Not being religious is fun. If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to dress up weird for all those festivals, and you can have all kinds of meat on all days, including weekdays and public holidays. Shallow reasons, I know. But it beats mobilizing mobilizees and panditzees to march towards wonders of architecture, just because it’s not the building where your god lives in. It also beats planning for world domination by ostracizing the good ‘ol condom and proclaiming that it’s the devil’s creation. For real? Birth control and Rock music must be siblings then.
So last Friday, I decided to take one of the siblings with me as I went to the kabaab wali gali, near Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Before conclusions are drawn, allow me to add that this one involves putting something into your ears. Mystery solved, for most people I hope. Yes, I was referring to earphones. A starving belly, a walk through one of the best yet cheap gourmet lanes in town at a time of the day when the locals had just broken their fast, coupled with some of my favourite music arranged in an arcane playlist, and the best bit – shuffle mode. This, I tell you, is the life. So when The Shins started strumming their way into simplistic glory on New Slang, I found myself walking just like the guy in the video, clueless about what to dig into as an appetizer. (The next time someone says soup I’m gonna souperkick his derriere to Manchuria). Like a true Bengali, I start with a sweet dish – pretty sure I’m gonna end my feast with another. The Shaahi Tukda is made from specially baked sweet bread, mixed with all kinds of dry fruits topped with a not-too-sweet-but-fat layer of dry cream and plate costs you ten bucks. I was happy. ‘Twas short lived as the track changed to Phil Collins’ Another day in paradise. I was suddenly conscious of the three street urchins staring at me from the other side of the narrow lane. Always had this argument with myself whether I should give in to the pleas of street dwellers, or walk on out to discourage the culture of begging for alms. Pressed NEXT and walked on. Mohammed by Dandy Warhols helps me forcefully distract myself from such random arguments. My shallow heart aligns its beats with the haunting bass intro of this beautiful song...”I only wanna do the right thing, but all these demons pass my side...” So I find this entrance to a dargah, and sit out the remainder of the song. Listen to it, and you’ll kind of have an idea why.
The track changes to Seven Seas by Antix. As much as I love their work, I couldn’t help noticing after two minutes, that my steps were matching up with the exact beat of the song. And that’s when I realised, it’s about time I changed the track. It’s physically impossible to keep up steps while walking with the beat of a trance number. You’ll eventually end up running like they do in the Roadrunner Show. Classic rock in the form of The Doors comes to my rescue. I was literally shadow singing to the beef kabaabs and tikkis as they were being roasted on the grill. What else can you do with a song like Light My Fire? Do not answer, it was rhetorical. The kabaabs and tikkis complimented each other like the drums and keyboards did in that amazing instrumental break. The plan of taking my own sweet time while eating food of such great quality takes no time to fail. Picture Homer Simpson gobbling a beef stake. I was as dedicated. That’s it, appetizers were over. Not that I had enough space for a full meal from here on, but hey, I do not loiter around in Old Delhi every other day, do I?
Stepping into a small restaurant called Sultan Hotel, I head straight for the small table upstairs under a small but strong wall fan. I look for someone to help me place my order. Abdul, a boy of about fourteen bounces up the stairs. I ask for two tandoori rotis, a beef korma, and nehari. He seems more intrigued by the shape of my head, as if he’s planning a PhD, on the dents up there in my skull. I repeat my order. He jumps out and back in exactly in a minute with the food. The Doors give way to Chet baker, although I doubt if, while writing My Funny Valentine he had the same look in his eyes, as I did while drooling over the juicy meat pieces. As if I cared... One slow track follows another, and this time it’s Radiohead with Talk show host. This is a true testament to the greatness of food over here in this part of Delhi – even my favourite band in the world cannot distract me from my mission. Two more rotis and Pearl Jam’s Nothingman have passed, and I’m suppressing burps trying to convince myself and there’s more space left. Some other day maybe - No, not maybe - some other day for sure.
And now I’m thirsty. It’s sort of hard to spot your favourite lassi shop in a crowded market, but frankly, Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 animated my experience of bumps and grunts and anglicized Urdu apologies. I finally find it, order a big glass of sweet lassi and end it with a very satiated “Aaaahhh” as if I was the third band member Wham! never had. Bob Marley sings Coming in from the cold. Ok, this might not mean a lot to most people, but to me, some of my close friends and lots of people I’ve met in Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Marley is Lord Almighty. The night was ending quite well. I was in two minds whether to take a rickshaw back to the subway, or just walk. I decide to walk as the track changes to Born Slippy by Underworld made famous by the closing scenes in Trainspotting. I smile and wonder if my music phone has a mind of its own. I’m sure it does when I enter the train. Radiohead is back again with Fake Plastic Trees.