Category Archives: pictures of Delhi

an open letter to our omniscient friend, Shahrukh Khan

(Astute readers will remember when we stumbled upon SRK. The letter below details what we now know to be the TRUE meaning of that experience.)

Dear Shahrukh,

I use your first name because I see us on intimate terms.

That’s not because you’re the spokesperson for every single brand that has ever advertised in India, though. No, it’s because you and your marketing people invested millions of rupees to target my wife and I in your most clever image campaign to date.

Money well spent, I’d say. It’s amazing how perfectly your team pinpointed our habits.

You knew that Jenny and I would use that pleasant February morning to wander an area of Delhi we hadn’t yet explored.

You knew we’d stop to gape at the ice factory.

And you also knew we’d stop again to write in the dust on a nearby car.

These conclusions were critical to your strategy, because they predicted the exact moment when we’d reach Lala Hardev Sahai Marg. With that knowledge, you knew exactly when to flip on the red light so we would impatiently turn down Zorawar Singh Marg instead.

Which meant you knew exactly when to clear away the clouds so that we’d walk under the trees to avoid the sun.

Which is where you knew to place your ads.

What perfect research your team did! You’d learned that your Om Shanti Om posters had imprinted your ab muscles so indelibly into our skulls that we’d conditioned ourselves to ignore all subsequent posters of you. Which is why you chose NOT to hang a poster, but instead to drape strips of film over those trees in the exact configuration we were sure to notice.

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Just as you predicted, we stopped. Just as you predicted, we saw your face. Just as you predicted, we took pictures.

And now, just as you predicted, I’m praising your cleverness on our blog.

You, sir, are a marketing genius. You, sir, are the king of all media. You, sir, are—

Wait.

What if… what if this article isn’t your goal at all? What if this whole thing has been a clever campaign… to reach whoever is reading these words right now?

Reader! You’re reading this because Shahrukh KNEW you’d read it!

Did you just scratch your nose? Shahrukh knew you’d do that, too!

You have to ask yourself: what else does Shahrukh know you’re going to do? And what does Shahrukh want from YOU?

Shahrukh, I’m frightened by your omniscience. I want to cower under my desk. Except… you already knew that, didn’t you? Who knows what you have waiting for me under there?

Your unwilling pawn,

Dave Prager

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a one-minute visit to Delhi (Colorado)

On a road just east of Colorado’s Comanche National Grassland (which is as beautiful and as dull as you’d imagine), a small green sign announced to Jenny and I that we were back in Delhi.

A few hundred feet down the road was the exact same sign, facing the other direction. It informed our mirrors that, even before we finished braking, we’d already exited Delhi.

Back in India, it once took our chartered bus four hours to travel from Gurgaon in the south to Delhi’s border in the north. Colorado Delhi’s transit time was slightly more than three seconds.

So we turned the car around and returned to the Western edge of this new Delhi. And as we balanced our camera on the car to document our visit, our eyes landed upon a granite monument in the weeds. Its faded inscription offered few details beyond the vague promise that, some time in the past century, Colorado’s Delhi was a bit more lively than it seemed today.

Once our visit was duly immortalized, we ventured back into city limits. No Hauz Khas, no Saravana Bhawan, no Red Fort in this Delhi — just a boarded-up general store with a detached outhouse that speaks to the building’s age.

Behind the house, the requisite detritus of rural America: skeletons of cars, piles of wood, a fence that may have once enclosed livestock. Not a soul to be seen.

Not that we went to investigate. This is rural America, and it’s written in the Constitution that the moment you step onto private property, a man in red flannel long-johns must appear to spit and holler and shoot a shotgun into the air. We contented ourselves with admiring the faded Pepsi billboard on the side of the store from the safe side of the property line.

The paint is bleached, the windows are plywood, the lot is overgrown. But there is history here: some time in the past, this Delhi had traffic. People stretched their legs, admired the monument, and presumably bought Pepsi, although not enough to keep the store in business. And then, thus fortified with enough sugar to survive the coming federal grasslands, the bottles were tossed in the weeds, the kids were coaxed back into the cars, the Studebaker kicked up dust, and Delhi was forgotten.

Feb 25 update! As you can read in the comments below, a reader named Magnezzeron discovered that Delhi, Colorado was featured in 1973 in Terrence Malick’s Badlands — back before the town had been abandoned. Watch this clip to see what the Pepsi mural looked like when it was fresh painted, what that brick structure was originally intended for, and what 40 years of sun and neglect can do to a building. Thanks, Magnezzeron!

the world’s greatest corporate slogan

In Delhi’s GK II market, we found this: the most amazing use of literary rhythm and internal rhyme I’ve ever seen in corporate branding. We have no idea what it means, but we love saying it out loud.

we are tourists, we are attractions

Our visits to tourist attractions like Jama Masjid or the Red Fort often reminded us that Westerners weren’t the only tourists in Delhi. There’s a middle-class India thriving far beyond Saket Citywalk Mall, and many of them are just as interested in their nation’s heritage sights as we are. Coming to Delhi from second- and third-tier cities around the region, these tourists have the same goal as we do: to take pictures of things they can’t see at home. But while our list includes sidewalk tailors, roadside shrines, and alley pigs, their list includes Western tourists.

Jenny and I are proud to possess the first white skin many Indians have ever seen in person. It was not unusual for a baby to suddenly be placed in our lap as we rested in a shaded area of a tourist sight, the mother posing her child for the picture without uttering a word to us. Nor was it unusual for mustachioed, middle-aged men to come up and start conversations that always culminated in photo requests. (“From which place?” they’d ask with a genuine interest never shown by jaded Saket Citywalkers. “You like India? Yes? Take picture?”)

Most entertaining of all were the gangs of college-age girls who’d crowd around us, giggling and stroking Jenny’s hair, giving us their email addresses and offering invitations to visit their hometowns.

Teenage boys rarely approached us directly, on the other hand, choosing instead to pretend to deeply scrutinize an SMS as pretext for holding their cameraphones at picture-snapping angles as they walked by. Except at Jama Masjid, where the teenage boys all loitered at the top of the mosque’s forty-meter minaret, waiting for their lookout to spot a female tourist entering the claustrophobic stairs that are barely wide enough for two people to pass. Then they’d file casually down the narrow stairwell as their victim went up, their hands just coincidentally held in perfect breast-brushing position.

At first we were quite offended by the photo requests, wondering how people could be so rude as to treat us like alley pigs or sidewalk tailors. Jenny made sport of teasing the men who approached her, agreeing to “take a picture” and then pulling out her own camera and snapping a shot after shot until the baffled men left her alone.

But as time went on, and our own photo album swelled with pictures of vegetable vendors, wandering sadhus, and streetside omelet makers, we realized our hypocrisy: if we found the people around us to be fascinating, beautiful, and photo-worthy—subjecting them to sudden evaluations of angle and light, followed by the sudden blink of our black lens and then our sudden disappearance without so much as a thank-you—it was morally dishonest not to accept ourselves as objects of equal interest.

We vowed to happily accept photo requests from that moment onward, putting broad grins on our faces while anybody who pleased put their arms around our shoulders and stared expressionlessly into their cameras. We made ourselves equally open to the cameraless people who just wanted to shake our hands, although they always seemed far more interested in shaking Jenny’s hands then my own.

Our experience came full circle when we realized how much more we liked it when people asked permission to take our photo than when they attempted paparazzi-style photos from afar. We decided to give our photographic subjects the same consideration: instead of suddenly stopping, snapping, and speeding off, we got in the habit of requesting permission for pictures, and then thanking people profusely and showing them the output on the screen. Not only did our interactions with people become more satisfying, but our photos got better as well.

a tale of two tailors

I always brought my shirts to Tej & Co. Drapers and Tailors, until the Monday morning when the proprietor (Mr. Tej?) denied that I’d given him my shirt on Saturday afternoon.

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I had to return to his store every day for the next four days, engaging in increasingly acrimonious accusations (“You stole my shirt!” “You lie!”) until he finally enlisted the owner of Bhagwan Fancy Store three storefronts down (Mr. Bhagwan?) to translate and mediate.

I described the shirt. Mr. Tej denied he’d ever seen it. We went back and forth until Mr. Bhagwan suggested that I look around the store and satisfy myself that my shirt wasn’t there.

I found my shirt in the first bag I opened.

While Mr. Tej scowled and looked away, Mr. Bhagwan grinned broadly—he knew he’d just acquired a new customer.

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two autos queuing for fuel

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Nighttime at the CNG pumps: a sight we saw all too often because the route to our flat went right by the gas station. So close that we could practically feel our pillows on our weary heads, but too far for walking to make any sense (never mind the traffic and lack of sidewalks on Aurbindo Marg), all we could do is get out and watch. We can’t stay seated and doze — the fuel intake is hidden in a panel under our seat.

So we stand, and wait, and try not to fall asleep, and get stared at while we take pictures to pass the time.

roshan di kulfi

Before we left Delhi, Jenny and I did our best to make it to our favorite restaurants one last time. Not Karim’s, because the first time is the best and it trends towards mediocre the more often you visit. I’m talking about the mall for Jenny’s favorite paneer tikka (yes, her favorite was at the mall); Sagar’s and Saravana Bhavan for dosas and uttapams; Flavors for pizza; and Roshan di Kulfi, all the way up in Karol Bagh, for breakfast, snacks, and dessert all in one sitting.

Jenny and I can’t remember if we discovered RdK ourselves our were led there by our good friends at Eating Out In Delhi. Either way, we know from Hemanshu’s blog that Roshan di Kulfi has been a Karol Bagh favorite for decades. It’s one of those places where the crowd spills out the door and if you want a seat, you have to hover over people who look like they’re finishing so you can snatch it up the moment they stand.

Kulfi” is ice cream, Indian style. “Roshan di” means, well, I’m going to assume it means “Delicious gooey noodles that we put on top of”.

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RdK’s specialty is kulfi falooda, which is ice cream with sweet rose-water noodles on top, plus bits of almond and pistachio for good measure. It’s something better tasted than described.

But RdK goes beyond dessert — or, rather, it’s got stuff that comes before dessert. We ordered chole bhatura, a Punjabi chickpea dish most often served for breakfast, and raj kachori, which is a big ball of pastry filled with all sorts of stuff and covered with all sorts of sauce.

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A ball of stuff and sauce: we can’t get more specific (and it doesn’t get much better) than that.

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