Are you referring to the smell of toilets?
Umm, no...not quite. It's not that...I can't describe it. The words that surfaced in my mind were dharthi, soil...nature...a sense of reality, of energy, of the daily colorful hustle and bustle and roadside idiosyncracies and sticks and spit and stones that just make cities like Mumbai and Delhi burst at their seams with life and talent. Dubai with all its fancy glass buildings and bling and luxuries - which I happily succumb to and would probably miss dearly if snatched away from me - doesn't throb with life that same way. The sticks and spit and stones which keep things real get somewhat lost amidst the taller-than-thou concrete structures that have punched their foundations into the desert.
This place just makes me feel alive. energized. Even if it's just dust and pollution in the air that I smell...and a hint of stanky toilet. yeeah. that too. but hey, it keeps things real. And that's the trick of a city you can connect with. Just gotta keep things real.
This post isn't one of my usual obsessive food monologues. Food is featured course - there's no way that I could make a trip to India, whether for a day, or on business, or anything, without a plate of traditional snacky chaat. But there was so much more to take in at the places I visited - Dilli Haat, Bengali Market, and a number of political monuments, that for once, my eyes and ears had as much of a feast as my tum.
But all that said - I think it would be a terrible omen for this blog if I closed out a post without a substantial mention of something food-related. So here goes...a very special thanks to Pramod uncle, who not only undertook the treacherous task of accompanying two aunties (Meeta & Homi) + one wannabe-photographer (aka me) on our shopping spree, but who also insisted that we visit Bengali market for their famous chaat. Despite the fact that both he and Homi aunty were fasting. That couple is something else I tell you. It takes real courage to watch someone eat a plate of chaat and not twitch a muscle. I'd be a raging jaw-snapping monster if put in that situation. Or, more likely, I'd just cave in pathetically and break my fast.
Bengali Market is basically the city's famous chaat institution, spooning out Indian chaat, deep-fried savories and sweets at a pace so maddening that I was nearly knocked over a couple of times by frenzied cooks and servers elbowing past my interfering camera lens.
...and here's my plate of Papdi Chaat - my favorite Indian snack in IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.
I've described Papdi Chaat a ton of times on my blog [or maybe a grand total of 2 times] but here it is again: the base is deep fried crunchy discs made of flour...
...and spoonfuls of liquidy yoghurt and sweet tamarind chutney all over, and a quick sprinkle of chilli pepper and coriander powder for that dangerously spicy punch. Bengali Sweet House added an extra pungent kick with thin shreds of garlic - brilliant idea that ought to become tradition at every chaat place.
OH PAPDI CHAAT, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU.
Dahi Balla is another famous snack - soft puffy balls made out of lentils and deep-fried, and then plopped into a pool of yoghurt, with a drizzle of tamarind chutney. Methinks that deep-fried anything + yogurt + tamarind chutney = Taste Bud Explosion. T'is as simple as that.
Other fabulous eats that I enjoyed in Delhi were courtesy Meeta aunty, whose homemade daal, channa (chickpeas), fried parwal (type of gourd) stuffed with spiced shrimp and onions, fish in an out-of-this-world mustard sauce, and veggies with intensely buttery and rich cubes of paneer require an extreme form of special magic that I sincerely hope comes with motherhood...or age. or something. Anything, so that I don't have to confine my family to a lifelong diet of bland turkey and cheese sandwiches.
Ah crap, maybe this turned out to be a food monologue after all. Anyhoo, no more food babble - here are a few of my other photos [complete album can be found here] from Dilli Haat, a fair with handicrafts and textiles and jewellery and shoes and all sort of knick knacks (and food from practically every state of India) to prove that I ventured out beyond food and behaved like a well-rounded tourist. Ok maybe one last bit of babble from me, stolen from a jewellery ad that preceded my inflight movie - only because it said something that perfectly described why places in India never fail to fascinate me.
You don't need to teach India about craftsmanship...
Because here, Life imitates Art.