NOSTALGIA LEAVENS THE everydayness of life under the lockdown. Not having stepped foot outside the house for four dreary months, obliged to robotically go through the motions of the same daily routine with a heavy burden on mind and heart, reminiscing youthful times does seem to provide a break, nay a welcome relief, that comes from mentally visiting the good old days. Thanks to the growing digitalisation of our lives, refreshing memories of a carefree youth when your day revolved around college friends, movies and cricket is now only a click away on the TV remote. But you also wonder how people of your parents’ generation lived without TV, mobile phones, social media platforms, streaming channels, etcetera. Those were indeed simpler times when people seemed contented, though avenues for entertainment and socialising were limited and rudimentary. Four decades later, watching movies you had seen and songs you had hummed along in your college days, also raises uncomfortable questions about your taste and bent of mind. How could anyone be crazy about a Bollywood star who could hardly act? Or how could a heroine who always hammed her lines and wasn’t particularly pretty be the number one in her time? Some of the unforgettable songs which still stay buried deep in the recesses of your mind, for instance, ‘Karwan gujar gaya gubar dekhte rahe’ or ‘Tujhe kya sunau main dilruba’ seen on the small screen, now leave you with a feeling of disappointment. You were better off not allowing the two non-actors to intrude into the sheer pathos and poignancy which only a Mohammed Rafi could convey with his versatile voice in those two unforgettable lines.
Actually, I began with the idea of writing about an excellent piece of nostalgia forwarded to me the other day by a former GoI secretary whose choice of WhatsApp messages reflects a keen inquiring mind and a zest for life even past his 70 fecund summers. But I somehow ended up recycling my own youthful times which occasionally help me overcome the dreariness of the Covid-19-enforced lock-in. This particular forward is a tour-de-force on Connaught Place (CP) by a scion of the famous Nirula family which had established the city’s first decent restaurant in CP way back in the mid-’30s. Anyone remotely familiar with the CP of those days would recall the Nirulas Corner House serving continental and Indian food, and much later in the mid-’70s, adding an ice-cream parlour with 21 flavours served either in cones or cups. The south Delhi gentry and the Delhi University smart set loved to be seen at the Nirulas, especially for an after-dinner ice-cream.
However, what the writer of the piece, Lalit Nirula, does is that not only he reminisces about his own family’s iconic eatery but most cleverly weaves into it other notable markers of the old CP, making it a jolly trip down memory lane for the old Dilliwallahs. Even I can recall once in a long while coming from north Delhi in our student days to have coffee in what was then called The Standard restaurant on the first floor of the Regal Building. Espresso coffee with two crispy biscuits cost Rs 1.25. It was the standard fare at The Standard. You chatted for hours over a cup of coffee till the lunch or dinner-time crowd arrived and you were politely asked to clear out.
Again, the Central Park extended right up to the boundary of the present car-parking lot with the Police Band playing every Friday and regular displays of artworks held on one corner of the park. Remarkably, all the four old movie halls, Odeon, Regal, Rivoli and Plaza, have survived to this day, albeit in the multiplex mode. But some of the popular restaurants such as Volga, Standard, Tea House, Gaylord, etcetera, folded up long ago. Happy to note , the popular Kake Da Hotel is still going great guns, doing brisk business as ever on the strength of its trademark chicken curry and crisp tandoori rotis, with tari (gravy) on the side for a fraction of the price of a plate of chicken curry. Incidentally, after the death of the founder, his sons went their own separate ways, with the younger son opening his own Bhape Da Hotel only a few shops away from the original establishment.
Unsurprisingly, CP’s three famous bookshops closed down long ago. Incidentally, given the repetitive political slugfest on our television channels, it makes me wonder why wouldn’t either of them do at least a monthly programme taking the viewers down memory lane about their cities and other famous places.