It is an island of old-world charm in a sea of air-conditioned malls and swanky shopping complexes. The Basant Lok Market, Vasant Vihar, where generations of Delhiites grew up shopping, manages to retain its faithfuls.
‘VV’, as it is popularly known, is where the city’s affluent still love to splurge. The marketplace is a melting pot of many urban trends: from coffee shops to cha bars; chocolate cafes to pubs; lounge bars to fusion restaurants, they are all here. Watch a movie, browse through racks of ‘export reject’ clothing brands, or let go at a fast food or fine dining restaurant—there are options to suit every budget.
Priya, the cinema hall later taken over by PVR, was among the first few theatres in the city to screen English films. Among the apparel brands at Basant Lok are names like Benetton, Adidas, Reebok, Nike and Louis Philippe. Besides McDonald’s, which launched its first successful restaurant here, the market is home to such foods brands as Nirula’s, TGIF, Pizza Hut, Punjabi by Nature and Yo China!
Those who dig their cuppa can choose from Barista, Passion My Cup of Tea or Chokola, the chocolate café. And those who worship Bacchus, can fill their glass at Haze or Hookah.
But peek behind the veneer of the neon signs and you will come across paan-stained walls, peeling plaster, missing tiles and parking snarls. Even if you manage to dodge the shoeshine boys, you may land into a puddle of dirty water.
Kapil Das of departmental store Citi Shoppe has seen the market evolve over the past 25 years. “It was difficult to imagine that the Vasant Vihar market would become so popular. Our clients and their next of kin continue to be our patrons.” he says. “But over the years, the marketplace has deteriorated. After hours, law and order is a big concern,” he says.
As the sun comes down, the market unveils its sleazier face. Apart from a few late-show watchers at PVR Priya — groups of scantily clad women and their hangers on indicate that there is more to the marketplace than meets the eye. The common impression is that trouble begins at the market’s many watering holes: “Some clubs turn into pick-up joints late at night. Dope is readily available,” says a pub owner, who does not want to be named. “The authorities turn a blind eye.
Streetwalkers can be picked up in a few of these clubs. Unfortunately, we, too, lose business because people associate a few bad fish with the entire pond.”
Parking cars at the complex is tedious. A parking lot manager says attendants end up accommodating at least 1,000 extra cars every day. “We have to make do with the space available,” says Ganesh, an attendant. “On weekends, managing 2,000 additional cars is next to impossible.”
Despite its darker side, Basant Lok finds favour with families, businessmen and students. Its proximity to the Vasant Continental Hotel and The Grand, brings in the tourists, too. In sum, a cool rendezvous point.