A Trip to Remember

paharganjPaharganj. Yes, Paharganj. I went there the other day, with my cynical opinions about life. It is the place inhabited by druggies, hippies and whores. They say it is unsafe for normal beings.However, after my visit, my notions of ‘normality’ changed.

I went there with the intention of eating at a budget place. I came out a person with a broader outlook to life. Stepping onto the inappropriately named Ramakrishna Ashram Marg Metro Station, I witnessed the usual Indian indicators — garbage, rickshaw pullers, and the lecherous men. I soon found myself wondering what reasons drew me to Paharganj in the first place.

However, very soon, my mind began to change. It began with the shops. They sold the same stuff one would get at Janpath. Their method of sale was, however, different. No going to great lengths to bargain, they had a ‘buy it if you want it attitude’. Somehow, this appealed to me, even if it didn’t do so to my inherent Indian psyche.

Needless to say, the shopkeepers were going the whole mile in their attempts to charge double the price to the ‘foreigners’. You could hear the very forceful, “Special price, only for you madam”. However, the stuff in the shops was enough for me to overlook this aspect. They also stocked ear-rings, nose rings, and various other items of jewellery. If one were to go to Paharganj, it shouldn’t be for special knick knacks. It’s just a whim experience.

Whilst walking through one gali, where the paan-wala sells fake Marlboro lights, and dreadlocks and blond hair are more common than black hair and sindoor, I realized that there is more to life than its mundanity. (I think I made up a new word, but I can survive with that.) Soon we took a strategic turn into another gali. Although I cannot recall its accurate location, I would urge one to search for that lane of wonder. The destination is Ajay Café. This mingling of the foreign and Indian — Bah!

The ambience was different from anything that I had ever seen before. There were plastic chairs and tables a la dhaba style. I felt transported to the ‘70s. There was psychedelic music, pretty young women and smoke rising up in the air. Surrounding me were all sorts of interesting characters. Along came the menu. I have to admit, it was much more comprehensive than all my previous experiences with menu cards. I looked, and looked again — and then once more. The prices were unbelievable. I mean, 100 bucks for a chicken sizzler? It was ‘sasta’, to my pocket atleast. Then, the glutton in me cried out for attention. Hence, we ended up ordering a chicken sizzler, pasta bolognaise and a donut, and insipid lemon water.

After reminding the waiter atleast three times, our food finally arrived! It was not garnished and neither was it placed right, and it was abused out of its mind. It was just what it was. A Simple Sizzler with Harvest Gold Bread. And along with it, pasta bolognaise in a steel utensil. My cynical nature did try to stop me, but the right half of my mind responded otherwise. I took a bite. Soon I ended up wanting more. Before I knew it, the food was finished.

We called for the bill. It was Rs. 243. Unbelievable, to my eyes! We had had two main dishes, one drink, and a dessert with two gold flakes thrown in. This is perhaps bliss in life. Life is not just about assignments and cleaning up dog poo and bitching. Nor is it about watching news and working out. This according to me was life.

To come out of one’s cynical self and to explore; to keep one’s inhibitions aside and simply to think and accept. This is perhaps, what life is. After lunch, I walked out a happy person. Not just another happy person but one who had had a recent change of mind. A happy person who had seen things differently, and accepted it.

And, no, I am not BRAVE enough to venture out to Paharganj at night. However, I do strongly suggest you go there in the day, to Ajay café. And eat the pasta and the sizzler. And look around and learn.

Devika Menon