Chandni Chowk: Old is definitely gold

The most anticipated place to visit on my list – Chandni Chowk. A part of Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), popularly termed as Delhi 6 with credits to Rakesh Omprakash Mehta for reviving the name, it stores in itself the heart of one of the oldest shops and stores, enough to fill your wardrobes with traditional clothing treasures, tantalizing aroma of delightful food stuffs, and a sight of the impeccable Red Fort.

At first, let me paint a picture of Chandni Chowk from the lens of a spectator: the streets remain over flooded cycle rickshaws and vehicles desperately trying to make their way in or out, and to add to the painful rush, pedestrians have a way of walking along the same paths; there are more shop employees working outside the shop than inside, with every one of them marking their territory and attracting people, and since most of the businesses involve ladies’ suits and sarees, their targets become marginally specific; and people sleeping under the scorching heat of the sun.

That’s not just it, by the way. Chandni Chowk, although being in the heart of a piece of land that breeds stereotypes, does spring out many surprising incidents. The first category is what I call the roofless shops – a one man staff that runs the entire business with his desk being not more than a mere stool and all his products of sales displayed on it, all without a roof on their heads.

Some noticeable examples I found were of a woman selling what she claimed to be ‘foreign strawberries’ on one hand, and the desi ‘Daatun’ (a branch of the Neem plant, used in the Indian tradition as a toothbrush and toothpaste) on the other. (To me, that totally explained the Indo-western fusion concept.); a woman selling tobacco and cigarettes, and although I do not intend to indulge into any stereotypes, but yes, that seemed astonishing.

The second category involved the colourfulness of the Indian subcontinent’s lifestyle. Even in the sweating heat, where the mercury had climbed over 38 degrees, people took pride in dressing themselves up with bright and extravagant colours. From what I interpreted, it seemed out of all places, over here people do consider making themselves look good before stepping out of the house. Be it green, blue, yellow, red or violet, you’ll see women attired exclusively in their sarees and Indian suits without being anxious about the climate, and men dressed up in their crisp Punjabi and Lucknawi Kurta Pyjamas.

So our visit was basically all about roaming around, eat Paranthas (a thick stuffed Indian flatbread prepared from wheat) at the immensely popular ‘Paranthe Wali Galli’, visit the Gurudwara, have Falooda Kulfi, roam about a bit more and finally revert back.

The Paranthe Wali Galli was the gold dust of our trip. Currently being run by its 6th generation, the shop dates back to almost 100 to 120 years! When you talk about ambience, let me assure you, there is none. The person frying the paranthas sits at the entrance, and there are limited number of piers (without a backrest, mind you). Regardless of the ambience and a very distinctively repelling flavour of ghee squirming in the air, the paranthas are a sheer incredibility. Served with cooked and curried vegetables of pumpkin and potato, sweet chutney and pickled radish and carrot, our list of paranthas was huge.

I desbribe ‘huge’ here with reference to three stomachs, by the way.

So our list of pranthas included potato, onion, paneer, daal, parat, bhindi, rabdi, and mixed. It’s quite amazing how one can have food which is not just fried in pure ghee, but is served with accompaniments that share high volumes of chilli in a traumatizing wave of heat outside.

Out of all, bhindi (lady finger) was particularly the best. It had a definite crispness, crunchiness to it, which the other didn’t. Besides, potato and onion paranthas form the household for housewives, so they weren’t much of a surprise. I would’ve loved to try the cashew and almond parantha though, but then nothing can beat a full stomach, can it?

Not just all that, there always seems to be air of celebration throughout the streets of Chandni Chowk; be there any occasion or not. Not being accustomed to crowded places in Cardiff, and visiting a place where one can purchase anything but a quiet walk in the park, the air smelled of the festivity of Diwali.

Shaurya Arya

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