“There is no place like Chandini Chowk,” he said. Surender Nath, nee Babloo was pouring milk into the pan of boiling water. He had added the tea leaves a while ago and dark clouds of colour were beginning to form. Once he added the milk, a beige hue well known to tea revellers around the country, took shape.
“So how long have you been here?”
“Four generations. My father handed this shop to me just as it had been handed over to him by his father, and probably his father before him.”
“What if I asked you to leave Chandini Chowk and live in a batter place?”
“I think I’ll die,” he said, laughing heartily, “no, actually – I will most definitely die!”
Upon more probing he gave me a few words of wisdom.
“I have travelled all over. It was easier and less expensive in those days – I have seen it all. On foot. But today,” he said shaking his head, “no one can walk that much. Look at the food we eat – it’s nothing. It has nothing. It’s not even real. So how can we get real strength from it?”
I paid him and thanked him for his tea before we ambled on, with his instructions, towards an old, award winning Haveli down the lane. As I reached a dead end flanked by three havelis, trying to decide which one to get into, I bumped into Mr Ram Sharma.
“You must be a journalist,” he said.
“No,” quipped my daughter, before I could answer, “writer.”
I thanked her with a smile and asked Mr Sharma if he knew of any award winning or widely covered havelis in the area. With a proud stretch of his shoulders and an even wider smile, he pointed at the haveli he had just walked out of.
“This is mine,” he said, “why don’t you come in?”
I walked in to find a courtyard and then a warehouse of sorts with shelves neatly lining the walls and fabric, neatly folded and lined on those shelves. Neat, I thought. Before I could ask him any questions, he began, “Madam, this used to the seat of power – Aurangzeb’s financial minister, Munim, used to sit here and write his books.”
I gaped at him as he carried on, “So basically,” he started in a rehearsed monologue, “Delhi had four gates. Everything outside of Purani Dilli – Old Delhi to you and me – was a huge refugee camp.”
He continued to give me his version of the truth of life, “Do you know, God had four sons, just like the four gates of Old Delhi? Truth, goodwill, dishonesty and infamy. Two died and two remained – dishonesty and infamy. That’s where we are today – this rocket generation that gets what they want in an instant!”
With that sage wisdom, I thanked him and went my way. I went into two more Havelis, including the award winning Moda Haveli where I was offered a cup of tea. I acquiesced and enjoyed a few more stories of Purani Dilli!