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Let’s face it, nobody except a Delhite is a fan of Delhi. A city of sexy people, with not so sexy deeds.

But there are somethings about this city that bring a Cheshire smile on my face.

FIVE THINGS THAT MAKE ME FORGIVE DELHI FOR ALMOST EVERYTHING:

5. Restoring Ancient Carpet

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Carpets first caught my fancy when I watched Disney’s ‘Alladdin’ as a kid. It was a beginning of a love affair. From Rajasthani Dhurries to Persian knotted ones, from Samrakandis to tribal to kilims, they’ve so much of History & stories weaved in them.

One day, a backpacker from Pahadganj told me about this place in Anand Lok where they curate ancient carpets. Knowing very well that with a free-spirited Golden Retriever at home, I can never keep one, still I went to have a dekko. I met such wonderful people there, who despite knowing that I am not a potential client showed me around their collection, the stories of the carpets, the story of them acquiring them. It was like I am Alice & I am in a guided tour of a Wonderland.

Then I came to know that there’s a program in which they employ less privileged women for restoring ancient carpets. Those women were kind to me,  taught me & allowed me to weave. I spent 3 hours there. I am not proud of saying this but I wasted their time. I sucked at carpet weaving. Still, I would like to go there again, who knows maybe someday I can weave a magic carpet for myself.

4. Tibetan Refugee Colony

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McLeod Ganj is my happy place in the whole world. In every stressful situation I fly to McLeod Ganj in my head. So, it’s very calming & peaceful for me to find a little shred of that in Delhi. Just walking around in this place, going to the Little Tibet Cafe & having momos while reading a book uplifts my spirits.

3. Riding a Pedicab

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Pedicab or cycle rickshaw as people call it, is so..so…so much fun. Some may find it little uncomfortable having another person pushing the pedals of a cycle to carry them around; but I am a ‘pahadi’ girl. I’ve such lovely childhood memories of ‘pithoos’ & sherpas & of course pedicabs on the streets of Pantnagar that I feel home in them.

I like riding a pedicab anywhere, but there’s something about riding it on a Delhi winter afternoon on the green, wide & quiet streets near Dharamshila hospital, Noida. This is one of my favorite things to do in Delhi. Just step in a pedicab & pretend I am Queen Cersie (Game of Thrones) supervising her kingdom. Maybe, someday I should do it with a glass of red wine.

2. Qawwali at Hazrat Nizamuddin with my BFF

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Ever since I saw ‘Kun Faya Kun’ of ‘Rockstar’ I wanted to do this. During one of our late night conversations, I just mentioned it to Aashi. Months later, she calls up informing me, “I’ve done some asking around & Thursdays are qawwali nights, but we’ll go only if we’ve a male companion, it’s not safe, that area where the dargah is. My colleagues say that we may get raped otherwise before we even reach the dargah.”

Calls us determined or crazy, because this feedback from know-it-all locals didn’t dampen our spirits at all. We decided to make it one of our ‘hunter’ experiences. We thought if we dress up conservatively & cover our heads, we can blend in with the crowd.

We stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember a man asking me, “aap yahan ki nahin hai na?” (You’re not from here)

For me the walk from the police station, where we parked our car to the dargah was an experience. Good or bad, I can’t label it. It was like I am in another time or place. Frankly, it felt like the streets from the opening scene of the Pilot episode of Homeland, only more crowded & claustrophobic. I looked at Aashi, she was strolling with such a confidence, as if this is a weekly affair for her.

Moving beyond random sellers, touts & beggars just as we stepped on the entrance, a tall man in Pathani suit came to me & started escorting me like I am there as his responsibility. I don’t know how this reads here, at that moment it felt like a kind & comforting gesture. I remember when one seemingly disturbed woman was bothering me, that man saved the scene. He then guided us to the praying area & later to the area where we should sit for qawwali.

It was in front of the second, more interior mazar. Chattais were laid in parallel fashion. In between the two chattais sat the qawwali group facing the mazar  There were men, woman & kids with huge green hand fans made of satin (like the ones in Mughal-E-Azam).

I thought just like they show in movies, men & women will be seated separately. There was nothing like it, we could sit anywhere. Aashi chose the steps over Chattais. And then, it started.

The qawwals possessed me with the passion, devotion & surrender of their voice. The whole world disappeared. There was just me sitting under the umbrella of stars with their voice connecting me to the divine within me. Their voice took me on a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.

By the time it ended, I was at peace. My mind just resting in an awareness of self. As we walked out, this feeling stayed with me like resonance of a torque. The streets were still crowded & claustrophobic but I was floating above the scene.

1. Spending a day in Kumbhar Gaon

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These pictures are like step by step display of how diyas are made. Making diyas was easy; after creating six mutants, I finally got the seventh one right. The difficult part was getting there. Most people in the Delhi were totally unaware that amongst them there’s an area, where potters from Rajasthan have created a little village for themselves.

A village where past & present live together. The streets & homes are kachcha huts made of mud like we read in social studies books. These homes are small, dark, non-ventilated rooms with large sun soaked aangans where the Kumbhars make diyas.

I took a car to this place. I suggest you don’t. You’ll block the streets. These lanes are best explored on foot- Looking at men making diyas (since I went near Diwali every household was making diyas), women in the traditional Rajasthani outfits assisting the men & kids doing what they do the best- acting cute & being naughty.

I still don’t know how it happened. I was just walking around with my mouth open, clearly taking it all in from every channel possible, when I saw this young boy standing in red shirt with a warm smile. I just went up to him & asked,

“Aap bhi diya banate ho?” (You make Diyas too?)

He nodded sheepishly.

“Mujhe dikhaoge kaise?” (Will you show me how?)

He gave me a half embarrassed nod & started walking in. I took it as ‘yes’.

Geometry & symmetry had never visited that home. In the aangan a carpet of clay was laid out, a boy & a woman were making blocks from it. In the corner there was a furnace. He went to its right, stepped on the bricks, stepped on a wooden plank, climbed on top of a wall & looked at me. I followed the trail. From the wall we jumped into a dark room. This room had stairs that led us to a terrace.

It was a land of diyas. I had to be very careful while walking, I didn’t want to break anything. As was watching my steps, a toddler came running & sat with a thud, without squashing a thing!

I turned my attention to the guy who was making diyas. His name was Mukesh The idea of playing with wet mud was so tempting that I shamelessly asked him to teach me. Hesitantly, he agreed.

He told me one person makes the diyas & the other cuts it off from the lump using a thread. It’s all about timing. The maker & the cutter need to be in sync.

After Mukesh gave me a demo with the guy who brought me in, I took the role of the maker.

It was difficult to contain my excitement while making it. I don’t think I even tried. Mukesh just kept looking at me in disbelief.

He was strict teacher though. I was really excited after making my first diya. He looked  unimpressed. He neither gave me a break nor cut me any slack till I finally got one right.

Then, he smiled to me for the first time & got chatty. We turned on the TV, Mukesh tuned into a Salman Khan movie to make the process entertaining (Yup they had a TV right there on the roof, with cable). He told me that that was their busiest time. He had a contract of delivering 1.5 lakhs of diyas & everyday they made 35,000 of them.

I sat there making diyas with them till we reached that day’s target. Then it was the time to put them in the furnace. I couldn’t wait for four hours for diyas to be baked. So, I requested Mukesh not to put my initial diyas (the mutants) & the first one that I got right in it because I want to keep them as souvenirs.

They sell 2 diyas per rupee but didn’t take a penny from me. Neither for the diyas nor for the tutorial. They looked shocked by my mere suggestion of it. When I begged them to take something, Mukesh replied, “Muskan sabse bada paisa hai.” “Smile is the biggest currency of all”.

I looked into my sling bag there was just money, cards, shades, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, a lip gloss & a chewing gum. I gave the gum to the toddler & offered lip gloss to the lady. She refused to accept it. “But, it’s Sephora!” I insisted. She didn’t care for it. So I applied it on my lips & kissed the toddler on the cheek. The bright fuchsia mark that it left, did the trick.

I still feel terrible that I had nothing to offer to Mukesh, who was such a wonderful teacher. That’s why I suggest that, if you want to go there please carry something from home, otherwise the albatross of not getting a chance to reciprocate the generosity of these people will hang around your neck too.

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