The instant I got off the aircraft, I was greeted by a column of warm, sticky, humid air. I whipped off my jacket, fished out my sunglasses and hitched them on my nose immediately.
In the bus, my socks came off, because my feet suddenly felt unbearably clammy and hot. Such a stark contrast from being layered in a thick jacket, with socks-on at times, a shawl over it all at times, forgetting I owned sunglasses and braving conditions that made it difficult to make bum contact with toilet seats, brush my teeth before bedtime, and wear anything smaller than my jeans, it was strangely liberating to be back in the land of sunshine, sunglasses and slippers.
Driving down the winding highway back home, coconut trees leaning in, the sun setting behind me, I got was overcome by the same feeling I always get when I return from the airport. The feeling that spells h.o.m.e. And yet, not too deep down, I felt like I was battling the post-holiday blues. The kind that intermittently throw up moments and memories form the days just gone by. They make you smile inwardly, with a tinge of regret that it perhaps, it was all over too soon.
The break was lovely and much-required. And once again this visit, like every other I have made to this city, confirmed my love for quick urban getaways. Delhi — still playing its schizoid role in the epic drama that is big city life in India, doesn’t fail to amaze me every single time. With its stiff, congested, dusty and almost-lifeless urban crawl on one hand, and the wide open roads of South Delhi, the flowering trees, the markets that burst with life and colour, on the other. I am always slightly wide-eyed and filled with wonder, at how much character both sides effortlessly exude.
(Brace yourself for a loooong post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
– Its probably a sign that I am not flying out of Goa enough, because I massively fucked-up by miscalculating reporting time, the day I was to leave for Delhi. To cut a long story short, after a very dangerous and rash drive to try and make it to the airport in record time, I dashed through the doors with just 20 minutes to spare before take off. I have never battled long queues this fast, gotten so many dirty looks, been lectured by the Indigo staff, all the while constantly saying prayers that I make the damned flight. Eventually I did. If I hadn’t it would have just been the biggest anti-climax after weeks of planning, feeling out of control with excitement and losing sleep over thinking what Delhi will be like. Far too much anticipation and enthusiasm went into the planning of this trip and I probably wouldn’t have forgiven myself, had I actually missed the flight.
– This trip was all about the people. And what a motley crew I have interacted with. Across four days I met and hung out with her and her mad family, got a peek into her world of the 30-something hot single woman in big bad Delhi, had a totally delicious lunch with her as we talked about food (of course!) shopping and work, enjoyed a lazy coffee and date-cake date with her who I forget is actually 10 years younger than me, and R (I really wish I could insert a link here!). Over drinks and dinner at home, roaming bright melas in a delicate drizzle, chatting in the sun, walking around the neighbourhood, coffee and cake — I’ve enjoyed the company of each and every one of these folks. I feel like my circle of real buddies just suddenly expanded 10-fold.
– Quite randomly as MM, R and I walked through the lanes of Hauz Khas, we bumped into him and her (even though she doesn’t blog as much anymore), who I consider celebrity bloggers in my little world, and him and her who I read sometimes. So I also had my version of the quintessential celebrity moment where I stood jaw-dropped, unable to really say much more than a sheepish “Hi” and extend my hand for a handshake. Of course I later kicked myself for not being more vocal about my excitement!
– Then I moved into PK and AK’s place, where the old familiarity returned. Over AK’s mojitos and 3-day old bread that I baked and carried from Goa, we chit-chatted about life, epiphanies, new passion and our future babies. All business ideas, before you jump to any unnecessary conclusions.
– When we planned this trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, a couple of years of getting to now someone through a blog, lots of ranty comments and love-filled emails gives you a sense of familiarity and oneness, but until you meet them in the flesh, you’re never quite sure if it will all really be the same. However, the MM’s mad household, including the adorably affectionate and intelligent-beyond-their-years Brat and Bean, the generous OA and Cousin K too were all that and more. I was instantly taken by the ease with which they opened out their homes to us — complete strangers for all practical purposes. It was no surprise then, that conversation and laughter flowed just as effortlessly.
– True to what I had envisaged would happen, R and I chattered in the dark, long after we had gotten into bed and despite our eyes being heavy with sleep. If the lengths of gtalk conversation and miles of whatsapp exchanges are anything to go by, this should not surprise anybody. Least of all me. And R. It was like meeting a long lost friend, and picking up exactly where we left off.
– And then I met MinCat, who later mocked me by thanking me for “including her in the list” *groan* but the truth is, I’m glad we managed to squeeze it in, even if just for a caramelized cardamom tea, rather than a couple of pegs of scotch. Because it was a complete riot and time and again I am amazed by how sometimes meeting someone for the first time can beat meeting someone you have actually known for years. The instant connection, the uncontrollable giggle-fits and the uncanny similarities must count for something, no?
– The next day I met the other R and its ridiculous how someone can figure out your tastes just by reading your blog. She took me out to a Khau Suey date and spooning large quantities of fried onions and garlic over a pile of noodles, coconut milk and chicken, we bonded over our love for South East Asian food, hatred for the corporate world, and dreamed about ditching it all to follow a food dream.
– That Nil took some time out from a precious day, that would otherwise have been spent with her someone-special, just to catch coffee with me, touched me immensely. She is just as effervescent in real-life as she is on her blog, and in her I saw a younger me, as she ignored her iffy tummy and joined me in walloping a decadent date cake with toffee sauce.
– Of course there was an illegal amount of good food, overall. Much as she would like you to think she cannot cook, MM made us a wonderful home-cooked meal. Cafe Turtle at Khan Market had the most amazing date cake, and I was about to put that away in my mind as the best thing I have eaten on this trip.
But then PK took me to Chez Nini for a girlie-date dinner which gave it some serious competition. We took full advantage of the fact that our respective boys weren’t around to ruin the fine-dining experience, and did everything we could, without their company. We poked and peered over the menu, chose with deliberation and sampled many things. Bacon wrapped dates and parmesan cheese, pork belly served with bok-choy and stewed apples, and a sticky date pudding with a toffee sauce made of jaggery. I think I died and went to the heaven of indulgence that night.
– Apart from the food, there was a fair bit of shopping, which is so unlike me. Just after a whole night of pouring rain, MM, R and I set off to the Dastkar mela, which was a revelation to me. I’ve been to several ones before, in Bangalore, but always found them overpriced and not entirely true to their claim of bringing the artisan to the buyer. But here, I found that most prices seemed lower than usual, and most stalls were manned by the artisans themselves, rather than an NGO or a collective, which probably made me spend more than I would otherwise have.
While R and MM went batshit over the saris, I let myself free in this one ceramic stall, and the only other things I bought were stuffed elephants, one for me and one for the haathi-obsessed Bean. Negotiating a dicey commute by rick to Hauz Khas, we took our arms-full-of-shopping bags to a quaint little cafe where we chatted some more, before we wound our way into the local Midland store. And again, I went a little bonkers. I might have added 4 more books to my list of the year, but the good news is I’ve almost finished one of them.
– Other stores worthy of mention: Crazy Daisy and CMYK at Meherchand Market. If you like kitchy-cool, quirky, happy-coloured house stuff, Crazy Daisy might be a little bit of heaven for you. And if you, like me, think Roli publishes books with a difference, then you might like CMYK. It is almost the book-store reflection of the Roli ideology of publishing (if that makes any sense to you!), and though I didn’t buy anything here, I marveled at more than a dozen books that I would have loved to just pick without a thought, had I had a little more money and space.
– The other thing I have loved about this trip is the weather. I spent every morning sipping my chai outdoors, watching winter blooms and the mist that lay beyond.
My winter-deprived self was so happy to be covered in a jacket, even while the sun was shining. We even had a smattering of a thunderstorm, big enough to make the doors and windows rattle. But apart from that it was the typical Delhi kind of day, with perfect winter sunshine, which makes it so wonderful to roam the streets. Apart from taking on the Dastkar mela and Hauz Khas on by foot, I also walked around Khan Market, down Lodhi Road to the India Habitat Centre, spent an hour there reading in a spot of sunlight, and then walking to Meherchand Market, which was a revelation.
– By the end, I realised that this is really all it takes to make a near-perfect solo holiday. Friends, family, food, books and exploration.
I packed in so much, everything fell into place beautifully and even thought I couldn’t go to Sarojini and couldn’t meet a few other people I would have loved to, I have come away having imbibed some heady experiences, forged several new friendships and stashed away a tangle of happy memories. What more does one really need?