Friday, January 20, 2017

The Hall of Nations – Pragati Maidan – A Raj Rewal Creation

Remember any structure as one moves towards the zoo towards Pragati Maidan. One remembers the Purana Qila, and then the honey combed structures within the Pragati Maidan. The structures an integral part of the exhibition area usually evokes memories of innumerable exhibitions held there. The best of all the exhibition, the India International Trade Fair. For most, it visually reiterates that Pragati Maidan has been reached.

The space within the hall of nations is stupendous and can accommodate almost anything. Probably since this was designed to be a general exhibition ground without any specifics, the area was thus designated. The architect, the well acclaimed Raj Rewal.

Their website - describes the structure thus, “ Building Type – Exhibition, Year – 1972, “ The Permanent Exhibition Complex is designed to form the focus of 130 acres of Exhibition ground designed by Raj Rewal in New Delhi. The design was evolved to meet the constraints of time, availability of materials and labour but to above all to reflect symbolically and technologically, India’s intermediate technology in the 25th year of its independence. The depth of the structural system was utilized as a Sun breaker and conceived of in terms of the traditional 'jali', a geometrical pattern of perforation that serves to obstruct directs rays of the harsh Sun while permitting air circulation. The main pavilion of the Hall of Nations has a clear span of 78 metres and a height. varying from three metres to 21 metres, thereby providing a vast capacity for items to be exhibited, from books to bulldozers.”

The Halls of Industries and Nehru Pavillion add to the design impact.
This defines the ethos of the building. For me, like countless others, the site of the building is the sense of an exhibition ground where one got to see some extremely interesting and new things. It was a place where I was carted by my parents during the weekends to see the exhibitions. Earlier, it lasted a good month and was extended on popular demand. Unlike, now there were no traffic jams. It was a nice big place with plenty of trees. Evenings were beautiful with lights, music almost like a fairyland. The banners on the trees, the balloons all added to a child’s wonder. The same wonder relives when I make an annual pilgrimage to the IITF now of course during the business hours on the business days. The excitement and enthusiasm still remains. How else can I describe the countless new crafts, textiles, food that I have discovered there.

At the time the Hall of Nations was built, it was a symbol of the growing India, the modern Delhi and India. The Hall of Nation was a symbol put on postage stamps and it was glorified. The ITPO or Indian Trade Promotion Organisation has been wanting to demolish this and build a glitzy more modern exhibition centre. There have been appeals to save the structure. What will be the fate? The future will decide. For now, enjoy the building capture it and feel the pulse of what Delhi once was.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dil Kush at Chitli Qabar, sampling the bakeries of Chandni Chowk

 (This article appeared in the Hindu titled 
 Dil Khush at Chitli Qabar - The Hindu Read the unedited version here...)

When one speaks of  bakeries it is places like Goa, Bangalore, Pondicherry… which come to mind. Delhi on the other hand has always been a Mughal bastion with insatiable appetite for Mughalai food followed by evergreen Punjabi cuisine. Bakeries in this Mughal area seem far fetched, till I finally made a trip to Chandni Chowk to sample the goodies. Technically not Chandni Chowk but a tiny area called Chitli Qabar within it. The place is accessible by a turn next to the Golcha cinema on Darya Ganj. A rickshaw is the best bet to get to Chitli Qabar chowk. The path opens out at the other end near Gate Number 1 of Jama Masjid. The market is called Matia Mahal market. Despite the tiny bylanes, jostling crowds there is a certain genteel pace to the place, burkha clad women chip in promptly with suggestions and tips including what to savour, seeking directions is met with an avuncular reply akin to giving directions in a village. There are no count to the bakeries and as one proceeds into the bylanes more bakeries pop up.

The most interesting part of the bakeries is that all of them open early in morning and close around midnight everyday - approximately 7 am in the morning and closing at around 11 pm. The baking operations begin around 5:30 am or 6 am. The market comes alive in the evening around 5 pm onwards. And by closing time, everything baked for the day is sold out. So every item is made fresh daily. During the Holy month of Ramzan, the bakeries are open literally 24 hour a day. There are plenty of bakeries, Diamond, Golden, Asgar, Champion…

One of the most famous of bakeries is Diamond Bakery which has been around for over 100 years, while Asgar Bakery 70 odd years. Rusk Paya is one of the most popular rusk made.. The making of rusk paya is a process in itself taking almost 24 hours on wood fired ovens. It is made of suji or rava and special ingredients. It is interesting to see the workers carefully line the plates of paya with wood briquettes. The paya is first baked, cut and then baked again. So perfect it can safely last a few months. What makes the paya special is that instead of yeast a special masala made of 51 or so ingredient is added. The masala is made everyday, it works like yeast. Baking in the bakeries is done on wood fired ovens, diesel and electric ovens.

The best month to visit is of course during Ramzan when everything that the shops make is on offer. During the other days a lot of these delicacies are not available. Almost all the shops offer rusks or Rusk paya, gol rusk, cake rusk, suji rusk, fruit rusk, Tabarak roti, Sheermaal, Nankathai… Md. Anis explains Tabarak roti and its link with the religious routine from Ajmer adding, it is distributed at the Dargahs just like halwa is distributed during religious fasts. What is made for distribution is a larger sized version of what is available everyday.  The daily Tabarak roti is round almost like the roti or chappatis, 4 inches in diameter. It is made from rava has a very slight sweet taste to it, not really overpowering. It is the addition of saunf or fennel seeds which gives it a unique crisp flavour. It is an ideal accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea, not too sweet but tasty and filling.  Sheermaal, bun like is made everyday. During Ramzan out comes the butter jam sheermaal, there is dry fruits sheermaal, cherry sheermaal, sheermaal parantha.

In biscuits, it is the nankhatai which takes prime place. Both the besan or gram flour and those with flour, suji are also made. An interesting variant is chocolate nankhatai. The nankhatai is topped with a nice crunchy layer of chocolate. No, and the chocolate does not melt even in the hottest season. A lot of these delights are available everyday at Golden Bakery and during Ramzan they simply add more delights. Apart from the usual jeera biscuits, the ajwain biscuits do well. There is macaroons, muffins, Md. Aqil of Golden Bakery says, “our speciality is Dil Kush and Coconut Parantha. Both have their origins in Bangalore and were introduced by us here recently. Every Ramzan we try to offer something new which people like.” So coconut jam paranthas, Dil Khush with dry fruits are delicious variants available only during this season. It is Dil Khush, which is one of the most interesting of products. Made from maida, sugar and ghee, it is stuffed with khoya and cheeries. The outer layer is nice and crisp and when one bites into it, there is a nice delicious khoya flowing into the mouth. It was possibly christened Dil Khush since it makes one feel happy. Coconut parantha is again a huge bun like baked delicacy shaped like a parantha filled with coconut. There is coconut butter biscuits which simply melt in the mouth. During Ramzan, there is milk bread, fruit bread, cakes, dry fruit bread, dry fruit cake, dry fruit parantha…

Aqil says, “we have about 30 – 35 items. All of which are made during the month of Ramzan. Dil Khush and Coconut Paranthas are our special items. No one makes them here. Otherwise the rest are regular fare which every bakery makes.”  Regular or not it is mouth watering and tempting to say the least.  

Do visit and enjoy yourself in the wonderful world of baked products.