Tag Archives: Delhi hipsters

Delhi Hectic

A new online “Instagram graphic novel” seeks to puncture Delhi’s poseur pride  ♦

aaja thumbIt might seem like the height of irony, but Arjun Jassal, creator of Delhi Hectic, insists that his new online graphic novel project is a sincere attempt to make sense of Delhi’s pretentious, disjointed social scene. The story features Jassal and his friend Aazar Anis as they wander into various city situations like an ’80s party and a book launch. The self-described mediageek and co-owner of Blue Ant Digital Intelligence told Sonal Shah about the project.

How’d you come up with the idea of an Instagram graphic novel?
When I started writing Delhi Hectic, in my head, it was “graphic novel”. It was almost like Scott Pilgrim moves to Delhi and goes noir. [It was] only when I realised that no one wanted to illustrate it that I decided to play with the definition of the word “graphic” and use pictures instead. After all, pictures are graphic too. But just pictures weren’t enough, they had to be pictures that connected to what I was saying and feeling. That’s when I realised that Instagram would be perfect. After all, Instagram is nothing but an image chronicle of your life. I am a graphic novel fan. I just wanted to make one myself!

Are the pictures taken while the events are taking place?
Some pictures are from actual events I talk about, others have been repurposed to fit the story arc. We decide on the characters/ events we want to talk about, convert them into 500-700 word chapters. Then use the crux of the text and post it on the images using Photoshop. It’s all quite quick and simple.

How factual are the stories?
The stories are all based on real events. Each party, each character and each situation is based on something I witnessed or have been part of in Delhi. But in the interest of making this coherent, certain conversations have been shortened and certain interactions have been created to either introduce a character or remove them from a chapter.

By creating an Instagram graphic novel, might you be participating in the very social scene you feel alienated from?
I don’t think there is a “social scene”. In fact, the whole feeling of Delhi Hectic is that we want to be part of a scene, something coherent, something that gives us a voice, makes us feel like we’re part of something much bigger than us. But no such scene exists. All Delhi knows or understands as a “scene” is a place where people can dress up, show off what they can buy, and post fashion magazine-like pictures on social networks. It makes me sick.

I feel “alienated”, if that’s the word you want to use, because I feel that Delhi no longer has public spaces where people can just be. Places where you don’t have to deck up. Places where you don’t have to buy expensive stuff. Places where you can be, and say, and do what comes to your mind. Within the bounds of certain convention, of course. Delhi has gone from a bazaar to a mall. It’s all pretty, it’s all glass and metal, it’s all air conditioned. But it doesn’t have a space to express itself. Instead, something has been uprooted and planted here, and we’re all expected to play by its rules.

Is this at all an ironic exercise?
I don’t think Delhi Hectic is ironic. What the words say is what we feel. We’re not trying to tell people to be otherwise. We’re not expecting a change. We’re just telling you what we feel when we’re in the same situations as you.

Ideally, how would you like your Delhi story to end?
It’s too early to talk about it. After all, we’ve just begun!

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, March 2013.

Published: March 1, 2013

Hippies vs hipsters

The case for Paharganj ♦

DSC_0019For years, there’s been no stemming the southbound, outward drift of Delhi nightlife. The mega-clubs of Noida and Gurgaon first lured revelers away from the city with the promise of police raid-free parties. Then South Delhi got its own malls, complete with rooftop clubs: extravagant light-and-sound beacons of the lush life, outdoor dance terraces, imported ingredients and, inevitably, the popped-collar crowd.

The emergence of Hauz Khas Village as a nightlife destination was welcome. It’s not difficult to see how, in its contr­ast to the ostentation of other options, that neigh­bourhood acquired its alternative tag. But take out the new restaurants and music venues, and there are still a few core reasons – walk-ability, scale, safety, expat patronage – why HKV’s popularity was almost predestined.

But enough has been said about that urban village (not least of all by Time Out). It’s time to move on. In the past few weeks, we’ve heard murmurings about two other historic Delhi areas that make us want to start casting predictions about where the next scene will pop up. A couple of Dilliwalas (including original HKV restaurateur Ritu Dalmia) have recently touted Daryaganj as the next big thing. The neighbourhood bridging central and old Delhi certainly has the charm of other old world cities that have transformed into trendy destinations. The tea shop Aap Ki Pasand predates Elma’s by years, Moti Mahal has long been a low-key dining option, there’s art-deco elegance hidden in the bylanes, and the sexologist signboards on BSZ Road achieve kitsch more effortlessly than anything in HKV. The boutiques and cafés will surely come.

However, our money’s on the imminent gentrification of Paharganj. Most Dilliwalas treat a trip to that locale as a foreign journey, and it’s true that Paharganj is culturally a satellite state of India’s hippie trail nation. But that’s changing. First, one of the city’s most conveniently-located Metro stops deposits riders right into the market. Then, anticipating a demand for hotels during the Commonwealth Games, the city spent a couple of crores sprucing up Paharganj’s lanes. There are still open sewers and rubble, but besides kamikaze rickshaws, Paharganj is easily navigable and safe for women, buzzing with people until well after midnight.

And then there’s the foreigner quotient. They may be backpackers, not expats, but this international population gives Paharganj a cosmopolitan character. The budget tourists keep the area affordable, with business owners catering to a crowd that appreciates value-for-money rather than showy spending.

Paharganj already has more 24 hour joints in less space than any other Delhi neighbourhood. It’s just a matter of time before a game-changing venue will open: a restaurant that ditches the usual multicuisine mish-mash, perhaps, or a live music café. In the past few months, we’ve noticed several new places, including a Mediterranean hookah bar and a coffee shop promising Italian espresso across the street from each other. Connaught Place’s Outer Circle has a number of new bars too (including live music lounge Sura Vie), which could make rickshaw-enabled pub crawls a viable option.

Then there are the old establishments, like Ajay Guest House’s café, which recently rebranded itself as hip, organic Brown Bread Bakery. We were recently enchant­ed by the green rooftop at Fire and Ice, especially its view of the romantic domes of the sadly decrepit Qazi Wali Masjid from between its vine-covered trellises. At Dokebi Nara, the Korean den that’s been fermenting cabbage in its hallway for eight years, we eavesdropped as a table of Bengali intellectuals downed pints and smoked their way through packets of Gold Flakes. “Have you seen Ritu Dalmia’s new book?” one asked another, “the launch party was last night.” Listen up, restaurateurs and scenesters: Paharganj is calling.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, December 2011.

Published: December 23, 2011

The Grey Garden

Fabric of our lives ♦

To get to this Hauz Khas Village eatery, you first descend a cramped alley hung with fabric, reminiscent of the Katra Neel cloth market in the Old City. Once you pop out on the other end though, you’ll find less commerce, more conversation.

The Grey Garden, perched at the rear edge of the Village, has ties to a local hipster consortium of electronic artists and designers. Its interior decor compounds the impression that the owners are playing at restaurateuring: the rectangular room has only about six tables, and is defined by its loveliest feature, a ceiling of white fabric squares, lit up with a wash of neon light.

Found objects are sandwiched under the glass table-tops; dried roses hang in random bunches from the walls; and draped over a nail in one corner are the guts of a CPU. The overall effect is charming, if just a bit ramshackle (especially compared to the high polish of the sister shop next door). No doubt the atmosphere is elevated somewhat by the patrons – a mix of expats and well-heeled locals sipping fashionably shallow pours from large goblets.

We’re not sure why the Grey Garden bills itself as a slow-food venue. There’s no explanation on the menu of the commitment to local producers and regional ingredients that the slow food movement typically implies. (If ingredients like the rambutan and walnuts are indeed from around here, we’d love to hear more about it.) Thankfully, though, the slow food tag isn’t a reference to the unhurried but biddable service, nor the order preparation time.

The menu is to the point, with appetisers, a digestible selection of pizzas and a slightly more provocative list of main courses, which sound whimsical but not especially tempting. This might have been rectified with more poetic descriptions. Chicken with rambutan in red curry just cries out for a detailed account of itself, and the entry for a popular steamed fish in a banana leaf neglects to mention the type of fish. We started with an appetiser of zucchini fritters. These snackable zuke pakoras (R185, all prices tax-inclusive) would have been well complemented by the advertised accompaniment – “tzakzini [sic]”, a Greek yogurt dip – but were transmuted into iffy tempura as they came with salty, seasoned soy sauce instead. Still, the generous serving went well with chilled glasses of white from the short but site-appropriate list.

For the rest of the meal, we stuck to Grey Garden’s thin-crust pizzas, which are closer to flatbreads. The dough, rolled with herbs and tossed to an oblong shape, tasted fairly fresh and approached tantalising near-crispness when it first comes out on a wooden slab. Our slices got a little floppy eventually, but by then we were too buzzed to much care. Shreds of jalapenõ gave a good Indian Capsico kick to the olive pesto, tomato, basil and feta pizza ( R375). The pear, rocket, walnut and ricotta pizza ( R375), though trendy and short on rocket leaves, hit a sweet spot. Grey Garden’s desserts change daily. The banoffee pie ( R300) surpassed the oversweet Big Chill standard, and a lemon lavender cake (R300) was a slightly stale pound cake with tart lemon curd and inspired bits of dried lavender. A shot of bitter espresso (R70) was the kitchen’s crowning glory.

We’ll likely be back for more of it. As HKV inches ever-closer to an approximation of New York’s East Village, the Grey Garden fulfills a certain yearning for American-style democracy in dining (wear what you want, chat with the owners, linger for hours, be friends on Facebook, etc). Though local celebrities no longer man the kitchens, they do, along with friends, contribute to sporadic themed “supper club” dinners that we’re told are part performance art and part Social Happening (advance reservations required). Despite its shortcomings, the restaurant’s comfortable nonchalance won us over. A collection of wristwatches inside our table smiled brokenly up at us with their frozen faces and seemed to say, “You have time – take it slow.”

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 2, 2011