SOS DELHI.

Featured

Hate was just a failure of imagination.

Graham Greene, ‘The Power and the Glory’

They say writing is one way of showing your dissent, your displeasure towards a particular situation, especially if you cannot be physically present. And, while most of my writing channels itself in angry rants directed at fence-sitters and silent spectators, the urge to write to express myself eats me up inside till I finally get down to it. Today is one of those days.

Clashes / Pogrom / Riots / Genocide. Over the last four days, as Delhi (particularly NE Delhi) went up in flames, there’s been a social media war over which word best suits the situation we are in. And while the war wages on, the increasing death toll in Delhi is worrisome.

As a citizen who head-dived into the anti-CAA protests, this violence is horrifying. In India, where the loss of lives is a mere statistic, that something like this would shock me, shocks me even more. We the people of India wake up to discrimination only as per our own convenience, bombard our social media accounts with #SOS calls, gruesome images of brutalities, plaster #Free whoever is the person of the moment on our Facebook walls before promptly going back to sleep or about our daily lives. I’m not judging or pointing fingers at anyone here, I belong to the same category of people and while I’m glad that we are finally ready to act, our collective silence on the crackdown in Kashmir and Assam is proof enough of where our priorities lie, i.e. with ourselves. So, what exactly is our issue? Why does it take so long for us to stand up for or against something? Why do we wait for the calamity to come knocking on our door before we’re consumed by panic or fear or just plain anger?

The image that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. February, 2020. Image: Reuters

India has a plethora of existing problems. You can begin with unemployment and income inequality and trace it back to the vicious caste and class systems that don’t provide the people of this country equal opportunities. Top it up with gender-based discrimination and the alienation of those who don’t identify with either gender. Add to all this a religious twist and you have, quite literally, a recipe for disaster. Murders aren’t just murders in our country anymore. You can be killed for loving someone everyone thinks is wrong to love. You could be raped and murdered, because the idea of just raping a woman or a child doesn’t exist on its own. You unknowingly have the blood of the million sewer cleaners in your locality on your hands. With all this already going on, the fact that a majority of our population thinks it’s okay to kill in the name of religion is altogether more baffling. But it’s real and at our doorstep. These problems I speak of didn’t just appear one day and will not disappear overnight. Simply trying to understand this obsession with hate and violence is what will probably help us find a solution to ending it and unfortunately, the process will take a lifetime and much more.

The struggle for identity is where hate stems from. Every individual person, on either side of the fence, is constantly at war with themselves over whether to help others or themselves. Yes, it comes from a place of privilege that I can choose between fighting the reason for the fire that could cause harm or simply jump into the fire to save someone else. And, it’s hard. One of my observations from participating in the Anti-CAA protests was noting how trivial most of our intentions are. Yes, we are united in fighting against the unconstitutional law that our government passed beneath our very noses, but unlike our opposition that fits perfectly under the umbrella of Hindutva, the rest of us are like siblings; we belong to one family but are constantly bickering with each other over some of the most useless shit sometimes. Our rage manifests itself in online verbal spats, unfriending and unfollowing on social media and sly tweets – all of which our “Hindu Khatre Mein Hain” (Hindu’s are under threat) brethren are watching from a distance and clapping. All it took was a few hateful words from someone to ignite this fire. And while our media continues to please both sides, it is a fact that the ones who have suffered the most, not just their lives but also their livelihood, belong to the Muslim community. In all this, it is also important to note how everyone in our problematic family comes together in the face of tragedy, like in Delhi right now and one can only regret not having stood up when the government decided to cut Kashmir off from the rest of us, blind-siding us completely. Better late than never, right? Too late, buddy, too late.

Delhi. February, 2020. Image: Reuters
Kashmir. August, 2019. Image: Reuters
Kashmir has faced the longest internet shutdown in the world.

I, personally, have been a wreck this past week. The constant updates and SOS messages from those afraid for their lives really shook me up and I found myself weeping uncontrollably at the oddest of hours. It makes you wonder then, if images of atrocities can cut through your very soul, how is it still possible for some to turn a blind eye. And it is then that I realise that by fuelling one’s fear of losing their identity, you can create the kind of monsters our PM and our Home Minister and their crew of sword-wielding ministers have successfully managed to do. They’ve created an army of poor, employed people who will do their dirty work, without them having to lift a finger. It’s difficult to hope that all of us on this side of the fence can band together despite our issues with one another, but there’s no harm in trying.

Until then, Inquilab Zindabad!

SCENES FROM A PROTEST: THE PERSPECTIVE OF A REGULAR INDIAN.

Featured

My name is Tara Bhatnagar. I am a Hindu. My father, now deceased, was a Hindu. My mother is a Christian. My uncles and cousins are Muslim, Sikh and Christian. One of my aunts and my sister-in-law belong to Assam. We are Indian and a fine example of ‘National Integration’, something even my grandparents had no choice but to encourage. If they could, then the current Indian government holds no ground in their filtering of Indian citizens.

It is important to reiterate the fact that we are born into religion by chance and it is from our family’s values and our understanding of the world that we shape our beliefs. However, at the end of the day, we are all human beings with the same feelings; the same joys and sorrows and the same attachments and this should be reason enough to band together, even in the most testing of times.

I am not here to tell you how wrong the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are. I am not going to sermonise how unjust the new National Population Register (NPR) is either. There are women and men far more qualified to do this and I am happy to share their work. All I can say is that these laws, the BJP government is working relentlessly to pass, are unconstitutional and completely against the ethos of a secular, democratic India that our fore-fathers envisioned and successfully executed in 1947, when we gained freedom from the British. The financial implications of these bills are a whole different story.

Detained protestors protest under police supervision

Read: https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1sXNPwNZJpqf5dkoisyp4Fu1xqA5q0ocP0rx4xyB6Ub4/mobilebasic

The recent “uprising by the people of India” as Umar Khalid, activist and former JNU student, calls it is proof that the people of this country are unwilling to blindly accept government orders. Having been a part of several protests across Delhi and the news from across the country, I can confidently say that the people of India are angry and are taking to the streets to show it. However, the government, in a show of strength has clamped down on states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka (in some measure) where the number of deaths and injuries from “alleged” police brutalities is, sadly, only on the rise.

Yogendra Yadav and Umar Khalid at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi

Watch:

1). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZNnIIxjkT0&list=PLYSfYVdrOZvgrZkL-AMP3S9UjPqpAIkA2&index=4

2). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8RJEA2Y0a4

While I am not surprised by Modi-Shah’s antics – it was pretty obvious (to me) after Godhra – it is the behavior of the police and the bhakts that really astonishes me. I have, over these last few days, lost a number of people I called friends because of their insistence that the CAA has nothing to do with the citizens of India and their claim that I was unnecessarily spreading discord and hate by joining the protests. My own explanation of my stance has fallen on deaf ears and the discussions have often turned ugly because, as you may already know, all bhakts have a standard script which turns absolutely vile when they’re unable to convince you that they’re right. Needless to say, good riddance!

Detained at Red Fort. Photo: Tarun Bharat Daily

My mother and I were detained from a protest at Red Fort on the 19th of December, 2019. It was, I have to admit, one of the most surreal things to happen to me. One minute I was chasing after Yogendra Yadav as he was being detained by the cops and the next minute I was in a bus myself. The police-women who dragged us to the buses stationed behind the barricades seemed scary in that moment but once the bus was sufficiently full and they got on, they were just bored and tired. Same for the men. They took us to an open stadium (read: makeshift jail) where all those detained were allowed to protest under police supervision. We were fed bananas and samosas and sing and chant, while they sat around on the grass, chatting among themselves. And, while I consider myself extremely lucky to have experienced a relatively easy day that day – a sort of picnic we couldn’t escape – not everyone can say the same. After the crackdown by the Delhi Police on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia on the 16th of December and the peaceful protest at Daryaganj on the 21st of December, one can’t be too sure if they still have their ideals intact. The death toll in Uttar Pradesh is proof enough.

Anti CAA + NRC protest outside Jamia Millia Islamia

What is remarkable, however, is the fearlessness of the citizens on the ground. Be it at Jamia, Jantar Mantar, Red Fort, Mandi House or Shaheen Bagh, the people are unwilling to give up! At this point, I’d just like to add that the winter this year in Delhi is unforgiving. I went to the protest at Shaheen Bagh last night; a silent protest by women who have been camping on the main road 24×7 for the last 13 days, with their kids in tow. They are not only protesting against the CAA-NRC that attempts to strip them of their citizenship but also in solidarity with the students of Jamia, many of whom are their own children. The area is cordoned off by a rope, inside which the women and children sit facing a podium, the men surrounding them. There is a steady supply of food and hot chai, prepared by the protestors themselves and speeches by various speakers ranging from students, lawyers, actors and academics. With the temperature hitting a minimum of 5 degrees, it is overwhelming how relentless these brave women are. One can only hope that these collective protests bear (sensible) fruit. ‘Don’t be silent. Don’t be violent’ is the mantra of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and it is essential that we adopt it.

The brave women of Shaheen Bagh

Be it the imposing of section 370 in Kashmir or the Ayodhya verdict or the agitation in Assam, none of these incidents really provoked the people of India the way the CAA and NRC have. There has been visible awakening in the masses, albeit a little late, but it will take a lot to quell this fire. And while, you may have had enough of sitting silently and decided to fight, a time like this can also be extremely unnerving for some. It is necessary for everyone with or without a voice to stand up now, educate yourself and those around you and even though it isn’t important to be everywhere, it is important to get out of your house and show solidarity with those on the streets. It is simply not enough to sit in front of your televisions or on your phones / laptops and absorb the government’s injustice. Also, carry food and water wherever you go. You never know where you might get stuck during a protest or a shut down. Or you might just get detained! Be prepared!’ And while I am no expert on protests, I beg you not to lose momentum. Not now in any case.

Shaheen Bagh

Let me just end by saying that the one good thing the BJP government has done is unite all of us against their attempts at vote-bank politics. The fact that they have failed us as a nation isn’t hidden any longer. The idea of a Hindu-rashtra may be an exciting prospect for some, but let’s not forget the ONE thing we were taught repeatedly in school: ‘United we stand. Divided we fall.”

***********************************************************************************

The CAA and NRC in a nutshell:

CAA: https://www.instagram.com/p/B6SKYRDJPjv/

NRC: https://www.instagram.com/p/B6UreATJJR5/

Art by: Sharath Ravishankar (Follow: https://www.instagram.com/shirtshanks/?hl=en)

You can also follow me on Instagram for regular updates about protests and CAA/NRC related posts: https://www.instagram.com/tara_bhatnagar/?hl=en

THE DARKNESS

Featured

A HALF-DECENT POEM ABOUT DEPRESSION. THAT RHYMES.
 
A darkness she saw, 
In the people she loved, 
A darkness that roared and rippled. 
She saw it in Grandpa, 
Who didn’t like Grandma, 
Who made sure their son’s heart it crippled. 
 
And the darkness she saw, 
Had grown and grown, 
And plagued the boy, body and soul
When he got to a stage,
Where he felt love and rage,
He knew it was taking a toll. 
 
So, the darkness was locked up, 
And the keys thrown away, 
His young heart still beating and alive. 
But, the darkness tried ways,
To show its ugly face,
It had to get out to survive. 
 
But, darkness is fickle, 
It waits and waits,
Making you feel like it’s gone…. poof!
You can smile through it all, 
Think you’re having a ball,
All you are is just sad and aloof. 
 
The boy grew older,
Went to college, went to work,
Unaware of the secrets he hid.
The darkness lay dormant,
No trouble, no torment,
And so, came a wife and two kids. 
 
Just as with happiness, 
That doesn’t last long, 
The darkness – it finally took flight! 
It made the man angry,
It made him very sad.
Sleepless days and sleepless nights. 
 
The games darkness plays, 
It simmers, it slays,
It devoured a full grown man whole. 
Unsmiling and worn,
In his room all alone,
A war and weather-beaten soul. 
 
She watched him and watched him,
As he lay in his coffin,
The darkness trapped with him in death.
But, with his last sigh,
As she’d kissed him goodbye,
It latched onto her – body and breath. 
 
And, the sleeplessness continues…


 

Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash.
 
 
 

Dear Doctor.

Featured

Dear doctor,

Before I write this piece, I must take the opportunity to state that I am not against doctors or medicine in any way. My General Physician in Mumbai is very good and we have two very capable and thorough doctors in my own family, who we consult whenever in doubt and they’ve always guided us through the best course of treatment. So, I hope this is not seen as an attack against all doctors, but as a request. A request to some doctors to be a little careful with us, their patients.

My last ultrasound, two weeks ago, felt like I was participating in a race. I was asked to get one because my doctor feared my PCOD had returned. I was miraculously declared okay as per the ultrasound, though the pain and the problems still persist.

I, however, was a little uneasy after experiencing what transpired behind the closed doors of a well-known diagnostic centre in Delhi. Sitting in the examination room, bursting from all the water I’d drunk, I could only observe silently how the doctor, the nurse and the assistant went about their work. And, there was a lot of work.

As the clock struck 4, there was tension in the air, a kind of impatient buzz in the room and things started moving really fast. The woman before me was hurriedly ushered behind the curtain, scanned and sent on her way in a jiffy, the doctor shouting uterine dimensions for the assistant to log into her computer. The girl, however, was too busy gossiping with the nurse over an unmarried patient who was sexually active and the doctor’s instructions were blatantly ignored. As they poured over the patient’s history, my name was called out and I was immediately bundled behind the curtain, even before the previous patient had had a chance to fully dress herself. I was told to quickly get on the bed, shoes or no shoes and my stomach lathered with gel. The doctor’s irritation at having to work longer that the stipulated hours was visible. The story has a few more embarrassing quirks that I’ll spare the reader. Even before the examination began, it was over and I was hurried off the bed again and shoved outside before I’d wiped myself clean, struggling with my clothes. I was not surprised. This was the third time I’d experienced problems during an ultrasound. Obviously, nothing had been detected.

This is not an isolated event. A question I posted online about cases of medical neglect – simple or life-threatening – that people may have experienced, led to my inbox blowing up with messages, from India and abroad and I knew it wasn’t just all in my head.

Last year, a psychologist friend went through hell when her mother was diagnosed with a severe chest infection. Their doctor, who knew she was pre-diabetic, went onto to prescribe cough syrups with sugar, causing her sugar levels to hit 608 and a stroke. Ignoring the source, the madness continued when she was hospitalised and the doctor wanted to put her mother on Parkinson’s medicines because he connected her case with that of her distant uncle’s, knowing full well that she had none of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. My friend, even with a degree in Psychology, was ignored when she asked them to first concentrate on lowering her mother’s sugar levels. The events resulted in her mother going into a 40-hour delirium, untreated because it was the weekend and later restricted to a wheel chair for months. In another case, a colleague’s baby was diagnosed with Erb’s palsy after a mishap while giving birth. Her gynaecologist, who forgot to note the baby’s weight during her last ultrasound, assumed he would be 3-3.5 kilos, enough for a normal pregnancy. When the mother found it difficult to push the baby out, the doctor used forceps, yanking the baby out of the womb and as a result, damaging her son’s arm nerves. The baby was 4.7 kilos at birth. Another friend in Sweden was allowed to go 12 days over her pregnancy due date because the hospital was understaffed during the holiday season. In some cases, the doctors have admitted their mistakes, while in some others, they’ve shrugged it off as ‘medical expertise’.

There have also been examples where patients have been refused treatment, based on judgements passed by doctors or nurses on their weight, marital status and lifestyle. In 2006, when Jaymie Vaz was a college student in Mumbai, she began experiencing back-breaking periods which lasted a month or two at a time. She approached several gynaecologists for a solution and was always turned away because they insisted it was because of her weight and college stress. Later, after exercising, following a rigid diet and losing weight, she was ignored by gynaecologists again because they refused to believe she had made any effort in fixing her weight problem. It was only in 2012, in Bahrain, that she was finally taken seriously and diagnosed with PCOD which had gotten worse from lack of treatment. Another friend from Belgrade whose hand broke in an accident at home and rushed himself to the ER was refused urgent treatment and put through a series of drug tests because the doctor was convinced he’d hurt his hand in a drunken scuffle.

The list of stories is endless.

My mother used to say, ‘Tell your doctor everything’; and while that is the best way forward, there are still several hoops a patient jumps before their illness is diagnosed and a conclusion drawn. I obeyed her rule sincerely till I went to a doctor complaining of severe pain in the abdomen, who went into a long interrogation of my life and my choices before declaring it was because of my lifestyle that I was in pain and sent me on my way. She refused to examine me, not even a physical examination but was quick to offer an easy solution to my weight in the form of weight loss pills. Luckily, for me, my pain was from an injury while exercising. Small mercies.

So, I ask, why? Why does this happen? I am fully aware that doctors are burdened with massive responsibilities and have to face the repercussions of any harm that comes to the patients. What I do not understand is these tiny oversights, the small mistakes they make with their patients that could cause serious damage to the person or even death. Relying less on physical examinations and more on scans and tests from diagnostic centers, I have, at times, been asked to take multiple blood tests for the same problem because the doctor wants it done at a specific lab or via someone in-house, rather than rely on the results from another lab. This is a waste of money and time, all of which is irrelevant and let’s not forget the PAIN and bruising from needle jabs!

Most of the time, especially with patients from poorer backgrounds, the family doesn’t even know what questions to ask the doctors and just accept everything that is told to them. When my father was going through chemotherapy for throat cancer, we weren’t even told about the health precautions one has to take when the patient is back home. Everyone was eager to get the job done, but no one bothered with the details. Is it because most people self-diagnose by googling their symptoms that it is assumed we will figure out the details ourselves? Why should my marital status determine whether or not I have cysts in my uterus? These are the questions that often go unanswered because after a tragedy has occurred, it’s too exhausting to go back to the start.

And so, dear doctor, this is a plea. A plea to help us get better. A plea to tell us everything. A plea to consider our lives more worthy than you already do. A plea to factor in the details. Because, tomorrow, if you’ve overlooked something tiny and life-altering, you may administer the best treatment, but it will already be too late.

We promise to trust you. Now, please promise to respect us.

Thank you.

The Coolest Place on Earth!

Featured

2). DISTRICT CENTRE, JANAKPURI.

My oldest memory of the District Centre, a.k.a Janak Place, was the lines of workers I’d see, while rushing to catch my school bus every morning. Whether it was the chilling winds of winter or the dreaded summer heat, the workers moved like clock-work, carrying water bottles under their arms, determined to perform their morning bowel duties anywhere they found a spot in the vast white complex that stood abandoned, down the road from our house. It was no wonder then that the complex was referred to as ‘Potty Centre’, which had a few offices at the back, but lay invisible to our peripheral vision for a long time.

IMG_6283
District Centre.

And then came McDonald’s! Before this, pizzas and burgers were still things we only dreamed of, unless an aunt or uncle visited from abroad and these dreams actually came alive. To have a McDonald’s open right next door became the second greatest thing to being alive. The Delhi Development Authority took over and cleaned up the ‘poopy’ mess, the buildings re-painted, the giant, yellow and red ‘M’ logo beckoning every passerby and suddenly, everyone flocked to fancy Janak Place, named after King Janak from the Ramayan, as if all roads led only there. ‘Opposite District Centre’ became THE landmark to my house and I beamed with pride when the kids at school recognised ‘the cool, new place’ in Janakpuri! The Vanilla McSwirl was the greatest attraction, not for its taste, but because it cost 5 bucks and parents didn’t mind buying a scoop to stop their whiny kids from ruining their evenings out. Young school boys and girls sat at McDonald’s for hours and hours over a single burger, blushing and batting their eyelids at each other, too nervous to speak. It was a known thing then, that if a boy ever asked you meet him at McDonald’s, it was absolutely, one hundred percent, a date.

IMG_6360
The death and re-birth of McDonald’s.

The people of Janakpuri, and beyond, took to Janak Place like ants take to food or Apple fans take to the latest I-phone. It didn’t take very long for a Barista to open, followed by Music Land and Wordsworth. Pocket money, Birthday money. Diwali money, Christmas money, ANY money was locked away till you had enough to purchase the latest CD’s or the newest Harry Potter, factors that determined your existence on Earth and friendships at school. You could beg, borrow or steal, but at the end of the day, if someone had read a book before you, rest assured, you’d have to kill yourself to protect yourself from spoilers. There was a new restaurant every corner you turned and the food options blew our little minds! Toy-sellers Gopal Prasad Gupta and Rakesh Suri set up shop on opposite sides of McDonalds, spots they hold even today, 15 years later.

A Crafts Bazaar opened up in the centre of the complex, a local version of Dilli Haat and cheaper and while women shopped for hours, the kids were promptly given 100 rupees to play 10 games of their choice at the gaming arcade, with its colourful, electric mini cars and air-hockey tables. Janak Place soon got its first movie hall in 2004 and metro stations on either end and the world was never the same again.

I remember being floored by Bunty aur Babli, Bollywood’s very own ‘Bonny and Clyde’ and the first movie I watched at Satyam, planning to use similar tactics to take over the world with my brother. Things were moving fast and property rates in Janakpuri sky-rocketed over-night. This was a good time in the history of the locality.

The fantasy that was Janak Place quickly became a horror when it came into the spotlight due to a number of successful suicides, quickly earning the name ‘Suicide Towers’. Rakesh Suri saw four people die in front of him, young boys and girls who climbed to the 6th or 7th floor and jumped off. He remembers trying to save a girl who had jumped off the second floor, with not an injury on her, but died anyway. District Centre was in the news for all the wrong reasons, with people considering it haunted because of the several deaths that took place in a short time. Grills were installed on every floor with immediate effect, but the impact lasted for a couple of years, until the suicides were altogether forgotten. By this time, Janak Place was teeming with street children and their families, who were addicted to sniffing glue and begged for a toke of Korex correction glue over money. If things weren’t looking good, they became worse when Pacific Mall opened in Subhash Nagar, drawing all the crowds and leaving Janak Place an abandoned mess.

IMG_6285
Wordsworth, with it’s shutters down.

In my head, Janak Place is a fighter. When you google it, you’re faced with a ton of bad reviews about the place and I don’t blame the people. The place is a wasteland. Wordsworth, the book shop, was the first to go because, sadly, people don’t read enough and especially not today, when you have access to information and the latest e-books on your phone or computer. This was followed by Music Land, when the owners realised that the latest cassettes and CD’s weren’t flying off shelves anymore. The restaurants are mostly empty owing to food ordering apps. Gopal and Rakesh have resorted to setting up their mats, laden with toys, only in the evening and earn about 150-200 rupees a day. Ambika Pillai took her salon and ran, what seems like, a million years ago. McDonalds was in the midst of a massive lawsuit and had shut its doors on everyone for a while. But, with all of this backlash, the place still sees enough families on a Sunday afternoon, their little kids crowding the chocolate fountain stall or the tinier one’s in their remote operated mini-cars, banging into people on purpose. The most recent addition to the food stalls was the Kolkata puchka guy whose puchka game is on point, but dangerous if you’re brave enough to exceed two plates.

The goods at the Craft Bazaar are still beautiful and cheap, defeating the branded stores that are still holding on, lining the higher floors. The complex still houses a lot of smaller gadget repair shops, Xerox and printing places and trinket shops, tucked away at the back, hidden in plain sight. And you will still find the scores of couples, crouched beside one another on rusting benches, planning their futures. To everyone who lives or has ever lived in Janakpuri, though, District Centre a.k.a Janak Place, its tall, white towers covered in grime, will always be the “coolest place on Earth”.

UNREMARKABLY, REMARKABLE.

Featured

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.

IMG_5123
Satya Prakash corner at it’s busiest!

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.

IMG_3133
The Photo studio and the stationery shop (left to right)

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.

IMG_5496
Pishori’s Chicken Corner!

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.