Every now and then, Delhi reinvents itself and we barely even notice

  • Saudamini Jain, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 31, 2015 12:54 IST

It used to be sleepy. It wasn’t so showy. It has always been splendid. It is still superlative. Every now and then, Delhi re-invents itself – and we barely even notice. So, in the fashion of true Dilliwallahs, we look back and count the changes.

When summer arrived
Then: Cover all the windows in your home with a special type of grass called Khas-ki-Tatti. Appropriately christened because it was meant to fight the hot gusts of summer loo.
Now: Khas-ki-what? The windows are all covered with chic blinds anyway. If the living room is too hot, don’t sit there.

Then: Box coolers which you had to fill with mugs of water. An AC in – maybe – the master bedroom. The entire family slept in the same room, on mattresses on the floor.

Now: Big monstrous coolers for the ‘dry heat.’ Even better, noiseless split-level ACs. What? There’s no AC in the kids’ rooms? Do you want them to die of a heatstroke or what?


Purani jeans
Then: Mohan Singh Place. Wide choice of denim in different colours. They even stitched on fake Levi’s and Wrangler labels. Only NRIs wore real Levi’s.
Now: So much effort for a pair of denims? Just go to a high-street store, pick a pair, they’ll alter it to perfection for free too.

The ladies compartment
If you were a girl, you were supposed to sit around the bus driver – on top of the engine, perched next to the gear box, or just in the vicinity.
Now: The Metro ladies’ compartment. It’s nicer than the bus, but not-so-skinny women still ask the ones sitting, “Thoda side ho jaana, jagah bana do.”

I for ice-cream
All self-respecting Dilliwallahs truly relished ice-cream eaten in one of two ways:
1. At India Gate, stick, cone, cup or the trusty three-coloured Cassata to be eaten with a wooden spoon and
2. At Nirula’s – ideally hot chocolate fudge.
Now: India Gate for the experience. Nirula’s for nostalgia. But, really, we finally get Naturals in Delhi!

Then: Softies in three flavours only (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) curling out perfectly from Softy machines.

Now: You mean the watchumacallit at McD’s?


The only college
Then: Stephen’s was the best college.
Now: Stephen’s is the best college.

If you barely passed the board exams...
Then: BA correspondence from Delhi University. When relatives made snide remarks, you’d say, “Maami, I got admission in Hindu College in ‘sports quota’, but I didn’t take it, so I can work full-time while I complete my BA...”
Now: Amity aur phir IIPM se MBA. When relatives make snide remarks you say, “Maami, I would’ve made it to DU on ECA quota, but private universities are better for making contacts.”

How voracious readers read
Lending libraries in your local market from where girls borrowed M&Bs and parents took magazines. You paid a minimal amount per day.
Now: Just buy it on Flipkart. If you’re into bestsellers, pick a pirated copy from the traffic signal.

The idea of romance
Then: Sharing a chuski at India Gate or a raj kachauri in Bengali Market.
Now: Sharing headphones in the Metro.

Taking a taxi
Then: Kaali-peeli from the taxi stand run by a burly Sikh gentleman. “Bhaiyya poore din ke liye gaadi chahiye, mummy jayengi – jaan pehchaan wala driver bhejna.”
Now: Radio cab, two minutes away on the app.

Groceries from the kirana store or...
Then: Super Bazar – subsidised, seven-storied and bilkul super. But if you were the Heinz baked beans type, INA.
Now: Big Bazaar/Big Apple. But if you’re the quinoa and feta cheese type, Nature’s Basket.

Clothes for college
Shankar Market se fabric shopping, tailor master se stitching.
Now: Sarojini Nagar.

Hauz Khas village

Was a village

Now: It’s The Village

Watching movies

Then: If you stood in a long queue with a college ID card, you could watch a movie from the front row at PVR for Rs 7only.

Now: Front row, back row, any row, nothing less than Rs 300, if you’re lucky.


Then: Palika Bazaar for CDs of English movies and ‘festival films’. You had to own your own collection.

Now: Download torrents. You must have a hard drive full of everything everyone’s watching

Then: Movie and groping at Odeon.
Now: Movie and groping at... “Arre, look for tickets on BookMyShow, na”

Khan market
Quiet and sleepy till the 1980s, people still lived here on the first floor. It was considered refined because it was the grocery bazaar for foreigners and for the residents of surrounding posh localities.
Now: The world’s 21st most expensive shopping street, and Delhi’s poshest.

Drinks and dancing
Then: Going to discos – Ghungroo, My Kind of Place, Fireball – for the express purpose of dancing.
Now: First, don’t call it a disco. It’s clubbing. But even if you go to a pub, there might be dancing after 10 pm.

Things that make NRIs unhappy
Then: “So much traffic, there’s never any electricity... nothing ever changes here.”
Now: “Oh, this is a flyover? I don’t recognise this city anymore. It’s lost its charm...”

The Yamuna
Then: Till the 1970s, it had enough and more water for swimming, fishing and farming. Boating, sailing and yachting happened too. And there were winter birds.
Now: They call it the ganda naala.

Population of Delhi NCR
Then: 1.47 crores (in 1971), 1.98 crores (in 1981), 2.73 crores (in 1991) and 3.71 crores (in 2001) .
Now: 4.6 crores (in 2011).

Going to Agra in 2.5 hours
Then: Take the Taj Express, don’t forget to get some pedas at the Mathura station.
Now: Drive through the Yamuna Expressway. Don’t stop for anything, except to use the washroom.

The JNU type
Then: Fire-breathing lefties. Demonstrations were a way of life.
Now: Jholawala capitalists. Here for an impeccable education, not the politics. To be followed by the expensive Ivy Leagues.

AIIMS crossing
A traffic nightmare with hour-long jams, blaring horns and queues of polluting vehicles.
Now: An island of green, clover-leaf flyover and art commissioned during the Commonwealth Games.

On the walls

"Yahaan peshaab karna mana hai."

Now: Daaku, Pyaaj and several other graffiti artists painting the city wild.


Old money
Then: Civil Lines, Chandni Chowk, Shamnath Marg, the area around Oberoi Maidens.
Now: South Delhi.

New money
Then: South Delhi.
Now: Condominiums in Gurgaon, bungalows in Noida.

The size of the city
Then: Jamunapaar?? Delhi is on the banks of the Yamuna. Anything across the river isn’t part of Delhi and we’re not going there!
Now: Greater Noida isn’t all THAT far away.

Winter is coming
Then: Rod heaters, thick razais and constant shivering interrupted only by the soaking up of the afternoon sun.
Now: Oil heaters, fluffy duvets and constant shivering interrupted only by the soaking up of the afternoon sun.

The worst jokes were about...
Then: Some sardar ji saying something stupid because 12 baj gaye.
Now: #YoKejriwalSoHonest.

First arranged marriage meeting
While listening to music from the juke boxes at the coffee house in CP’s Standard restaurant. The potential groom would ask the potential bride about her hobbies, a cousin or an aunt looked on
Now: While listening to piped music at a chain coffee shop. The potential bride asks the potential groom if he can cook, then they talk about their exes.

Going to Delhi University

Taking the Teevr Mudrika or the 210 to Maurice Nagar.

Now: The sleek Metro yellow line to Vishwavidyalaya.


Live music
Then: Mostly in five-star hotels. If you were rich, you’d have memories of hearing Brian Silas play old Hindi songs on the piano.
Now: Only every pub on at least one night of the week. Or even every night of the week.

Hors d'oeuvres
Chicken tikka, paneer tikka and pineapple and cheese on a stick.
Now: Chicken tikka, paneer tikka and olives, cold-cuts and cheese.

Dinner party menu
It had to be Indian. Butter chicken and paneer for the vegetarians. And one dish of ‘continental au gratin’.
Now: Does it have to be Indian? Well, then, make it Konkani or Kashmiri – and keep a dish of salad: cherry tomatoes and mozzarella maybe? Strike all of that out. World cuisine it is!


Then: Cabarets by Ravishing Rosie or Lovely Lolita at Lido in CP or the seedier Rosebud on Ring Road.

Now: Item numbers in Bollywood movies.

Watching English movies

Then: If you didn’t get tickets at Chanakya, you tried Archana...

Now: You can watch them in Ghaziabad too (dubbed, maybe?).


Once pizza was popular
Then: Nirula’s of course. Soft doughy bread, tons of processed cheese: what more could you ask for?
Now: Domino’s, Pizza Hut or Slice of Italy. You can’t not have a favourite. But really, why don’t you just go out for some wood fired pesto pizza.

Five star hotels
Then: There was the Oberoi Intercontinental, the Ashok, Maidens, a little later the Taj on Mansingh Road… and not much else.
Now: You mean there isn’t one in or around your neighbourhood?

English music on the radio
Then: AIR’s Yuva Vani which had shows like Date With You, Play It Cool, In The Groove, all hosted by college kids in their spare time (who were *not* called RJs).
Now: One channel plays English music. But really, who listens to the radio except for FM in the car? And why can’t you just hook up your phone and listen to music on Internet radio?

The state of public transport
Then: People (literally) hanging out of creaking DTC buses, which also doubled up as school buses, or U-Specials.
Now: The new lime green and air-conditioned cherry red buses have automatic doors, so you can no longer hang out. Phew.

Going to the airport
Then: To also see planes take off and land.
Now: Not unless you absolutely have to.

Holiday in the hills...
Then: Mussoorie/Shimla/Nainital/Manali. The best summer memories were all at Mall Road.
Now: McLeod Ganj/Kasol/Leh or somewhere in the Northeast.

Artsy types went to...
Then: The Bankura fried chicken lunch, sitting on wrought iron chairs, after shopping at Cottage.
Now: Lunch and shopping at Shahpur Jat.

Illustrations by Uttam Sinha.
(Uttam Sinha is a Delhi-based artist who, in his free time, draws small shoe stories in his blog Foot Footie Boy.)

Follow @SaudaminiJain on Twitter

From HT Brunch, May 31
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