Diggin Cafe, Connaught Place

Diggin, Connaught Place.
Selfies
Delhi at Night

I’m told I should get my act together and start doing things, that make me ‘feel like myself’. So, one has yet again, started going through the motions-solo dates, driving needlessly while blasting music to literally, deafen myself and of course smoking bidis, occasionally! For five minutes, they teleport me to a sand dune in Pushkar. Works but that can’t be a solution.

The newly opened Diggin cafe, in Connaught Place, is a pleasant beanery to spend an evening alone. Next to the Museum of illusions in A block, this is the third outlet of the Diggin chain. The ambience is just as pleasant and the food is as palatable. Though, there’s no outdoor seating available but the bar will make up for that I guess, as none of the other outlets serve alcohol.

For an evening out by yourself, it’s safe and friendly. Anyone who likes to hang out by themselves, in this city will tell you how people always raise their eyebrows, seeing a person enjoy their own company- that’s a given. When you’re alone, you’re given the worst seating and ‘is anyone joining you?’ is asked, in a rather condescending tone, sometimes. Not at Diggin. The staff was very friendly and the service, fabulous. So, drop in- alone, with a lover, with your family, whatever pleases you.

Solo Date #68- Downtown Srinagar

Solo date at Kathi Junction, downtown.
Downtown Srinagar

The 4g may not work, till the Jio fibre isn’t installed in every house in Kashmir. But don’t think, that stops the grapevine and the rapid flow of information. Last night I received a call from the ex assistant. ‘ You went to shoot the Sunday market?’ he asked. ‘You read it on my blog, na?’ I answered. ‘No! I received a photograph of you!’ he replied to my disbelief. He sent me a photo, that had been taken from a distance and from behind a few people. So, I can be seen in the corner of the frame. I had removed my mask for a bit, as I was getting a runny nose and someone actually shot me, sent it to someone else and then it reached my Mother hen, who is not even in Kashmir. ‘Aap ko kitni bar bola he, nazar rakhte he yahaan log. Dekh kar chalo!’ He seemed damn annoyed.

Anyway, as you must have figured one doesn’t pay heed to other people’s advice. So, I walked to downtown. First, I went to Pir Dastagir Sahib, chatted with the locals there. Then, I bounced to Naqahband Sahib. The degree of friendliness, rapidly reduced as I walked towards Nawhatta. Before I entered the Dargah, a man approached me and started pestering me about my camera. ‘I’m warning you, the boys don’t like all this!’ he tried to scare me. ‘Well, the boys over here don’t do anything to anyone and they will not do anything to me! I know!’ I matched his rudeness word by word.

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Solo Date #67- Mehrauli

One has fallen in love, with where the Stones Speak. On Saturdays I don’t work before 9 p.m and since one has to catch an early morning flight tomorrow, it was nice to spend the day lazying around in Mehrauli.

In the afternoon, I caught the poetry walk organised by Ramit and Prerakh, a semi bathak of sorts discussing the various Urdu poets, in the park. Nicely done, though, one would have wanted to hear a few more anecdotes about the poet’s lives. I guess, when you’re moving from one place to the other, it’s distracting. Plus, one isn’t a fan of the herd, one likes things to move at snails pace. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon, the facilitators friendly and easy going.

But, miye ki daud masjid tak and one is a creature of habit. So, off I headed to the Dargah, where I sat for probably fifteen minutes as the qawali came to an end and got invited to the Qawal’s son’s wedding. Which I regretfully, had to decline due to the travel plans. I love this part of my job, getting undeserved access into other people’s lives. While walking back, I just stopped for a quick bite, picked up a kathi roll, sat on the steps of Bhool Bhulaiya, which has become my favourite spot in the city after my flyover and eat. Just when I was thinking, this would be a nice spot, for a date- Qutub minar on one side, a monkey climbing the board infront of me, sensing this, a stray dog came and sat next to me.

We had a few moments of what I think dates should be like, with plenty of non verbal communication -looking into each other’s eyes and eating. His stomach full, he went off to sleep near my foot, as I listened to Ahista, ahista and watched the shabe roz ka tamasha, mere aage, the hustle bustle of a street in Delhi. After what seemed like time moving in fast forward, I got up and started to walk towards my car. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different place but one will remain, bheed me tanha.

Khudda

www.facebook.com/a100reflections/videos/367705998005533/

Might sound like a cliche’ but sometimes all you need is God. Received a forward from the Gaddi Nasheen, of the Dargah, informing me that the Urs is taking place, from tomorrow and all the provisions are in place, the guidelines related to the ongoing pandemic are being followed. I may be impulsive enough to go for the shoot but I’m not silly enough, to not check how safe it will be.

So, of course I went to check out the place today, to prepare for tomorrow. As I was leaving, my help Bhaskarji, looked at me very suspiciously. ‘ Didi, aap jahan jaa rahee ho wah par woh ladka hoga? ‘ ‘ Kaunsa ladka?’ I asked him impatiently, as I was getting late. ‘ Jisko itni bari hum raat ko TV pe dekhte hein!’ My face turned crimson. So the ladka in question, is this boy I’ve had a crush on, for a year, now. Someone you just see on a YouTube video and find fascinating na, like I have a gigantic crush on Ravish Kumar, something like that. I never realised Bhaskarji, will put two and two together just because he heard me asking my father the other day, ‘isn’t he so cute?’ and make it forty. He tells me so the person in question, is Muslim and you’re going to going to a Dargah, that’s why I thought. I should learn to keep my gab shut. As if travelling, to Kashmir and Pushkar was not bad enough, with people wondering who I’m meeting there. Anyhow, it’s when the love life, is non existent, there are plenty of stories that do the round.

So back to God- to get anyone to wear a mask is difficult. But to get kids to wear them, I realised today, impossible. Plus, since I have become this round ball, children because of my height and size, assume I’m their age. So they like to come near me, pull my cheeks, hug me. For the first time, I realised today, It’s so difficult to shoot a kid and not let them touch you. I don’t think shooting is going to be very easy or safe or smart on my part. But like my favourite lines go, ‘apne aage na peeche, na koi uppar neeche….’ or like dad says, ‘ Sheikh apni, apni dekh!’ I think, I’ll just distribute the masks I’ve bought to give away, there only.

Anyhow, if you are hurting, lost or like me scattered in the brain and the heart, listening to some live qawwali at this particular Dargah, of Khwaja Kaki, might give you some relief. It felt like an out of body experience, so overwhelming, a stream of tears just flowing into my mask, while I was clapping and singing with the qawwals. Since, there were hardly any people there, it felt like sitting at home, in Ibadat and unlike the Nizammudin Dargah, which sends a shiver down my spine, each time I visit, which is only and always for work, this one has a brilliant energy. I think I’ll get some sleep today. But for now, if you have people who care about your well being, I would advice you to stay away.

Solo Date 64- Wok The Walk

Sometimes I don’t realize that this blog, is not my private diary but a platform, that is followed by my friends. The minute I posted last night, I started getting messages and calls from concerned friends. This year has been especially good at sieving the good from the unimportant.

Went to grab a meal to clear my head. On the Boulevard, there’s Wok The Walk. A quaint little place with an open kitchen and decent chinese food. The food is alright, the view and the service good. It seemed like the kind of place, which is frequented by students. Check it out.

Solo Date # 64-Hunger Club

On an afternoon in March, when I had a couple of hours between two appointments, I went to Hunger Club. The previous night, I had eaten at my favourite haunt in Kashmir-a small dhaba called Paakezah and opposite that is this newly opened, swanky restaurant in Rajbagh.

Post lunch it was fairly deserted- too late for the locals to eat and no tourists in town. The chicken was delicious, but it was the company that was quite interesting. No, I didn’t go with someone, it was while I was there, by myself, enjoying my meal, that I met the owner. I was just going about my routine, eating, chatting with the waiter, in this case making a few suggestion about the place, when the owner overheard the conversation and asked if he could join me. Anywhere else in India, I will look a man up and down, think ‘what the hell does this one want?’ and utter something quite obnoxious to make the man split. In Kashmir, I’m someone else, quite chatty, unlike my usual porcupinal ways.

The conversation of course remained about Kashmir, we were joined by a friend of the person who sat opposite me. Before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and though I was asked very subtly, if I was a Khalistan sympathiser (which is the the rudest thing I have ever been asked. I didn’t want to stay in Hemkunt Colony and I definitely would never move to Punjab…so I don’t need a Khalistan, thank you very much) it was a fairly engaging, well spent afternoon.

Solo Date #63- -Daawat, Srinagar

After one of my evening strolls, I dropped in for dinner at the Welcome Hotel. The meal was decent, of course for Mughlai food, Shamyana is a better option. But it was a nice change from the usual, the ambience better, the place quieter and the staff was extremely courteous.

Solo Date #60- pushkar

One is travelling for leisure, for a change. Three days without the camera, away from home ( In Mumbai too but over there it was a family emergency) is a first. Ofcourse it lies in the room with the many books that lie on my bed. I don’t sleep alone, you see.

As I wandered around aimlessly through the market place, picking up gifts, I heard the sound of the Nagara coming from the ghats. It pulled me towards itself as my body moved with the rhythm. A group of foreigners played the nagara with two Indian drummers. I was invited to join them. So there I sat with drum sticks after ages, playing away with the rest of them as the sun set infront of me. Jamming with Nathulal Solanki’s boys on the ghats of Pushkar, is a first. Starting the year with that priceless.

Solo Date #59- Hyderabad

A visit to Hyderabad, is incomplete without visiting the old city. The famous Charminar a monument and mosque, stands tall in Laad Bazaar. There are various accounts of why, the Minar was built, some mention that when Cholera was eradicated, the spot where the Minar stands is where Qutb Shah prayed for the end of plague. According to folklore it was built on the spot where he glanced at his future wife- Bhagmati.

Whatever the reasons for the construction, the security personnel came under scrutiny in 2016 , when they tried to stop a single female traveller from entering the terrace. Apparently, they said it was for her own safety as a woman had committed suicide from there in the past. With my camera bag and all, I usually don’t have to prove that I’m a tourist, unless one is in Kashmir, that’s where I’m going around pointing at my Dad’s Sikh name on my Id, to prove it! But in Hyderabad, I face no issues.

I make my way to the Makkah Masjid, which is one of the largest in India; break some bread at Nigeen Naan, which makes me nostalgic about cold winter mornings in Kashmir and then head to Bawarchi for the famous Hyderabadi biryani. Nothing about the city, makes me uneasy.

Solo Date #58- Kushinagar

Kushinagar

One wishes one was in Kushinagar, on the occasion of Budh Purnima. The Parinirvana temple, which I visited this April is a Buddhist stupa and is said to be the death place of Gautam Budh.

Single Women in India

What do you do when you are sleepless, yet too exhausted to work or read? Not what you’re thinking! The rabbit has been put to rest since the beginning of the year. One is channelling all the pent up energy and of course the enormous ego into work. A month from now, the rabbit will come out of the hole and Gadhadhari Bheem ( a nickname I was given during a shoot) shall become shaant.

Back to the point…checking out random posts on Fb. Chanced upon the post my chic Bengali friend had shared- a debate on NDTV: No country for single women? Apparently, there has been a 39% increase in the number of single women in India since 2001 and at this moment, there are 12% single women in India. There are a number of women I know, who have never been married for various reasons, one of the most important being unable to find a mate who is as well educated or well settled, as they are.

Why am I single? Well, one is such a pleasing concoction of being commitment phobic, more than a little nuts and when in love, oh so clingy- like a guy. Uff and so in love with the chase. I don’t particularly care who plays cat and who plays mouse, as long as the game is interesting. Also, dude when I hear married women speak about their lives, I find myself thanking the boy for his ambiguous ways. Blessing in disguise! I literally know only a handful of married women who look happy to me and no, none of them are married to rich men!

The debate on NDTV, with a panel comprising – Sreemoye Piu Kundu-author Status Single, Deepa Narayan, the author of Chupp, Sanjay Rajoura stand up comedian, Shikha Makhan film maker, Kanika Tekkrikal, Geet Oberoi- founder/ president of Orkid and a couple of other people, is worth a watch. For all of us, single women it is just reaffirming our realities. We are all used to terms like ‘ slut’, ‘ lesbian’, ‘selfish’ and ‘arrogant’. Arrogant we are, for knowing we can live our lives according to our own rules!

Solo Date #56-Tirupati

Though Tirupati left a bad taste in my mouth due to the intolerance, the food at Fortune was fab.

Solo Date #55-Chennai

Solo Date #53-Rameswaram

Solo Date #51- Kochi

After Kashmir, if there is any other place where I can see myself settling down, it is in Kochi (if I miss Kashmir, there are lots of Kashmiris to chat with especially around the Fort area). Quaint, with the right mix of traditional and modern, I absolutely fall in love with the vibe and the people.

Solo Date #50- Backwaters

I am too damn claustrophobic and paranoid to stay in a houseboat. Spend the night in a cheap motel and take a shikara ride the next day. I’m short on time, so I don’t do the whole nine yards. A bite and a few photographs at Tasty land later, I make my way to the next destination. Alleppey, goes on the ‘to do with a lover’ list. Though, I have yet to find one whose company, I enjoy more than my own.

Solo Date #48-Om beach

Over a hundred kilometres away from the hustle bustle of Goa, in the state of Karnataka lies the temple town of Gokarna. I spend the day, wandering around the Om beach.

Solo Date #47 -Goa

Drenched after a shoot, I head towards a charming little coffee shop-Black Vanilla, to dry up and indulge in a cup of magic beans, that I rarely drink and a piece of sin that I rarely say no to. A few hours later, I make my way to a place with bittersweet memories. Since, I spent my birthday driving from Ahmedabad to Goa, a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf is my celebratory dinner. The last birthday I spent in Goa, was a freaking disaster, so to erase the memory of that I’m going an extra mile to make this visit, extra special.

Solo Date #46- Prem’s Restaurant Pune

I take a quick detour towards the Osho Ashram, which took my breath away (I managed to step in to take a leak…perks of being a bibliophile). After a lovely meeting with the Ma at the bookstore and promising myself and her that I will return, I head to a cafe for breakfast and some reading.

Solo Date #45- Le 15 Cafe Colaba, Mumbai

Since I have practically as many extended family members living in Mumbai as I have in Delhi, there are plenty of childhood memories of the city but none of the Gateway of India. I decide to wander around and then drop in for a bite at a quaint little cafe.

Solo Date #34- Ming Wah International Convention Centre, Shenzhen.

Ming Wah Convention Centre, Shekhou,Shenzhen.

Solo Date # 34 in Shenzhen, China.

Being on an unusual trip (for me that is), which is a mix of business, shopping and hardly any photography (due to the rain and a time constraint) I need to unwind after my return from Guangzhou.

By the time I reach Shenzhen and check into the new property-Ming Wah, it’s already past lunch time. I head towards the electronics market to check out the latest drones and car dash cameras. The difference in price, if you pick up a single piece is so miniscule, that it doesn’t seem worth the effort and the risk to me. 

By five in the evening, I am famished, so I walk into the first eatery I see- a KFC. An Indian man ( seems to be), is standing next to me, trying to explain to his Chinese companion what he wants. It makes me smile. He notices that and starts to chat. He is from Pakistan and is there to make some purchases. We chat for a bit about photography, batteries and lot containers and then I head back towards Ming Wah.

I’m exhausted, so I stop at the 7-Eleven, opposite the centre, to grab some food for dinner and the next morning’s breakfast. The bus ride that the hotel provides for is at 7.20 a.m, which means I got to turn in early, to bed. I draw myself a bubble bath, put on -‘I got you under my skin’ and ‘My baby just cares for me’, on repeat and get back to the book I picked up from the airport-‘ Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’. 

What a riot, it is! It is my brand of feminism-  subtle, layered, funny, non judgemental and about the sisterhood. The characters are relatable not just for anyone who comes from a Punjabi family, the women could be our sisters or mothers, irrespective of what kind of background we come from or where in the world we are based.

 The characters are well etched but I absolutely love Arvinder’s story. The curbing of women’s passion to control them is not written about, enough. When I was still just a child, I  realised that the way men subjugated women was not just through aggression and violence, it was also through sex. Not just the kind that you think, not just rape. It was through the withholding of sex and that too was a form of dominance, an act of controlling a woman, men who suffered from inferiority complexes usually used manipulation.

 In Arvinder’s case, she’s much taller than the man she’s married to and when she asks for sex, he threatens to leave her. She goes ahead and has an affair, something that her daughter finds out about, during Nikki’s storytelling  classes. ‘I’m going to get my freaking to-be-husband, to sign a prenuptial agreement. Irregular sex is going to be a ground for divorce’, I promise myself. ‘It’s also the choice women make’, I continue to ponder, ‘trading in passion for financial security, societal approval and the word that all married women use to make themselves feel better-companionship.’ 

‘It’s good you like your own company, Diyuu Singh!’, I think to myself as I fall asleep. 

Solo Date #30-Shenzhen, China 

Solo Dates in China

Solo dates in Shenzhen

What do you do, on a rainy day in a strange city? Drink tea, of course!

I don’t pay heed to the words of my young friend – Andy, who insists ‘if I am not careful someone will kidnap me and sell me off! It happens, you know?’, he asks, as he drops me off at the hotel. I just nod, as I usually do when I am not going to listen to the concerned party but respect their opinion enough, to not argue.

So off I go, walking in the rain on Nan Shan Boulevard, on a fine Saturday afternoon. The first place that catches my fancy is Ten Fu’s tea boutique. I spend the rest of the day, learning how to make tea correctly ( all this time I have been preparing it the wrong way ) and hopping from one store to another adding to my collection of white teas.

After all the tea sipping and walking around, I step into a local restaurant for lunch. A number of women are sitting around, hiding from the rain, fiddling with their phones and eating big bowls of soupy noodles. I order my own big bowl, of what will get me into trouble with ‘gav rakshaks’ and just stare into a disconnected world of gadgetry!

Solo Date #26-Taste of India

On the Leh-Manali road, stands a freshly painted yellow restaurant-a favourite of the tourists. The interiors aren’t that great-the plastic furniture looks a bit tacky but the Bollywood wall manages to balance that.

I prefer eating outside, since the place has a great view. The food is well prepared but is a bit bland for my taste. Nevertheless, it’s a nice pit stop with clean toilets.

Solo Dates in Manali- Date # 25. 

After driving the entire day yesterday, I spent the day lazing around. Wandered around the mall road, trying to get a feel of a place, I am unfamiliar with. 

Grabbed brunch before work at the Tanishq Haveli, a noisy food court where the food was delicious. Bought some fruit barfi and rose tea, to gift from the Nature’s basket and ended the evening with a fish curry at the B Cafe. 

Solo Date #23- Lalit Khajuraho

Panna, at the Lalit Khajuraho

Panna at the Lalit Temple View Hotel, Khajuraho

One of the reviews stated that the Lalit Temple view Hotel, ‘exudes a certain arrogance’, which was what piqued my curiosity. I dropped in after my visit to the Archeological Museum, which adjoins the hotel. After visiting the temples, the museum doesn’t remain a novelty. Plus, the renovations, the noise and a person who follows me around to ensure I don’t take any photographs, makes me want to flee. So, I do- to bask in the sun at Panna.

When I think Lalit, imagery of the the one in Srinagar comes to mind. Of course, the grandeour of it isn’t replicated in Khajuraho. But it does have its own charm. The salad isn’t unappetising, yet it’s not as fresh as delish as one would have wanted. The service is good, the ambience great and the place bustles with foreign tourists.

 

Solo Date #22-Raja Cafe

Raja Cafe, Madhya Pradesh

Raja Cafe, Khajuraho

Bang opposite the Western Group of Temples, close to Bamboori Treats lies this unassuming restaurant. The signage is tiny and the exterior is unimpressive. But the place bursts with energy, as travellers from all over the World enjoy a delectable meal and bask in the sun.

The owner- the grandson of one of the Swedish cofounders, who bought the cafe from the Maharaja keeps a watchful eye on the staff and politely smiles at the guests. 
Through the trip, it becomes one of my favourite hangouts in Khajuraho. I’m not the only one who returns repeatedly, the noisy women traveller’s group who was there in the afternoon is also there in the evening. So are some solo trippers, enjoying  cold beers and breezers. A must visit on your next trip to the land of the erotic. 
 

Solo date #19-Valentine’s  Day

Valentine’s day date in Delhi

Though one is footloose and fancy free, V day is a good day to give one’s self some loving. I head to Surajkund for the famous Mela. Though, the whole world and it’s mummy (it seems) is there, I wander around by myself, window shopping and trigger happy.

A couple of hours- a bottle of wine, gulab jamun and some chick flicks later, I am all set to call it a night. I re-read the messages from the day and wonder what and why the hell was I fretting so much about love a few years ago. ‘The power in a relationship lies with the one who cares, less! As long as you don’t care,you’ll be fine!’, I remind myself. Oh, I’m not a cynic, I am a realist!

Solo Date #18-SPS Museum

Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar

There are a number of activities  one can enjoy in Srinagar- go for a shikara ride, paragliding, take a bus ride on the hop on-hop off, visit the floating post office but the winter, especially the chilian kalan-forty days of the cold, put a damper on everything. Since most of the locals leave for the summer capital of Jammu and there are hardly any tourists around, everything kind of comes to a halt. But the museum is open-sort of.

Though the new wing is yet to be inaugurated and the old building is closed to the public, one is pleasantly surprised. A few years ago I had sent an article to GK (which was never printed),  about how mismanaged the museum was, with broken cases and bukharis being used close to national treasures. 

The staff remains primarily the same so it still not like a nice, quiet, well organised place but it’s a great initiative, a must see for the different kinds of galleries. On the ground floor are the Archeology gallery, Numismatics Gallery  and the museum shop. On the first floor are the Culture and Society, Jewellery, Arms and Armory and Decorative Arts Galleries. On the second floor which is at the moment non functional,  are the Textile and Painting galleries. 

Solo Date #10- Nehru Planetarium

Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi

Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi

I’m sure I must have visited the Nehru Planetarium as a child, on the usual school trip but I don’t recollect it.  Have I found the second most romantic place in Delhi, after my flyover? Hell Yeah! It’s also the perfect place to take yourself out on a Sunday afternoon before you head out for the evening. That’s exactly what I did.

 

Caught the 3 p.m show at the planetarium, that was once the official residence of Jawaharlal Nehru. Forty minutes in a darkened auditorium, looking at projections of galaxies merging into one- one devouring the other, the planets and their moons-juxtaposed with the screeches of little children. If you don’t want the disturbance, visit on a weekday.

 

The place was packed… in fact the 250 seating capacity was full to the brim, for the four p.m show. The exhibition area, the bookstore and the souvenir shop are soon to be upgraded.

Address– Teen Murti House,

                   Teen Murti Marg

                    New Delhi

 Nearest Metro– Race course (Yellow Line)

Show Timings– English-11.30 a.m and 3 p.m

                                Hindi- 1.30 p.m and 4.00 p.m

 

Solo Date #9-Raj Ghat

Raj Ghat on Independence Day

Raj Ghat on Independence Day

It’s a long weekend and one is fortunately compelled to stay in Delhi. I spend Saturday with the mother and the Sunday being pampered by one of my favourite girl friends. It’s a post birthday celebration and I wake up feeling slightly hung over ( after only two pints of beer) on Independence day.

 

After catching glimpses of Karma on the tele, I head off to Raj Ghat, the place where the Father of the Nation- Mahatma Gandhi, was cremated. It’s a large expanse of land and I am surprised to see the number of visitors. Foreign tourists with their guides, little children with their kites and the couples hiding from prying eyes…all seem to be enjoying the sunny afternoon.

 

 I hand over my sandals to the men who are there to take care of them and tip toe my way to the black marble that marks the spot where Bappu was cremated in January 1948. The burning flame reminds me of his words, ‘ truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.’ The solemn moment is invaded by the perpetual insistence of the photographer, to get a picture taken. Right next to Gandhi’s memorial is the Epson picture mate, from which the print promptly appears.

 

Address- Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Ring Road. New Delhi-110006.

No Entry Fee

Timings-6a.m-6 p.m