Delhiwale: The Ghantaghar encyclopedia
This place is like a sheet of paper that has been folded many times over. So that the original page gets balkanised into many little sheets, with each fold becoming an autonomous territory.
The Hari Nagar Ghantaghar crossing is exactly as creasy. The west Delhi landmark looks simple. Just a traffic roundabout with a clock tower in the centre. But then the very many establishments that ring the circle start making their presence felt one by one. Each of them, big and small, appears to singularly contain the unique essence of the Ghantaghar. Together they make the Ghantaghar look vastly huger than it truly is. Indeed. reading aloud these place-names is intensely evocative of that section in Iliad in which Homer famously catalogues the ships and warriors of the Achaean army. Try rapping this Ghantaghar ditty yourself in a single breath—Simpy’s, Ram Cold Drink House, Bedi Travel, Karan’s Kitchenette, Munna Mehendi Art, Aryan Pizza House, Singh Sons Fast Food, Mahesh Burger Center, Krishna Juice & Shakes, Lambu Halwaji, Kamni Tailor, Rachna Digital Imaging Studio, Sardarji Kathi Roll, Gupta Properties, Ravi Tea Stall, Renu Tea Stall, Mewar Prem Ice cream, Bohra Pharmacy, Maa Santoshi Burger Center, Aunty Ji’s Thapa Momos, Bhasin Glass House…”
Ironically, one of the more popular places here is without a name. Opened in 1984 by late Bhudev Singh, a migrant from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh, the pavement stall serves chai (and chai things like rusk and fen). The business has passed down to his son, Ramsevak, known as pandit ji. The stall regulars, mostly auto-rickshaw drivers and rickshaw pullers, refer to the tea as pandit ji ki chai. This evening some exhausted rickshaw pullers have parked their rickshaws in front of the stall, and are lying on the passenger’s seat with eyes closed. It’s cloudy today but the shade of the stall’s luscious peepal tree must be consoling in the sweltering heat. Gesturing towards the clock tower, a tea drinker informs that the pink tower was renovated some years ago, and the old clock was replaced by digital display screens. The screens are blank this moment.
Time however is making its presence felt with the deepening of the evening. More and more street food sellers are walking into the area, dragging their carts, making the Ghantaghar even more dense than it was minutes ago. These eateries serve until 10, when the life around the clock tower starts to wind down for the night. Pandit ji’s stall closes earlier at 9, but do try his chai. Strong and flavoured with freshly ground cardamom, it fills you with instant freshness.
Now a horse cart is passing by, the carriage is loaded with smooth rock-sized lumps of salt. The sight is unbelievable.