An idle mind is the devil’s workshop (Biblical)
You shall do no work on Sabbath (also Biblical)
Let there be no light
What used to be a water tank for royalty thrives today as watering holes for the proletariat. There is one for every mood as long as it doesn’t involve bright. None of the wordy walls or pop bursts, fashion overdoses or ‘guaranteed awesomeness’ of the pubs in Connaught Place. Here the usher doesn’t welcome you in but directs you up – each floor is a different gig. Cover charges are in place to prevent you from going astray. Suggest you take the stairs for there are people to be met in various inspiring ataraxic interludes at the landings. There is art and some esoterica to be discovered – one place I came across a harmonium pinned to the wall which lent the air a folksy gaiety. This is also the only time you get to see other patrons’ faces and some.
On a bar hopping evening at Hauz Khas I sat on an open terrace beneath steel flues spewing water puffs; an inspired urban remake of the famed monsoon palace of Deeg. The moist draughts flew with the spirits and the spirited hookah. One with Suraj Mal himself. Everything was just perfect till it was time to eat. Now I have a non-variable need to put a face to my comestibles. And under the circumstances – where the brightest source of light was the half moon – it just wasn’t happening. So I went all the way down to ground zero to a radiant momo joint but had to leave without eating as they didn’t serve alcohol. Later I sat on another open terrace and dug into some sumptuous meaty fare with the mustard sauce and mayo splodged around my mouth.
For once I was thankful for the dark that swathed me.
What’s the special tonight?
The entry to a popular hangout had the dimensions of a sally port. Hovering outside was the person whom the Roman soldiers in Asterix were modelled after. The gleaming chintzy tee shirt looked like it was painted on him. Girls in skirts with sequins hanging precipitously above walked in like Alice into the Rabbit Hole. Heavy metal pulsated in bursting gusts of air from the other end of the tunnel. Strobe lights flickered across the walls and the roof like LED on legs. The whole area thrummed and throbbed. Exiting couples who canoodled on the way out were met with undiluted hatred. Everyone waited with the patience of the last pair to board Noah’s Ark. After a day-long siesta it was time for a night-long fiesta. My date had joined me after a long day in office explaining creative to a difficult client. She was hungry. We sauntered off for some grub. Dancing could wait.
“What’s the special tonight?” She asked somebody with a menu card.
“Ukrainian DJ,” he replied. “It is EDM night.”
“And not SDM?” she asked.
The harlequin just stared.
Niche shops in every nook
There was a time when Hauz Khas was a sought-after eating and shopping destination. Not anymore. Today everyone comes to get drunk and dance, a resident griped to me earlier that evening. Later, as I was leaving, I came across groups of youngsters in the parking huddled over car bonnets emptying bottles of whiskey. Some barely made it to the pubs’ side entry walking. Their disappearing feet, I was surprised to find, was not even a source of mirth to their buddies but a weekend fait accompli.
“The Village used to be a favoured hangout for the gentry,” says Avdhesh who runs Four Horsemen, a travel and leather accessory shop with a partner. “Today forget discerning customers we are running dry of any kind of customer.” Most of their business comes from online orders.
I wanted a custom-made leather seat for my bike and Avdhesh said he could do it for me.
Kusum Jain who owns Cottage of Arts and Jewels, an Ali Baba cave for old books, maps and antique items, believes it is a wrong perception that in Hauz Khas the prices are high. “All these items are laboriously sourced from all over India, their purchase and freight takes money, a lot of money.” Jain also dismisses that the rigid discouragement of bargaining – a staple in the Delhiite’s shopping experience – could be a reason why domestic shoppers do not exactly flock to Hauz Khas anymore.
“What’s there to bargain? I mean, on what basis can you bring down the price of an antique item? Or designer wear for that matter?” She asks while showing me her collection of silver jewellery, some of them centuries old. I did not dare ask her the prices but she told me anyway.
“This one is just 800 rupees,” she took out a jhumki. “Do you think it is too much?” Two Hoegaardens inclusive of tax and service charges cost so much, I didn’t tell her.
“They are very pretty,” I said instead.
Jain told me her grandmother used to sport an eyebrow piercing just like me. But unlike other trends and design on the comeback trail, this one hasn’t exactly caught on. I assured Mrs Jain that I was doing my best.
Punjabi by nature
Hauz Khas. Las Vegas. They even sound close. The hotel-flanked Strip and pedestrian-only Fremont which go on for miles are both here. If only for a few metres. The Speedway is everywhere – courtesy of distraught residents, the only ones with permission to drive inside the Village. The freak shows and pole dances, cowboys and town cars are missing. Then so are Mike Posner, Twenty One Pilots and The Chainsmokers. Heck, Rihanna even. No, I do not have a problem with Mika; I find him the best desi rap act and even love him for his Hummer (‘Cribs India’ should kick-start with him, unless it hasn’t arleady.) But it’s the DJ who gets my goat.
“All you after 90 born Punjabis…” The DJ exhorted across three different venues. Some were to ‘thoda shor machana’ (make some noise), ‘make some noise’ and ‘put your hands in the air.’ There was no way I could be of any help – I was born in Kerala and way before 90. Even my date, although a Punjabi, was left out because of birth year stipulations. But I must confess there were some saving graces. Must have been noting my look of desolation the DJ once also included ‘all you Govinda lovers…’
“Had he seen your hair he’d have honoured Jeetendra lovers too,” said my friend.
The second time that evening I thought nicely of dim lights.