in the form of fancy pizza places and fancier confectionaries. Finally, as the streets with their turns and stone clad roads carry you forward, you realize window shopping never felt better.

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4) Cut to the Cafes

The cafes in Delhi are everything but isolated, they pop up almost unwittingly in all the possible places that people frequent. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find one Big Chill or CCD hiding sneakily behind inconspicuous streets. Nevertheless, there are some standing out amidst the monotony of those or some, that are as promising from the inside as they seem from the outside. The décor of these places is one of the main attractions for me, for they work on bringing out a comfortable, aesthetic as well as cozy feel that makes people want to come again. Whether it is the murals on the walls, or the fancy chandelier with a twist of casualty of dried flowers or empty wine bottles glimmering with fairy lights or even books kept on the shelves to give a book lover’s heart some respite- all of it makes a person’s experience 10 times better.

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Sometimes it feels like Delhi tries to compensate for its unpleasant outdoors by trying to capture all the beauty within four walls, as can be seen in the context of these cafes making the best use of flowers, trees and terraces that let in natural light. But sometimes the authenticity is lost in the chase of aesthetics as one gets bored of the artificiality of it all. Nevertheless, what is extremely essential is also to identify places where you can find cheap as well as savory food, the décor and the interior aside, because you cannot visit the Big Yellow Door every time you crave a burger. (Just some of the perks of studying in South Campus.)

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5) Matter of the Monuments

But of course, how can we forget the time when all of this didn’t exist and when Dilli had its original pride in all the minars, mosques, tombs and forts that formed the very core of the city. Ranging from Jama Masjid and Humayun’s Tomb to Lodhi Gardens, the sandstones and marbles inscribed with verses , the feeling of rough stone under your feet immediately satiated by the cool of perfectly manicured gardens and the passageways and entryways echoing with the noise of school kids on a field trip contrasted by the accented voices of the foreigners- Delhi levels its history and contemporariness on scales made of ages of sacrifice as it limits and expands for more and more people.

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The crowds here are an interesting mixture of foreigners, tour guides, the locals and then the daily wage workers selling food items at prices double than the actual rate. Not to forget the (young) couples, lost in their personal spaces created behind the ancient walls scratched with arrowed hearts and initials of their names. But, these monuments do provide Delhi a dimension with the way they hold their own space, harboring isolation and indulgence, as well as commercial benefits all within their ancient structures. They lend to Delhi an ancient feel, as if it has just sat down to weave a tale that our history textbooks missed out upon.

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6) Gamble of Goodbyes

I have come a long way when it comes to carefully introducing the idea of Delhi to my limited notions of home. Nevertheless, each time I leave town for a short break I feel unhinged of responsibilities tethered to me, each time I feel the burden shift a bit from my shoulders as the bus covers 162 kms of distance and then to get comfortable again as soon as it’s time to come back. For that time always arrives a bit too soon for my liking.

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The distance between leaving and coming back or coming back and leaving could be made into a circle. Each part of it is tinged unequally with satisfaction and disappointment. Yet, nothing is more prominent than the strength that surges up as I leave behind all that I have been familiar with, with a debatably straight face in order to go back to whatever I have been trying to familiarize myself with. I suppose the ability of being able to limit emotions too personal for people to yourself is relieving in all its strength.

Written and Photographed by Ananya Vasishtha

Feature Image by Ananya Vasishtha

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Dear Diary

The pages aren’t yellow yet – not yet, not yet, not yet. There’s years to go before things fade, before the ink begins to look like it was out of another history – before the pictures begin to tell stories that no one has heard.

And there it is. Someone wrote this. Someone cared, almost definitely.

Diary Entry:

 “All I am is a man,
I want the world, in my hands.”

Image: Silhouettes against a reading lamp, in an unknown territory. In the background a young couple reads a book while suppressing their smiles. They are both reading a different book.  

“She knows what I think about and what I think about”

Image: Walking by the beach; hair, hair everywhere. They’ve just bought a puppy. They’re looking at each other – ‘Are we a family now?’ Noses scrunched up, they laugh over the wind.

“Sometimes the silence guides our minds to move to a place so far away”

Image: Faces looking directly at the camera, wide-eyed, just before they were about to smile. This is an in-between. Heads on laps, a rumpled blanket of warmth – more warmth radiating from them.

“The minute that my left hand meets your waist
And then I watch your face”

Image: First couple photo? Let us make it candid. Someone cracks a joke. The image is filtered with fake laughter, heads turned towards each other. 

“Inside this place is warm
Outside it starts to pour”

Image: Another one of the complete family. A five month old puppy in one’s hand, the couple smiling inside their house; chilled beer in the other hand. Fairy lights buzz in the background. Camera quality is bad; the lights seem like fireflies, until you focus. 

“One love, one house”

Image: Nothing screams family photo more than one with the friends.

“Let’s have an adventure”

Image: Grey hoodies sprawled across a couch, phone charges and deodorants. A few other essential items, all in pairs – except, ironically, the shoes. 

“Cause it’s too cold for you here,
So now let me hold both your hands
In the holes of my sweater”

Image: Hands, holding each other. Snow in the background. The cold can be a good place too. 

Written by Samidha Kalia

Image by Radhika Aneja

7.19

“For several hours my heart ached,
but I woke up—smiling.”
– Ha Jin

Seven minutes and nineteen seconds
Before the digital clock starts beeping
Before I kick my blanket
open my eyes
wear my socks and
shiver as the first wave of cold air hits my bare arms.

Seven minutes and nineteen seconds
with my bed holding me
with the world outside still not awake
Seven minutes and nineteen seconds of
seeing and hearing and
feeling and thinking about –

How the scar remains from when the
steaming cups of coffee had burnt our hands
How the dog is sitting, panting at the foot of the bed,
wearing an ugly sweater your grandmother will keep
on knitting for him despite refusal, after refusal, after refusal
How the heater refuses to work for ten minutes
till you curse and yell and promise yourself that you will buy a new one and
will then start when you don’t need that warmth anymore
How the gloves lie on the table,
a wide array of colours and patterns
and how I pick up the black ones every single time
How the windows of the cars are shut tight and
glazed with fog, random things drawn
– a tree here and a heart there and a name scribbled all wrong by
tiny hands and old ones too.

How the dogs howl and growl at each other
while a stranger shrinks back from them
shoving his hands into his pockets
casting shadows all across the street under the lanterns
How the workers grumble and whisper complaints
disappearing into the fog and
how their families make homes on the frozen pavements
with a fire warming them through the endless nights
and the days filled with grey skies
How the people will rush outside as soon as the sun comes out and
sit on the foldable chairs and beds
eating oranges under the slanted rays.

How the old lady in my building will sit outside,
soaking the last bit of the sun
her grey hair scattered across her face, her hands knitting mittens
she hasn’t completed in three years
How the crying child on the first floor
with a running nose and a fever
is asked if he wants soup every five minutes
with his mother whining,“Oh god, it’s flu season!
into her phone every time I pass by
How I long for the soup my mother used to make
and how it would’ve been easier if I had just
agreed to this last night
How the boy in the neighbouring house
will come outside in the evening to play
his violin, the tunes getting more melancholic
as the air gets harsher
How the soft music flows
and how the winter blues enter each soulit
will be months before they come out
How the remains of the tune still remain
in the air in the mornings for me to catch
if I listen closely enough.

How you drove from the library, your coat covered with snow
and your face smiling
at the passages in a book you found
How I can still see the smile and
can still feel my hands brushing the snow off your coat
How your nose and eyes were red
as we sat on the edge of the grass that warm winter afternoon
and I told myself
it was just cold and not tears
and how I believed myself
How the polaroid pictures
stuck to the refrigerator
are beautiful and necessary
and not brutal and unwanted
How the months in the calendar are now filled with X’s
and when did the year pass by – so suddenly, so quietly?

How you can faintly hear the birds screeching and shrieking,
flying across the horizon
I wonder if they are cold too
but deep down, I know
none of us are warm
at least not warm enough
But I also think of the little boy who
hated winters here
looked at pictures of children playing in the snow
and said, “It’s cold here but not cold enough.

How after
seven minutes and nineteen seconds
of this and that
of life turning and twisting and tossing
and settling,
my weary hands will go all across the bed
past the empty space next to me
and the empty space within
to shut it off completely.

Written by Pragati Sharma

Image by Chetanya Godara

Coping Mechanisms / Things You Don’t Say Over the Phone

“How hot is it in Delhi now?
You had better be
Drinking lots of water,
Eating the right food,
Wearing the right clothes.”
(We wish we were there to take care of you.)

“It’s okay, mom, dad, I’m taking steps.
I have
A full water bottle,
Yogurt in the fridge,
Light cotton clothes,
Knowledge of what foods will heat me up from the inside.
I have all the wisdom borrowed from you.
I am taking care of myself.”
(I wish you would come and do it for me.)

“Mom, the weather was actually nice today.
For once, I didn’t feel sweaty the whole time.”
(I’m sound much more excited
Than I actually am
For your benefit.)

“Oh, really? It’s so cloudy and grey and depressing here today.”
(But I’m vicariously enjoying
your pleasant day.)

“Mom, I had to wear socks today.
It’s getting chilly.
By the way,
when should I add the tea leaves
to the water on the stove?”
(I’m trying to keep warm here
The same way I keep warm at home.
But I wish you would make me tea —
I always tend to overbrew.)

“Make sure you ask your Delhi friends
What kind of covers will be enough.
Will you be able to go buy it on your own?”
(I know you’re putting off these essential things
And I hate that
there’s not much I can do about it.)

“Dad, we were all choking in college today.
The masks I bought are just fabric,
They keep out dust, not smoke.”
(This experience was so surreal
And so scary.
My description doesn’t do it justice.)

“Please buy better masks.
Should I order them online for you?”
(I’m cursing the strange, faraway city I sent you to.
The city which is so fast and harsh,
With a survival code of its own.)

“Mom, dad, today I went to Lajpat Nagar
and bought a nice, thick razai.
Dinner was quite sad last night
But my roomies and I made eggs.
My new masks arrived in the mail,
And my friends are taking me sweater-shopping soon.
I have to go now–
The tea I made is getting cold
And I have a reading to finish for tomorrow.”
(I have a lot on my plate
But I am as chipper as I sound
And I think I am doing okay.)

Written by Madhuboni Bhattacharya

Image by Aanchal Juneja

 

Cold

“The hills, they’re glowing with warmth,”
You’d say
As you shivered
Underneath the hand-knit sweater
That Nani had compelled you to wear.
You’d be loath to admit
That the sharp winter breeze
Left you
Chilled.
“The sun burns earnestly this time of the year,”
You’d say
As you’d sit staring at the river,
Lost in the decaying memories
Of places you’d almost forgotten.
You’d come out of your musings
With songs that would speak
About the glory Of the rains.
“There’s something comforting about this weather,”
You’d say
As you nursed the scalding cup of tea
Thrust forcefully into your hand.
You’d sit in the balcony,
Prolonging the sunsets
With your delicately short
And sparse
Sips.
“Conversations are cozier in winters,”
You’d say As you gasped for breath
After a coughing bout.
You’d barely manage a croaky hello,
Yet we’d hear you the most,
Within your muffled coughs.
You’d feign good health
For the sake
Of words.
“It’s unnaturally cold for this time of the year,”
You said, that day
As Nani reluctantly turned the fan down
On a sultry, August evening.
That day, within the orchards
Of your private world
It snowed.
Icy snowflakes kissed
The cherry trees
That watched you grow old.
Soft gray clouds beckoned
With morbid comfort,
And silence,
Calming,
Reassuring,
Gnawing silence
Enveloped everything.

Written by Avani Solanki

Image by Sheena Kasana

Year’s End

What does one want in any body but the world?’

The other day,
I drove to the pond we grew up near,
Because I was learning something about goodbye.

I don’t know how to drive
And the distance will always be too much or too little
For a drive,
But that day, I drove.

It was quiet, it always is.
When I say quiet, I don’t mean
Silence, I don’t mean
Peace, I mean the stillness we knew to be palpable
To be so delicate that even whispering it would be
Acknowledging it
And acknowledging it would mean
Destroying
The silence which was truly that.

It’s a safe space, not because it offers comfort,
But because it doesn’t offer danger.

*

In the recent past, I’ve learnt that.
I’ve learnt that how are you is a question spilling over with potential
And doesn’t necessarily formally inquire after your emotional state
I’ve learnt
We exist in the spaces we create
Between our selves
And we can’t breathe when we talk because
You can accept either the words or the air that existed in a body.

I’d rather take the air because there is something you can’t control
And swerve and veer and stop and slam the door on
And there is no safety valve, no fire escape, no water to swallow pills
No first aid no punctuation no rehearsal
No moments of indecision over conversations and situations you handpicked
And stitched together in a patchwork sweater, of
Bad sentences, bad beginnings, terrible conclusions, a body that
I completely ignored because of the ringing in my ears.

No, I’d rather take your heavy breathing into my mouth
And your heavy breathing when you slam the door
And believe that both of them is love.

*

The other day,
I drove into the pond we grew up near,
Because I was learning something about goodbye.

Because I don’t know how to drive
Because the distance will always be too much or too little
For a drive,
So that day, I drove.

It was quiet, it always is.
When I say quiet, I don’t mean silence, I don’t mean peace,
I mean the stillness we knew to be palpable
To be so delicate that even whispering it would be
Acknowledging it
And acknowledging it would mean
Destroying
The silence which was truly that.

It’s a safe space, not because it offers comfort,
But because it doesn’t offer danger.

‘Of course it is happening inside your head. But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’

Written by Stuti Pachisia

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

 

Sweater Weather

I love winters
Because they remind me, how
being warm is so important;
not just by the body,
but by the heart.
How proximity,
when knitted with affection
sometimes, to great boundaries,
can calm the soul down

I love winters
Because the fog reveals
how oblivious I am
to the power around me, which asks me
to shine apart
Which teaches me
to be fearless and
to celebrate the oblivion
that harbours inside me

Yet

I love winters
Because of the longer nights
for me to decipher
What exactly is scarier,
The demons around, or just
my conscience,
Personified.

Written by Megha Tej Kaul

Image by Joy Malsawmhlui

Mirrors: Reflection and Realism

The realm of fantasy has a lot of mirrors that contain wonderful worlds on the other side. These worlds are wonderful because in the blank of mirrors, beyond those reflections, only imagination exists; they remain wonderful because the ‘other side’ of mirrors can’t be accessed. Perhaps it because of our familiarity with our own side, which abates our amusement with it, that we always fantasise about these mirror worlds that look the same and yet are ‘the other’.

Reality confirms that such mirrors, containing wonderful worlds, only exist in the realm of fantasy. For a mirror is essentially blank…the blank can’t contain… the blank doesn’t have anything of its own because it is, well, blank. It just reflects everything in its plain exactness. And outside the realm of fantasy, the virtue of mirrors lies not in containing fantastical worlds, but reflecting our own in its exactness and precision.

Of all the well-known painted mirrors, one of the most important in fine arts is a round convex mirror in the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, which owes its immense fame to its precision of detail in reflection.

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The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait by Jan Van Eyck is a full size portrait of a newlywed couple, holding hands, standing in a room that has a huge round convex mirror on the rear wall. The mirror lies at the heart of this painting despite being in the background; the quality of a convex mirror to converge the size of reflected image while maintaining clear details is what Jan Van Eyck utilises to portray the opposite side of the room. The scene on the opposite side shows two figures just entering the room. The cold expression on the couple’s faces, otherwise unfit for a wedding portrait, can now be explained by the reflected scene as dismay over interruption by visitors. Knowledge of the scene on the opposite side changes our perception of scene on this side.

Turns out, a mirror need not contain an alternate world on the other side to inspire imagination. This mirror and the way Van Eyck used it has inspired a multitude of artists from all times, and had a major influence on artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood four centuries later. This was a group of artists who advocated realism in its extreme detail and precision, and were greatly intrigued by the mirror in the Arnolfini portrait. Mirrors are commonly featured in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, a lot of them painted in the likeness of that of the Arnolfini Portrait. Though mirrors have always been a valued tool in realist art, for the Pre-Raphaelites, mirrors were important not just for their form, but also the subject, meaning and symbolism of what they painted.

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In Il Dolce Far Niente by William Holman Hunt, the eyes of the lady fixedly gaze at the spectator, or the artists for whom she might be modelling. As used in the Arnolfini portrait to show the opposite side, such mirrors have been used by many artists to create double portraits in their paintings—portraying themselves in the very act of painting that painting. A closer look of the mirror on the rear wall in ‘Il Dolce Far Niente’, however, shows no one on the opposite side. Instead of gazing at a spectator, or modelling for the artist painting her, she is found to be just staring into the fireplace. The reflection in the mirror is what, in fact, gives meaning to the painting and makes good its title “the sweet pleasure of doing nothing”.

In another painting by the same artist, ‘The Awakening Conscience’, a couple are captured in the middle of what seems like a light romantic moment. Various objects in their surroundings, along with the lack of a ring on girl’s left hand, make it clear that she lives in an unhappy state of a mistress. Yet the girl looks hopeful and dreamy. A reflection in the mirror behind her, of a green and sunny world on the outside, reveals what she actually fancies—freedom away from this luxurious entrapment, not idle romance that provides for her vain pleasures.

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Hunt was one of the founding artists of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These paintings are prime examples of how the Pre-Raphaelite concept of realism was much more extensive than its visual aspect. Here, realism does not mean photo-realistic rendering of what fits in the frame. Their paintings certainly have much more than what can fit in a frame and this realism is rather concerned with presenting the picture in its entirety and exactness—what mirrors are used for.

These mirrors, more than reflecting what we can’t view otherwise, deflect our vision from what is right in front of us, and change our perspective about what we might see so plainly and take for granted. They remind us that there need not be worlds on the other side of mirrors, the world on this side is fascinating enough if looked at from new perspectives; and while fantasising about the inaccessible ‘other side’, we often miss out on reality of our own side.

Written by Eshna Gupta

Painting by Jan Van Eyck

Image Edited by Chetanya Godara

A Delhi-cious Affair

I have always been a worrier, of sorts. I pride myself on being someone who organizes all of her time and work in a manner such that I don’t succumb to the, all too, familiar endless pit of worrying. Except that it didn’t work too efficiently during and after tenth grade. When you’re just a little tenth-grader, eleventh-grade seems like a prolonged bus ride during the span of which, you just happen to be motion-sick. Twelfth-grade is this laborious and knee-wrecking trek you have to take; once you step off the bus –  tired and nauseous. And College? College is scaling a mountain after you have trekked all the way and only to realize that the bus has left – without you.

I arrived in Delhi in July 2017 – fresh out of school, with a giant suitcase (the handle of which fell off the very next day) and a nervous yet excited smile – the feeling of apprehension lurked not-so-subtly about my every step. I had always talked about (i.e. shamelessly preached about, in my writing) stepping out of one’s comfort zone and here I was, literally fifteen hundred kilometers away from my safe haven. I was on a three-year adventure, with little mini-adventures and encounters around every corner of the way.

With little over four months into college and a new city, I had checked off a lot of new firsts on my list: my first bank account and first ATM withdrawal, first time on the metro alone, first time washing my own clothes, amongst other things. Not all of these firsts were restricted to daily activities though; first time watching a live play at the National School of Drama, first time witnessing the grandeur of Durga Puja out on the streets, first time bargaining fiercely at Sarojini market, first time feeling independent sans any terms and conditions. I become a little more confident every day and the feeling felt like no other. For the first time,  I felt like a newbie adult.

All of what I have described is just the paraphernalia that tags along with the whole “College Experience.” In truth, it is actually the full-fledged honours classes, internal assessments and end-semester exams that really seem to crowd my small plate made of Poor Time Management. When you’re a student of the CBSE board, every task in college just becomes twice as hard: getting used to having a 250 word limit for a ten marker question doesn’t fare well academically after twelfth-grade. Moreover, exam time implies greater vulnerability to stress. In the past few years, my parents’ physical presence has manifested itself in the form of moral support. Now, it has been reduced to good vibrations over the phone.

For me, independence was never about escaping my family – nor was it about having more freedom or being able to do things I couldn’t do otherwise – the concept of independence was, and will always be more along the lines of learning how to do things on my own; making my own decisions, discerning between what’s right and wrong without having someone tell me. It’s about setting things right after having made a mistake.

One major upside of me embracing my independence (read: not having my family around) is that I learned how to parent myself – I took care of myself and tried not to let anything harm me, be it physical or psychological; and if it did, I read manuals on how to get past it without a crutch. I constantly reminded myself to drink enough water because, all I saw when I looked at my empty Tupperware bottle was my mother asking , “Beta, how much water did you drink today?” Or when I had already eaten my two-roti meal and I was still craving  rice, I saw my father’s bobble-head in the air exclaiming , “Beta your plate is empty! Have some rice.” I learned how to balance my expenses, how to grocery shop, how to use the GPS better, how to fight peer pressure by myself as opposed to hoping that my mother’s “no” would serve as an excuse to dodge forceful invitations.

I’m halfway through my first year of college, and aside from the few bruises and scrapes I’ve earned on the climb up this mountain, it’s been quite alright. But then again, I’m only in my first year. Is it too much to ask, that you check up on me in a couple of months?

Written by Sukriti Lakhtakia

Feature Image by Joy Malsawhmlui

The Momo Life

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had been a part of an informal, yet essential initiation ceremony. Standing outside the back gate of LSR, I joined the gaggle of first years standing awkwardly in front of the thele-wala bhaiyya. We had been spoilt for choice – pasta in two different sauces, chilli chicken, kathi rolls, chilli potatoes, noodles, manchurian. But, the initiation demanded that we make one choice, a choice as old as time itself. ‘Bhaiyya, one plate momos,’ said the girl standing in front of me. And like sheep, we all followed her lead. ‘I don’t want to have it,’ I told my friend mutinously. Being my usual fastidious self, all I could think of was, whether momos could cause typhoid (one attack of the disease had made me averse to all food being sold on streets). My friend (she is my Pallas Athena, I swear) answered me with a simple question – ‘Are you not human?’

After that I made my peace with the fact that I was eating momos, come rain or hail. Finally, our turn came and we were handed that small cardboard and foil plate. And then we saw them- beautifully wrapped, pristine white and stuffed with goodness, sitting atop fiery red sauce. Not one word more was said, the hypnotic pull of the momos caused our hands to simply reach out for them and stuff them in our faces. There was silence. The kind of silence that follows the magic that food has the power to create. I broke it, my fingers still reaching out for the sauce, ‘Does he stuff these with cocaine or something?’ My wise friend looked at me, annoyed – ‘This is art, genius, not drugs.’

And that, my dear readers, made me think (I am the philosophical, ponderous type) – what really are these momos? A symbol, perhaps, of the Tibetan refugees, who have made Delhi their home, or of India’s North East. But what did the eternal momo mean to Delhi? It hit me, when I was having yet another plate of delicious momos – this time from Brown Sugar, no less. The momo symbolises the quintessential Delhiite – like the beautifully pleated, smooth cover, the Delhiite is immaculate when observed from a distance. But when you get a little closer, you are treated with a remarkably tangy and larger than life character, just like the momo filling. One bite into that soft dough cover and your taste buds are assaulted with a plethora of flavours, difficult to comprehend fully, at times. The momo did not emerge in Delhi, just like most Delhi peeps. But like the people of Delhi, it too now calls Delhi home. And of course, the red chutney – or as I like to call it ‘the Wrath of Achilles’ – is present within every single Delhiite. I am pretty sure dear reader, that this hasn’t escaped your notice. That killer glare and very loud ‘Excuse me?!’ you are treated with when you try to snatch away the last pair of Rs. 100 ripped denims in Sarojini, or the fierce bargaining done by your Delhi friend with the autowallah, are all manifestations of that red chutney. All these features of the momo are actually those aspects of Delhi that make it interesting. The glitzy facade, the wholesome interior and bits of plain old wrath combine to produce a frighteningly beguiling vortex that lures in women and men, quite like the ring of Sauron.

My momo mania has transferred onto my whole family now, and come weekends, plates of these beauties adorn our dining table. Steamed options, boiled ones, wonton soup, rice paper dumplings, wontons with egg wrappers and so on are now all tried and tested in my household. But, it is the momo, the true, thela-wala momo that keeps me going. As college proceeds and all of us go from being confused freshers to being simply confused, we can find time only for one thing – running to the outside thela, or any such shady establishment, for a plate of momos, the source of a teensy bit of joy in our swamped lives. Quite like Delhi, it would seem. Her traffic choked lanes make us want to choke the city itself, but a day away from her and we start missing the glib salespeople of Sarojini and Janpath.

So, if you want to do some deep soul searching, then I suggest go grab a plate of momos.

Written by Visakha Chowdhury

Feature Image by Devika