D=Delhi from Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

D never sired any doubts in my mind. The only place with “D” I wanted to talk about was Delhi. The only question was which Delhi do I want to talk about? The Connaught Place of Pricey Thakur Girls? Or Delhi of “Ministry of Utmost Happiness”? Maybe I want to talk about Delhi near IIT and take Chetan Bhagat just to spite myself? City of Djinns was a good book to introduce readers to Delhi.

But the problem with all these books was they were not describing “my” Delhi. I belong to Delhi (including my heart and soul). My childhood, teenage, and college years took me to those unknown corners of the city, and most of the time, it was in search of the food. So to bring Delhi in my blog, I selected the book called Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi. The author, like me, had travelled to many parts of Delhi in search of food. She felt like an outsider there (not at home like me), but her outlook shows us the Old Delhi in color. To my body living in Mumbai, the book was a peek back at what might have happened or might be happening at home. This post is in memory of Delhi food that I ache to taste sometimes in Mumbai. Mumbai might be a very good city, but when it comes to food, nothing can beat Delhi.

This book is an ode to Delhi’s weather and food. Although other parts of Delhi are explained in the book, but like me, the book thrives in Old Delhi. The book begins by explaining Delhi summers as “life-sapping feeling of being trapped inside a tandoor”. This was when I knew I wanted to see what is she talking about. Her exploration of Old Delhi starts at Sadar Bazar and Khari Baoli—two of most crowded places in Delhi at any time. She observes how “chai (tea) gets the market moving” because no morning starts without a cup of tea for many of the Indians. She explains the mayhem of the porters running back and forth with luggage cushioned on their head or in their carts in these areas. She also captures the crammed roads of old Delhi as “horns blare, bicycle horns tinkle, and skinny weather-beaten men in scraps of threadbare cloth wield sticks at equally bony bullocks.

She studies celebration Indian Independence Day in Delhi. “In Delhi kite battles are fought fiercely.” She even touches upon Janmashtami celebrations of Delhi as “parades of elephants, camels, horses, and requisite ragtag marching bands belting out tuneless cacophony”. Honestly, this is not my favorite description in the book. The cacophony is not tuneless—they belt out well-known tunes. I haven’t seen camels or elephants in Janmashtami too. But then, it is a festival when lots of road parades happen, so I am okay with discounting the author.

The author delves into the month after these festivals and states  “It was the calm before the storm of later autumn festivals—Raksha Bandhan, Independence Day, Janmashtami, Ramzan, Eid had whizzed by but there was still few weeks before Navratri, Dussehra and Diwali.” She understands how “not all food is to be available at all times, but there are seasons for carrots, mangoes, lychees, melons, etc.”

The book proclaims what I have always known for Delhi food, “Home cooks and even professional chefs can never compete with a street food vendor who’s been making the same dish hundred times a day, often for decades”. There is a section in which she wonders if  her “happiness levels were directly related to the time she spent thinking about, preparing and eating food”.  

If I start quoting Delhi of this book, I will end up quoting whole of the book. This part-memoir-part-recipe book illustrates what my Delhi looks like. So, I will end the post with the wish that author made, that I dream of: “If I had three wishes, one would be to time travel back to seventeenth century Delhi” to see her in its all glory.

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