Ages ago, when I was in my early twenties and had suitors galore, I was supposed to meet this young industrialist with bright matrimonial prospects. I was studying for my masters and also struggling professionally as a newbie in the world of advertising. I was putting up in a working woman’s hostel in South Extension, and used to frequent Dilli Haat which was stone’s throw away from my place of residence. Money was scarce in those days, and like most young girls, I was perpetually ready to gorge on chaat, and papri, rasgullas, and kashmiri biryani, and hence Delhi Haat was my favorite haunt.
When my NRI suitor asked me where I would like to meet him for a cup of coffee, I enthusiastically replied Dilli Haat. He sounded amused but he agreed to pick me up from my hostel. He came in a big black chauffeur driven car. (I actually don’t remember the model or the make because I was too naive to judge a man by the car he owned). When he chauvinistically emerged from the car to open the door for me, I cringed to see him in a suit, because I was very casually dressed in jeans, a top and flip-flops. Many years later I learnt that his seductive perfume was actually a Davidoff. I ensured that he still wanted to go to Dilli Haat and when we reached there I saw that he was quite thrilled. We sat down with some tit-bits of food and started small talk.
It suddenly became overcast and a downpour started. I looked wide-eyed at my suited-booted suitor and was sure that he would be fretting over his soiled clothes and seeking immediate refuge in a shaded area. But I saw him lift up his face and enjoy the rain. He looked at me and murmured something about feeling like a child! Needless to say our date ended abruptly. We met soon after, but I insisted that the venue was always decided by him – we met in flashy restaurants in Hauz Khas village, had candlelight dinner at the Le Meridian, and shook a leg in a five-star disc – but we never became children again!
In spite of mutual efforts and encouragement of common friends, and the insistence of relatives, we couldn’t strike a chord. I was too rebellious, and on the go and maybe a bit rustic for his comfort; he was well settled and sophisticated in a very much “I may be the next Ambani” style, and was too career-oriented to give me the time and attention that I required. We parted ways on friendly terms. I remained single for many years after that waiting for the right guy. He married his secretary within a year of our last date. I remember consoling my mom on the eve of his wedding with the words that he was anyways going bald!
It was really the age of innocence!
I was suddenly reminded of this little instance at Dilli Haat, after I visited Central Market on Sunday. Over the years, I have advanced in my career and gained financial freedom and a generous spending power. But like my suitor of years bygone, I have started frequenting malls and restaurants and large shopping complex and Cineplex and have started flashing my credit card! When I went to Central Market or Lajpat Nagar, I suddenly felt youthful again, as if I had returned to the days when a bargained pair of flip-flops and a mix-and-matched salwar suit, and a replica leather handbag was a guarantee that I would look chic and fresh in my college or in my new job! I hungrily bargained and shopped yesterday – not because I needed to – but because I had returned to innocence!
It’s the same pleasure that you feel when you remember the flavor of the cardamom tea of your “college-ke-nukarhwalla” tea-stall, or get the lingering spicy taste of roadside pakoras and parathas, or when you crave for the “churan” sold outside your school. Some of the best Maggie and stuffed parathas I have had is at the roadside stalls in Qutub Institutional area in front of the Management schools. No other restaurant or vendor has been able to recreate the taste.
The taste remains incomparable, like my shopping experience in Central Market, because the experience is pure, innocent, and of the days when hard-earned money was significant, and a signature on a credit card payslip wasn’t available to give access to five-star restaurants and mesmerizing shopping malls. To cherish what we are today, sometimes its important to take a sneak peek into what we once were!