Chicken Changezi at Chawri Bazaar and Bribery at Ballimaran

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Created Date : 10 Oct 2013

I was in Delhi in the 1st week of December (a few years ago.) The winter had arrived just a week before and like a new bride during her honeymoon days was trying to keep everyone happy before showing her true colors. The air was fresh and crisp and the mercury just enough on the south side to bring out the woolens without making you feel cold and desolate. It was the best time to be in the capital. There was a pending task from my last visit to Noida a year and a half ago – to have Chicken Changezi at Jama Masjid. For a person who loves his food it was like a tourist having gone to Paris and returned back without visiting the Eiffel Tower. So on the Friday evening after finishing all trainings I along with my friend and local guide Sushant boarded the Delhi Metro to fulfill a long awaited culinary desire. The Delhi Metro is a marvel. Right through the journey I tried to compare it with my experiences of the London Metro and there was not a point where it could be faulted. The same neatness and sophistication, the clear and regular announcements with the correct neutral accent, the vast and clean stations with huge escalators and the slick advertisements – even the posters of Broadway musicals were not missed thanks to the release of ‘Band Baaja Baarat’ that week; the same riotous colors, the same revelry. As we stepped out of the Chawri Bazaar metro station though, it was suddenly a different world. It is amazing how a single entrance segregates two contrasting cultures; urbane and slick inside, rustic and grossly middle class outside. The narrow streets of Chawri Bazaar (‘Chawri’ having the same ancestor as the Marathi word chawdi meaning a meeting place) are lined with closely cluttered 2-3 storied buildings jostling for the limited street space with brassware, metal scrap and paper stationery wholesalers on the ground floor. It is like traveling down Pydhonie in South Bombay (and you thought SoBo was only Marine Drive and Napean Sea Road) except that the ride in the human cycle rickshaw and the odd Bajaj scooter gave you a typical Old Delhi feel. In front of Gate No 1 on the rear side of Jama Masjid is Al-Jawahar, which apparently got its name after Jawaharlal Nehru had dropped in for a meal. It is a typical Muslim restaurant trying to provide middle class ambience in a distinctly street-side setting with bearded, cap wearing waiters and air-conditioned floors for families and foreigners. The eighteen month wait was to come to an end and we immediately got down to business ordering Chicken Changezi and Dal Gosht with Khamira roti (a softer and fluffier version of the tandoor roti) and plain rice. The food, for those who don’t mind their non-veg is a treat and I would certainly recommend trying it with the plain rice as it brings out the true flavors. But who said a foodler travels only because he loves food? The romance is in the setting, the atmosphere which provides the context, like the situation to a song which though complete in itself doesn’t affect you as much without its setting. The narrow bustling streets surrounding the majestic and serene Jama Masjid which can house twenty five thousand people without even a hustle, provides a contrast that gives Purani Dilli its charm. Outside Al-Jawahar you are mobbed by ragtag women and street children who appear more playful than hungry begging for a glass of milk from the adjoining Halwai. There is a huge brass kadhai filled with milk on a segdi from which the owner of the sweet shop keeps on taking out the malai once every few minutes. And in large plates on the counter are the traditional sweets of Gajar Halwa and Moong Dal Halwa with a copious amount of ghee on top. As a small line appears on your diet conscious brow the owner assures you that it is pure desi ghee which never harmed anyone. That is enough justification to assuage your guilt already weakened by the delightful aroma and you end up tasting both the halwas and packing the Imarti and Karachi Halwa for the next day. From Jama Masjid we took another cycle rickshaw to Chandni Chowk passing through another place of faith, the imposing Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib (built at the place where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded) which is busy even at 10 PM in the night. We are dropped in front of Paranthewali Galli which as the name suggests is a narrow lane lined up with small shops selling an assortment of parathas that you can ever imagine. The Changezi Chicken having satiated the more primal hunger the artistic instincts took over and we went about looking for another legendary landmark of Old Delhi – Gali Qasim in Ballimaran which housed the Haveli where Mirza Ghalib spent the last years of his life. No one can write about Mirza Ghalib better than Gulzar so I will not make an attempt. Ballimaran ki mohalle ki who pechida dalilon ki si galiyan, Samne Taal ke nukkad pe bateron ke qaside.. Gudgudati hui paan ki pikon me wo daad wo wah wah, Chand darwazon par latke hue bosida se taat ke kuchh parde, Ek bakri ke mamiyane ki awaaz, Aur dhundhlayi hui sham ke benoor andhere aise diwaron se munh jor ke chalte hain yahan Chudiwalan ke katre ki badi bee jaise apni bujhti hui aankhon se darwaze tatole Isi benoor andheri si Gali Qasim se ek tarteeb charaghon ki shuru hoti hai, ek purane sukhan ka safa khulta hai… Asadullah Khan Ghalib ka pata milta hai… There is no daad, no wah wah today in Gali Qasim. In fact it is difficult to locate the plaque at the entrance of the Haveli. An old man who sells readymade kidswear on the street besides the entrance guides us to the place. The doors are firmly locked; the Haveli is open for public view only from 10AM to 5PM and it is already 10PM. I am happy to have stood at the same entrance where Ghalib must have stood so many times in his life but my friend obviously knows Delhi better than me. He engages the caretaker in small talk before actually propositioning him to open the locks just for a few minutes. I am more shocked than the caretaker. He is worried that we may be doing a sting operation (someone had done that a year ago and the caretaker was on front pages of all Delhi newspapers.) “Zabaan kaat do,” assures my friend and the caretaker makes a demand of `500. After some good natured haggling he settles for 200. At 10PM in the night we get an exclusive guided tour of the two rooms that have been restored by the Delhi Government and converted into a heritage site – the remaining part is an ordinary two storied building whose windows open to the place where Ghalib must have once received his visitors. There is nothing much in those two rooms; some portraits, some memorabilia and a few original letters in Ghalib’s handwriting. But a fanatic doesn’t look out for reason; he has already been sold on the theory. He only needs an avenue to profess his devotion. To be confined to the same space to which Ghalib once was, to touch the same walls and stand on the same floor was the highest value that two hundred rupees notes can ever fetch in a lifetime. Hai aur bhi duniya me sukhan-war bahot achche, kehte hain ke Ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur As we boarded the heavily crowded metro at Chandni Chowk on our return journey both of us were alone, trying to decipher the couplets that a dying poet wrote from a decaying mansion, in a besieged city struggling to protect its sovereignty from an invading power. The stomach and the mind were ruminating, their needs and desires fulfilled. What more does one need in life?

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