” Aap Kalkatta se ho?“-Are you from Kolkata? Asked a tall athletic man, muffled up in a colourful Hamachali shawl, a biscuit brown full sleeve sweater, from which waist below hung the remaining edges of a sky blue shirt, loose pajamas below that, and black boots further near the winter ground on which he stood.
He had a pleasantness about, the kinds you feel comfortable with, even if it was a first encounter of its kind. D and me were talking in Bengali; actually deciding from the extensive menu in front of us what we would ideally like to have for breakfast. Around us sat several interesting table occupants. A large group of vivacious sardars, was to our immediate right. Infact, while we were approaching this gazebo- turned- eatery bang in the middle of Buddha Jayanti Park, one of them, out of the blue, waved his hands looking at me and asking me, “Madam ji, aap reporter ho kya?- Are you a reporter?( Around my neck hung my Canon with its longish 75-300mm lens!) Right behind us sat a coy couple, heads together, reading the menu card with great focus. A table further, a group of assorted morning-walkers were noisily finishing of their fare from the table.
” Arre, hum Bhuvaneshwar se hain!“- I am from Bhuvaneshwar, said the pleasant faced man. “Kya banwake du, aap ko?”- What shall I get made for you? We placed a order of chicken and cheese omlette each, with hot buttered toast, and sweet tea, while an attendant vigilantly cleared a space under a huge oak tree, right on the ground where the ochre and sublime winter morning sun was playing hide and seek, and casting playful shadows and patterns. And then, we sat. Earlier the same morning D and me sat at the rear end of a Gypsy Van, and arrived escorted by two Army Jawans, courtesy Colonel Chanda’s rank,position and perks, as the Commanding Officer of a Battalion. New to to pampering that an Army personnel’s family is usually accustomed to, I couldn’t stop giggling. And this was to continue through all the three days I would be subjected to the most impressive form of hospitality I would have seen or experienced in my life!
I was in Dilli. Spending three winter days with Colonel Sahab and Memsahib, who stays in a REAL sprawling mansion along with the playful 7 year old Josh and the cutest, snuggliest,dog called “Posto”. Around them were several soldiers(or Daijus– meaning elder brother in the Nepali language). One cooks, one supports Colonel Sahab, one relieves either of them, and if I am not mistaken one does the domestic chores. Pardon me, I might have lost count and the descriptions of their responsibilities. There were too many to allow my mind to focus. But they were there for a good cause. And I was(for the next three days!) included in that cause!
Amulya Kumar Sahu arrived with omlettes from which circled hot smoke and a fresh aroma. Buttered golden brown toasts lay restfully in a basket beside each plate, and a glass of hot sweet tea was served. It is here that we learnt that he was called Babu by his mother, and Amul by his sister and ‘Lady’. Welcome to Amul’s Cafe. A perfect breakfast place, serviced by a perfect waiter, serving the perfect breakfast, for a perfect Dilli winter morning.
Delhi has a perfectly pretty winter.
When you tuck your feet in woolen socks, warm your hands by clasping a mug of hot chocolate and look out against the window sill, all you see is feeble layer of mist.
Mild fog waft past the forts and citadels, turning it into something as fantastical as the castles of Russian folklore Meanwhile, the Porsches of south Delhi shameless glide, in the same breath, through the icy air on the gentle slopes of the Moti Bagh flyover. The people on the pavement underneath flock around a makeshift bonfire, covered in caps and shawls.
The flower vendor, the trinket seller, and the chaiwallas drape themselves in blankets and sheepishly bring out a finger or two to sell their retail merchandise. Children will have blushing noses. Children will have runny noses.
In Buddha Jayanti Park, the gate close at 6pm unlike in summers at 8pm. Senior bureaucrats, continue with their morning walk, well shielded from the wind chill in multi-layered cardigans and sport jackets. The musk melon sun plays a game of catch-me-if-you-can. Strands of vertical amber rays seduce you, slicing boldly across naked branches, stoic tree trunks and fallen auburn leaves, to eventually meet the pristine dewdrops, that would have settled in the previous night. A cycle rests lazily against a tree or a fence. A couple hides behind a flower bed, stealing a kiss or two.
Dilli Haat becomes even more vibrant. Shakharkhand Chaat vendors spring up, selling their tangy delightful mixture of sliced boiled sweet potatoes heated up and perked up with variety of masalas.
In winter, the Capital creates an illusion of less aggression. The city takes a break from itself. Foggy mornings bring in a promise of honey soaked winter afternoons.
The next Tuesday, Memsahib and me headed out to the Hauz Khas Village. A Village, you ask? Yes. Uses the same warm logic that makes The Village in NYC one of our favourites. As soon as we turn the bend,a sign above a staircase leading to a three storey pink building reads ‘ The Open Book’. That’s a pretty good way to describe the location – South Delhi’s Hauz Khas village – a patchwork of small exquisite shops, a serene lake, the ruins and remnants of a fort and a Madrasa studded for the passer-by viewing pleasure, rooftop cafes and lots of spruced up greenery. Hauz Khas has been around for a long time, since the Mughals, and might not have seen such glorious days.But these days it might just be the gayest village in North India. Our leisurely stroll ended up in a quiet tucked away cafe, serving lunch. Barbeques pork chops, served with bacon studded mashed potatoes. Divine!
This visit reinstated what I always believed was true ever since my visit to New York, earlier this year. You know you have lived through a vacation when you do nothing, yet everything all at the same time. Its not about how many places you have seen or tours you have taken. Its about the people with whom you can do nothing yet, feel like there has been so much you did in a day. Its about no early mornings or an agenda to complete during a day. Its about delightful company, with whom even brainless banter, a cup of hot tea in a park, can seem like the perfect soiree. Its about playing with a dog all day, who snuggles up under your blanket and wishes you a glorious morning with a long sloppy lick. It about playing hide-and-seek with the sun and with the little children on the road. Its about discovering that you have ended up doing everything while doing really nothing.
But of course, a peg of Captain Morgan rum every evening, a hot water bag tucked inside your blanket even before you tuck yourself inside, a fireplace lit up and replenished for several hours in the evening, where you can read your favourite book, a hammock at your disposal never does anyone any harm!
There could have not been a better way to bring this year to an end. D & J, you better keep a watch. We will be there, again..and very soon!