After completing exactly one and half hour of driving lessons over a period of 3 days I decide it’s time to practice. The maroon car parked outside the Nepali embassy in Barakhamba Road looks tempting. The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) library on the opposite side looks equally tempting but I have made up my mind. It is an opportune moment for practice. The road was empty and there was no danger of traffic as it was only a parking space after all. There were no people in sight either so it had to be done. I slip into the driver’s seat. And everything feels different. The gear, the clutch and race (that’s what the instructor calls the accelerator) all have a new feel. It is a different car after all. I want to drive the vehicle straight till a certain point. That’s the plan. But as soon as I start the vehicle and let go of the clutch it heads right towards the wall.
Clutch and Braaake, I use my feet just in time.
Three boys who I’d seen inside the embassy witness the drama. Obviously I am embarrassed and by the time one of them knocks on the window and says ‘Reverse Gear’ I have forgotten every single thing the instructor has told me. And I do not know what Reverse Gear is! A bespectacled Nepali guy gets into the car and parks the machine straight. I thank them profusely and explain my lack of driving skills at the same time. I don’t think they made any sense of what I was saying. They keep glancing back at the car even until they cross the road. I feel like hiding under the seat but I sit up straight. I turn on the radio and the 95.0 FM is playing ‘Runaway Train’ by Soul Asylum
Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one way track
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I’m neither here no there
Just the perfect timing. Finally, the wait is over. It’s time to walk. Thankfully, I KNOW how to WALK.
Barakhamba Road is best introduced by Sam Miller in his Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity as ‘Central Delhi’s only true street of skyscrapers’. And it’s true.
But like a Nepali guy had to say “The days of marvelling at huge buildings are over even for Nepalis.” Understandably it doesn’t include ‘each and every Nepali’ but I guess ठूलो घर हेरेर टोपी खस्यो thing is definitely over for most. But all high-rise buildings are not the same. So I stood in front of all the skyscrapers in the area and observed them to my heart’s content. The Gopaldas building looked like a Ship, the building with the revolving restaurant looked ugly from the sides, a few looked suffocating, some dirty and a few were abandoned in the middle of the construction. But what caught our fancy was The Statesman building because it houses Oxford Book Store.
Oxford Book Store
A book store in a high-rise building didn’t look appealing to me at the first glance. Books aren’t hi-tech gadgets which need to be housed in fancy buildings. To add to my unease, we just couldn’t find the way to enter the Statesman building. When we did, we walked past a man peeing right next to a cemented wall enclosing another high-rise building.”It’s just India after all” realized no longer worried about entering the building. And no sooner we stepped in the first thing I hear is ‘Paint my love’ by MLTR playing softly in the background. Music does it again, second time in the same day. It calms my nerves. I am at ease for it suddenly turns into just another room where I can hear MLTR. I know Michael Learns To Rock ( MLTR) is sooo 2000/01/02 ( a Decade Old) and cheesy but that’s what I used to listen when I was 16/17/18. But before you cringe or (not) at the thought of having to listen to MLTR or any anything else while browsing the store a word of clarification: the music is only heard near the entrance where you can sip coffee leisurely and see the book store.
The best part of being in the store is the book-browsing experience. You can pick a book, take a seat and spend hours reading a book which you may not buy in the end.
I understand that’s how book stores in Bidesh function but it was an entirely new experience for me. I don’t know of any bookstore in Kathmandu where a book lover is endowed with such freedom. If there is any I would love to know of it. However, not all bookstores in Delhi leave you alone for browsing. For instance, there’s a bookstore called ‘Famous Book Store’ in Janpath where a shop assistant follows you everywhere. He asks you what you are looking for, suggests you other books by the author you have just chosen, and basically never leaves you alone with the books. When it’s time to pay, you notice a huge black chair (symbolic throne) occupied by the shop-owner who handles the cash/card. The presence of a distinct large leather-bound seat of the shop-owner which looks like a throne is typical of many shops here in addition to at least two assistants even in retail stores! A good way to employ the large Indian population.
After spending some time amidst the smell of new books and coffee it was time to move out. Another interesting observation followed.
Right outside the wall of the Statesman Building in CP I noticed multiple street-food stalls and other small-business owners as found everywhere else in India. There was a fresh-fruit juice stall, Bhel-puri seller who’d dyed his hair red, a cobbler(?) reading a newspaper, a Chai-wallah and a man with a IBM card hanging around his neck drinking tea all against the backdrop of the Gopaldas building. What a combo of the street and the skyscraper life!
There beside the Statesman I had the first Bhel-Puri of my life realizing that I had never known what exactly a ‘Bhel-puri’ was all my life. Of course, I remembered the Bollywood Bhel-puri anthem
“मै तो रश्ते से जा राहा था,
मै तो भेल पुरी खा राहा था ,
रश्ते से जा राहा था
भेलपुरी खा राहा था
लड्की घुमारहा था”
And when I found the Bhel-puri without any ‘Puri’ (to my surprise) really spicy it was the song in my head which continued,
” तुझको मिर्चि लगि तो मे क्या करूँ ?” 😀
There are a zillion ways of spending time at Barakhamba road. This is just one of them: drive, walk, browse, smell, observe and eat (only this costs money). After all this is over you can walk some more and head towards the Central Park and observe some more…..
P.S Pics of some ugly buildings in Barakhamba Road: