Home was Lutyens’ Delhi for 13 years when I was growing up. I didn’t know then that Khan Market, the centre of my universe, would be ranked India’s most upscale mall and the world’s 24th most expensive. Lots of old shops are gone now along with the old neighbourhood feeling. Yeh sansaar ka niyam hai. I’m glad for the good times that were. As for what happens now or tomorrow if there’s one, I say, “Jede din lang jaande, wahi wah-wah!” (Sufficient unto the day is the yield thereof). That, anyway, was the spirit in which Khan Market was founded, for the refugees of Partition.
It’s nice to remember sweet things, though, like how old Mr Lee of KK Lee, shoe and bag makers, was the only one who understood my long, narrow feet, inherited from my father’s clan. No Bata or Janpath shoes ever fit right those days. I found true comfort off the shelf only when I went abroad — though today it’s another story. Back then it was Mr Lee who tenderly encased my poor shoe-bitten feet in soft and more importantly, smart leather. Richard Lee, who’s run the show for years, now, was just as sweet years ago when I mislaid my first credit card and was clueless about whom to call. He gave me tea, called the credit card company and made all well.
Old Mr Lee even modified my riding boots for me. Not that it improved my seat and hands on horseback at Captain Kundan Singh’s classes off Safdarjang Road: I still fell off and it was Rajaram Chemists at old Khan’s that I limped into, for sprain ointment and painkiller.
Khan Market is where my galpals and I went on our first dates with B-O-Y-S before heading out to Lodi Gardens. We bought LPs, cassettes and then CDs from the Music Shop and gave them the LPs to tape when technology moved on. In our DU college years we were hounded by the bad-tempered man with a hunchback at Faqirchand’s bookshop, who never let us browse. So we cruelly named him ‘Quasimodo’ and went there only to annoy. Security those days meant the groceries delivered home by Anand Stores, the bread and eggs from Saluja’s, the chocolate Easter bunnies and salami at Empire Stores, the old Sikh who altered our precious firang jeans.
Way before Khan Chacha’s in the middle gully, there was Alfina’s at the back, for great kababs. It closed down a couple of months ago.
Well, life goes on, doesn’t it? Think of lovely Market Café. And good for old Bittoo, whom we bought safety pins from, that he now sells tartan dog baskets and gourmet cat food.