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Joyrides, courtesy Ram

delhi Updated: Sep 25, 2009 23:59 IST
Pranav Dixit
Pranav Dixit
Hindustan Times
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Mujhe Katrina ke saath photo khichvani hai (I want to get myself photographed with Katrina Kaif),” 16-year-old Nauheen Qureshi smiles as he puts an arm around a tacky, cardboard cutout of the bosomy Kaif standing next to another of a bare-chested Salman Khan. “Pandhra rupaye mein jhakas photo ati hai! (For Rs 15, you get a wonderful picture),” he grins, looking on as a couple of vest-clad teens get themselves clicked astride a faux Hayabusa sports bike.

Welcome to the mela at the Ramlila Maidan, the 10-day fair held every year since 1979 at the grounds near old Delhi’s Red Fort to coincide with the festive navratra season. It’s a world stuck in time, rustic in its simplicity — a world of rough, sweaty men, and women in garish, multi-hued saris with a raucous bhajan providing a fitting ambient score to the chaos.
Twenty-year-old Radha has been defying death on a motorbike for 13 years. There are bruises on her arms, but that does not stop the young daredevil from racing around the pit about eight times a day.

As with Nauheen, "Paanch minute mein photo" as these makeshift photo studios called themselves — is a major attraction here. But the crowds are equally thick in front of "Well of Dath", the make-shift pit with three motorcycles and two Maruti cars speeding round its vertical walls. People cheer, clap and whistle as one of the riders lets go of the handlebar mid-ride — defying death for a mere Rs 20.

The faint of heart can simply throw rings around bars of Santoor soap and bottles of Parachute hair-oil, or bring down piles of steel glasses with tennis balls to win bottles of soft drinks.

It is not just the rides — people everywhere throw caution to the winds and indulge in some good old open-air grub that the mela has to offer – oily-slick ‘Chines Nodels’, spicy ‘Massala Dhosa’, ‘Frut Icecrim’ or plain Aloo Chaat. Nothing costs more than Rs 50, of course, but for those really scrimping, a certain Sonu Super Softy seems to be the universal favourite at only five bucks apiece.

High above the hubbub, however, is a place where you can get away from it all. Step ahead, as the dark, muscular operator holds a swinging compartment still for you. Hold on tight —there are no safety bars on the sides. With a mighty swoop, the giant Ferris wheel cuts through the dusty air and lifts you high above the mingling masses. Enjoy the calm up above.