Tag Archives: Partition

Neighbourhood Guide: Khanna Market

Neighbourhood Guide: Khanna Market ♦

Khanna Market

The cover of a trader’s association booklet about Khanna Market from the 1990s.

Each of the four big markets in the quadrangle of land bound by Lodhi Road, Nehru Stadium, Aurobindo Marg and the railway line has its own special charm, from the leafy literary appeal of Jorbagh; to the sleepy specialty stores and restaurants of Lodhi Colony Market; to Mehar Chand’s mix of haute and hoi polloi.

But of all the neighbourhood shopping centres on that fringe of central Delhi where the colonial city ended and the refugee city began, the one I visit most often and find most endearing, is Khanna Market. Between the lofty imperial archways of Lodhi Colony and the scattered, built-over remnants of an older city—the Aliganj area, with its Shia graveyard of Karbala, and the Shah-e-Mardan dargah; and the 18th-century tomb of military commander Najaf Khan—Khanna Market provides a prismatic view of the moment when Delhi became the capital of newly independent India, born from the labour of Partition.  It is also immeasurably convenient for erranding.

The oldest and most famous inhabitant here is Chidambaram’s New Madras Hotel, an unassuming South Indian joint with roots in the area going back to 1930, well before the market existed. The original Chidambaram, from the town of the same name in Cuddalore, was the cook of a cabinet minister transferred to Delhi. Chidambaram wanted to join the military, but was drafted instead to run a mess for the officer’s quarters at Lodhi Colony, newly built by the British as they cemented Delhi’s position as capital.

C. Kumar, who now runs the restaurant with his brother, says their father “brought idli-vada to Delhi”, and used to feed “100 bachelors”. According to him, the elder Chidambaram believed that “selling food is a sin.”  Over half a century later, the prices and flavours still induce gluttony. Faced with this  sweet trespass—idli encrusted with gritty red masala; golden vada threaded with onion; creamy dahi-vada topped with crunchy boondis, chillies and beetroot; lacy rava dosa folded over shredded coconut confetti or slathered with garlic paste—the loyal regulars demand their sin again and again.

Manmohan Arora, of Arora Store

Manmohan Arora of Arora Store

Chidambaram was one of the first to set up shop in Khanna Market when the area was developed for Partition refugees in the early 1950s, under the auspices of market namesake Mehar Chand Khanna, the politican who eventually headed the Department of Rehabilitation. At Arora General Store, a kirana dukan enlivened by a colourful selection of embroidered borders, Manmohan Arora recalls coming here with his family from Gujranwala in 1947. “We did footpath business also,” he says, “until we got the shop in 1957.”

Arora’s store is tucked away in a neglected crook of shops next to a tiny park across Najaf Khan Road and beyond a cluster of tentwallas, in the so-called “New Khanna Market”. His mine of memories about the market’s heyday include a the festivities of the passing Phoolwalon Ki Sair, the four large gates of Karbala, and a parade for a young Dara Singh;. Back then, it was “four bananas, one anna,” he says.

There are still cheap, filling thrills to be had though, starting from Rs 5 for boiled anda at wholesaler Malhotra Egg Sales. The chhola-kulcha seller behind Trilok paan stand is the most popular of several; sample at your peril the tandoori momos at car-o-bar friendly Peshawari, or the snacks at Ram Singh Bhoj, Krishan Sweets or Bangla Sweet Corner. Burning a bigger hole in the pocket is airconditioned North Indian-Chinjabi restaurant Hot Chimney, which has deep ties to tourist taxi drivers, who take advantage of the market’s free parking and eat the same food at the cut-price Dawat next door. Meanwhile, market stalwart Golden Bakery has a droolworthy selection of cookies, cakes and snackfoods.

The Hakim may or may not be in.

The Hakim may or may not be in.

For home baking needs, there are two chakkis, and the woebegone but chatty owner of Chabbra Floor Mills (sic) was once kind enough to grind almond flour for me on request. (The smaller Bansi Mills is more efficient, but less accommodating.) The meat shops include a reliable Green Chick Chop, but  it’s really Khanna Market’s well-stocked and reasonable produce stores that tip the scales in its favour compared to other markets. My go-to is Puri Brothers, which carries everything from bamboo stalks to banana flowers, and whose owners  provides cooking suggestions for unfamiliar seasonal vegetables like fuzzy “barsati karela”. There are also two decent wine and beer counters.

Other market gems include the famous Devan’s South Indian Coffee and Tea in New Khanna Market, which has perfumed the environs with the aroma of roasting coffee since 1962. Bhatia Musicals, run by the knowledgeable Sandeep Bhatia, is packed to the roof with lustworthy imported guitars, classical instruments, and technical equipment (don’t miss the giant vinyl record on the ceiling). A bit further off the beaten track is a mysterious staircase leading to the Bareilly Surma Centre, an eye clinic run by Hakim M. Riasat Qadri, who shuttles between Bareilly and Delhi ministering to clients of every faith. The market’s three opticians  and half-a-dozen chemist shops supplement these services. (The hakim’s surma is purely medicinal.)

Khanna Market’s cloth shops sell everything from blankets to bolts of fabric, snugly fitted next to tailors with decades of experience in the crisp lines of sarkari office-wear. Keep an eye out for phulkari dupattas, fifty-rupee blouses, and sharp, pinstripe suits, as well as a dozen tailors, some little more than sewing-machines-in-the-wall, others part of full service shops that also sell fabric. There’s even a cute little dry-cleaning service, Roxy, that advertises four-hour service.


Behind Khanna Market, a vision of Delhi in BK Dutt Colony.

Behind Khanna Market, a vision of Delhi in BK Dutt Colony.

There are cosmetic shops, a mehendi-walla, at least two places to get your hair cut, a photo studio, shoe shops and appliance dealers. One of several textbook and stationary shops, Adarsh Pustak Bhandar displays both Raj Comics and Akbar-Birbal stories. Sahib Bhai Patang Wala’s shiny hole-in-the-wall is currently stuffed with Holi supplies.

Despite this abundance, Khanna Market is relatively peaceful, perhaps because it’s still the sum of its parts, not a destination. The shopkeepers wouldn’t mind a bit more business though. Kamal Kishore of Kamal Cloth House, which he opened on Republic Day, 1966, told me that his stock of Vardhaman yarn brings in knitters from far and wide in certain months, but the rest of the year is lean. A stone’s throw from the Swacch Bharat-supported Lodhi Colony street art initiative, the little park outside his store, which the shopkeepers once “maintained beautifully with trees and flowers” is now a tentwalla dumping ground.

Sitting in his loft office above a trinket-stuffed Archies, Ravinder Grover, president of the Khanna Market Trader’s Association, told me about low-key “revamp” plans. A few shops have constructed second storeys, and others have the NDMC’s approval to do so. It’s unlikely though that Khanna Market will see anything like what one shopkeeper called “the hijacking by Khan Market people” of Mehar Chand, which is largely unauthorised. According to Grover, Khanna Market has long survived by catering to the needs of civil servants for things of use. Grover said his father, Chamanlal, fed breakfast to “500 to 600 regular customers” at his restaurant in Lodhi Colony Market. Grover’s ran from 1945 to 1974, he said, with milestones like Delhi’s first jukebox and an early “expresso” machine.

Enjoying life at Chidambaram's New Madras Hotel.

At Chidambaram’s New Madras Hotel.

Chidambaram’s New Madras Hotel 7 Khanna Market, 2461-7702. Meal for two Rs 500.

DCCWS and DSIDC Wine & Beer Shops 80 and 31 Khanna Market.

Devan’s South Indian Coffee & Tea 131 Khanna Market, 2469-4467.

Golden Bakery 101 Khanna Market, 2469-4314.

Kamal Cloth House 125 Khanna Market, 2469-1872.

Jagdish Studio 91 Khanna Market, 2464-7700.

Malhotra Egg Sales 31A Khanna Market, 98919-72531.

Puri Brothers 10 Khanna Market, 2464-0549.

Roxy, 45 Khanna Market, 98190-40769

Originally published in Brown Paper Bag Delhi, March 23, 2016.


Published: March 24, 2016

To the Manohar born

Help yourself to a slice of Delhi food history ♦


Manmohan Singh at the Manor Hotel (Photos: Paroma Mukherjee)

On a walk through Khan Market’s intestinal middle lane the other day, we came upon a basket of bread, next to the imported strawberries and grapes. The smallish, dark square loaves nestled in the large basket looked impossibly old-fashioned compared to the fluffy white or fashionably grain-sprinkled varieties available today. We asked the man selling the loaves where the bread came from. “That’s Manohar bread”, he said, as if that were explanation enough.

That name would be, for anyone above 50 years of age, an instant nostalgia-trigger. Loaves of Manohar bread, each embossed with the company name, used to be a Delhi classic.

Like many good Delhi classics, Manohar bread has its origins in pre-Partition Lahore. Manohar Singh was a landowner’s son who – short on funds and advised against further study by his professor – opened a tuck shop in Government College Lahore’s New Hostel. He started selling chai, samosas and jalebis, “by default, almost by accident”, according to his son, Manmohan Singh, who we met over coffee at the familyowned Manor Hotel. Singh the elder became part of Lahore college lore. “My father’s nature was very different, very generous,” his son recalled. Eventually, Singh began catering for hotels like Nedoo’s and became the city’s biggest caterer. When Partition happened, however, he came to Delhi as a refugee in 1947.

DelhiBread_TimeOutDelhi_Shah1“There was a bakery in Connaught Place, which the government had listed as an evacuee property,” Manmohan told us. “It was given to my father as a refugee by Meher Chand Khanna, who was a minister. My father even lived there for some time, in a communal housing set-up, until he started baking there.” Manohar bakery, set up post-Partition, existed in the middle lane behind Odeon cinema – between B Block and H Block – for over 30 years until finally closing in 1981 or so. According to Manmohan, at its peak, the bakery would produce around 5,000 loaves a day. Manohar and other small bakeries existed alongside large companies like Britannia, and pre-dated even Modern Bread.

“We’ve never used preservatives,” Manmohan told us, “which means that the bread has to be eaten fresh – within a day or two. And the bread was wood-fired – as it still is today – on wooden bhattis. In most of the old bakeries, the bakers were all Muslims from Uttar Pradesh who learnt the art from their fathers and passed it on to their sons. It’s harder and harder to find people from that lineage today.” Singh did make one concession to modernity and bought a dough-beater in the 1970s, but before that, the dough was kneaded by these workers.

Singh managed to expand his business, mostly through the loose network of friendships and contacts in what was then small-town Delhi society. He began catering for Kota House (now the Naval Officer’s Mess on Shahjahan Road), and eventually met Ja D Fonseca, a Portuguese man who had come to Goa as a nine-year-old stowaway. Fonseca ran a hotel that was popular with foreigners, on the spot where the Taj Mahal Hotel now stands on Mansingh Road. Fonseca suggested that Singh open a hotel, where he could accommodate overflow guests. At the time, the cheapest and most spacious area available was Friends Colony, and the “Manor Country House” was built in the early 1950s.

“It was always called Manor,” Manmohan told us, “but people in the area called it Manohar because of the association with my father and with the bread.” Manmohan remembers his father holding court at the hotel. “He wasn’t really a businessman; his business was mixed with philanthropy, with friendship. Any widow who wanted to marry her daughter off would be given the hotel for free. My mother Roop was actually the brains behind the business – the one who kept things afloat.” A few years after her husband died in 1975, however, she closed the bakery in CP. “Now we only bake in small quantities for a limited number of customers,” Manmohan told us.

The bakery, which is now on the premises of the Manor Hotel, supplies their hearty, slightly nutty bread mainly to the Delhi Golf Club and small amounts to vendors in select markets, like Khan. Carrying on his father’s tradition, Manmohan also sends loaves over to family friends.

“I’m looking to revive the bakery somehow,” he said. “For emotional reasons, I’d like to carry it on, but it’s in an in-between stage right now.” The Manor Hotel itself (now leased by Old World Hospitality) is also undergoing a revamp, with new restaurants, a spa and service apartments in the offing. “For practical reasons, we might have to change some things,” Manmohan said, “but it’s something to look at reviving.”

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, January 2009.

Published: January 23, 2009