1). COMMUNITY CENTRE, JANAKPURI
This may seem like one of the most unremarkable places on the map of Delhi and in some way, it is. It isn’t steeped in the rich history that the older parts of Delhi are and neither does it have the unique crumbling architecture that takes you back in time. But, for me and the thousands living in Janakpuri (West Delhi), the Community Centre has always been our hub. It was where ALL the banks known to Indian’s were stationed; where our grandparents stood in long lines to update their passbooks, with us in tow. Of course, there had to be incentives – chaat or candy floss or ice cream – to have us stand with them so long! The square was also home to bustling tea shops, lunch stalls, ONE stationery shop that thrilled me beyond measure, the dry-cleaners (who, for a long time, charged for dry-cleaning but conducted regular washes), ROOP-RANG which sold colourful soaps and shampoos and the big pharmacy run by a Sikh gentleman and his two sons.
Bank work was and always has been incredibly boring to me. As an adult, entering a bank still gives me a dull displeasure in my stomach, something I have to fight vehemently because I can’t whine about handling the money I earn (Ugh). The only thing capable of motivating me to embark on this journey is the Satya Prakash chaat stall that has existed and stood in the same place ever since I was a toddler. Managed by different men over the years, I am confident the taste has remained unchanged. I have been so in love with his gol-gappas that I distinctly remember telling my mother in my teens that I was going to marry the owner and spend the rest of my life churning out (and devouring) his exciting treats. This was the only life goal I was actually serious about till I moved for college, my love for gol-gappas was replaced by my love for beer.
The second place that I loved visiting as a child was the stationery shop managed by a man with a hearing and speech impairment. Apart from items of academic importance, his shop also included greeting cards, shiny, crazy balls (yes, they were called that) and slam books that were a mighty rage back then. He also had an endless supply of Hero fountain pens that broke often and had to be replaced every month and scented erasers in all shapes and sizes. People were often impatient with him, displeased at his disability, but my mother’s big-eyed, angry looks would shut them up and put them in their place. As a result, he was always eager at our arrival and we knew him as the teddy bear like, nameless man with a giant smile on his, otherwise sad face. I still sometimes stand in front of his crumbling shop, his items faded and less shiny, an abysmal, brown discolouration on the walls and I watch him sitting in the corner of his forgotten shop. He stopped bothering about the hordes of customers flocking towards the brand-new stationery shop a long time ago. I buy a pen or a postcard for old time’s sake but I know he’s forgotten me and I’m okay with that. The shop and him stand frozen in the frenzy of development and competition in Janakpuri.
The Community Centre is presently steeped in dualities, juxtaposing the old with the new, the colourful hues of modernity with the aged, sepia toned look I mentioned before. There’s a huge, new café in the centre of the square, along which are numerous tandoori stalls that have stood the test of time, producing a variety of tikkas to the drinking public (mostly men after 8 P.M.) sitting in their fancy cars, a stream of loud music blaring from each of them. It’s what the people are used to versus the options they have been presented with and I have come to the firm understanding that people are only momentarily excited by new spaces, but immediately lapse into their old ways when bored. This is the case with Janakpuri and the people residing here. It’s no wonder then that people visit the numerous malls coming up in every nook and corner but also prefer their local, grimy food stalls to the plated delights offered in air-conditioned restaurants. I always find the tea stalls brimming with people, loudly conversing with each other, as opposed to the well-lit but often-empty restaurants that have taken over the area.
I know all these folks and don’t know them at all. Pishori, the chicken tikka man, recently handed over the responsibility of his stall to his son, once a puny little sardar, who is now taller and bigger built. They always recognize my mother’s voice and broken Hindi, sending the orders directly home without having to note down the address. Needless to say, we always get the soft, succulent chicken pieces, the pick of the lot! The Sobti’s of Sobti Medicos are an energetic bunch, with a vast knowledge of things beyond medicine and occasionally found reprimanding the odd Benadryl addict about his ways. There’s the lady who sells purses and pouches opposite the ATM, who spends more time gossiping with her customers than actually selling her goods. The Fujifilm shop that is perpetually closed and obviously of no use anymore. I tried my luck with them last month, calling and asking if they’d have old film rolls to spare and was laughed at and told to go digital already! The single, thriving liquor shop which has now multiplied into several of them, placed on all four sides of the square, teeming with alcohol enthusiasts (drunks). The chole-kulche stall run by Ram Niwas, who is my mother’s favourite person to this day! And the chai-wala, whose stall I visited earlier today and munched on matri’s with tea with my Ma and I realised that, come what may, Community Centre will always stand out in my memories for not changing like the rest of the city did.