Sunday, August 27, 2017

Naanwais of Delhi

My article on Naanwais of Delhi appeared in The Hindu 

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The naanwais of Delhi: On the Afghan bread trail - The Hindu

Read the unedited version below....try this is nice and different...

Naan Afghani, Naan Obi, Bolani, Lavasha, Roghani….they are various names of breads from Afghanistan available right here in the heart of Delhi. Thanks, to a bustling Afghan community, the traditional Naanwais of Afghanistan have been transported right here. Naanwais as the name indicates are makes and sellers of Naans or bread.

Afghanistan has a quaint culture where bread is not made at home but picked from the Naanwais in the lanes. The Naanwai mostly men knead the dough and make fresh bread throughout the day. When the migration from Afghanistan started into India, many of the immigrants made Delhi their base especially Bhogal and Lajpat Nagar. With them they brought their culture of bread making to this country. Since bread was not made at home, the Naanwais soon set shop to sell the bread. The naans today are available across the city where the population has settled.  So it is Bhogal – Kashmiri Lane – in the Bhogal Jungpura market where there is a sizeable portion. There is Lajpat Nagar where a lane is designated as Afghan Street, near the main market. There is Malviya Nagar near Max Hospital where many Afghanis come for medical treatment. Tilak Nagar is another area where many have settled.
Bhogal is still a concentration of Aghanis. I make my way to Kashmiri Lane in Bhogal to Afghan Bakery. The friendly owner Tamim Omari, had told me over the phone that bread was available throughout the day and he would guide me.  His store is a warehouse of baked delights from Afghanistan. There are traditional biscuits handmade and fresh. It is made by his three brothers in another part of Delhi and transported here also. From Baklava, Jowari, Namki to Tauti and Shrinidor.. he has it all. A fascinating find was Roht. Tamim points me to the lane saying you will find all naans there.  And I do.

Bhogal has around 7 – 8 bread makers. What is commonly sold is Naan Afghani,  Naan Uzbeki and simple naan.  Insiders claim there were 20 odd Naanwais here and with population moving abroad, their numbers have dwindled. I am not so sure, since many Afghanis have also moved to other parts of Delhi.  The Naanwais start making bread early in the morning, at 7:30 am or so and continue making it till night – majorly the rolling out is done for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When one batch finishes, the next is made and put in the oven. The shops have huge clay ovens in which the Naans are baked. The Naans are all made by hand, without using any rolling pin. Mohammad Ali and his son also sell Khajuri, these are shaped like dates or khajur almost look like our Gujiyas without filling.  They are more like Thekuas of Bihar. The breads are commonly priced at Rs. 20 each. The reason I am told, bread is not made at home is that one needs a clay oven. Since it occupies a lot of space in the home, it is only made by the Naanwai. The culture simply transplanted itself here. At Kashmiri Lane one can see the bread being made. At Lajpat Nagar it is sold off the push cart.

It was impossible to get an idea of the different types of naan, since the younger ones didn’t have a clue and the elderly did not understand. Finally the elderly man sitting at Tamim’s shop obliged. I hope I have got it all.

Paraki – Lavasa -  These are simple flat roti like looking. They are rectangular in shape. This is used as a wrap. It is also the base for the famous Afghani burgers. The famous Pakeeza Burger run by the father and son duo had caught the imagination of the netizen. Their cart was immensely popular. They now have a permanent shop selling the burger. On this flat roti are spread boiled eggs, chicken and French fries. It is wrapped into a roll. It is the popular Afghani burger.

Naan Uzbeki –These are round made of maida and have designs stamped on them. Due to its appearance it is called Naan Uzbeki. Naan Obi – It is similar to Naan Uzbeki.

Naan Afghani – This is made using whole wheat. It is longish in appearance and is very commonly available. Another variant of this is the Sadha or plain. There is also a tandoor version.

Roghani Naan – It is extremely soft and light. It is made with lots of oil and ghee. It is not commonly available and made during specific times. I was told to come in the evening to find it at Bhogal.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A growth of Delhi a modern city through the eyes of Madan Mahatta

(The original article appeared in The HINDU  Vignettes of Old Delhi - The Hindu read the unedited version here....) 

Delhi is a city built and re-built over time, a city with myriad influence spanning centuries and culture. Lutyens Delhi has been much documented and written about. It is however the building of modern Delhi, a change from the British Era to the Indian one, which gave it its own particular character symbolising growth and development.   Modern Delhi, 1950s onwards saw the influence of a number of renowned architects, each leaving his own unmistakeable imprint on its buildings. Several iconic buildings emerged. INTACH has come out with a list of 62 buildings which deserve the modern heritage status and needs to be preserved as modern heritage. It includes office complexes, cooperative group housing societies, cinema hall, shopping complexes all designed post 1950s each is a study in itself with its own charm. What made it all the more interesting for me was our residential abode was in the list as the first cooperative group housing society in Delhi.

A common factor or thread in all the buildings listed by INTACH was that majority of the buildings were shot by one man, the legendary photographer – Madan Mahatta.  Working in an era where there were curbs on importing equipment, doing with the little infrastructure that was in place, the man worked with some of the finest architects involved in the design and building of modern Delhi. Documenting their work and at the same time documenting the growth of the city.  He understood architecture and was able to compose his shots showing off the buildings splendidly. As leading architect, Kuldip Singh, says, “My association with Madan Mahatta started in 1960s, He was highly dedicated who would go to great extent to get the right shades, colour and textures, show the composition to us before shooting. At times if the ambiance was not right, a second visit was arranged. The distortions were corrected through his Linhoff camera.” The architects with whom Madan Mahatta worked reads like a literal whos who – The architects with whom Madan Mahatta worked reads like a literal whos who – Raj Rewal, Kuldip Singh, Charles Correa, Habib Rahman, Design Group - Ranjit Sabiki and Ajoy Choudhury,  J K Choudhry, J A Stein, Achyut Kanvinde…

The sheer volume of work is mind boggling. Madan Mahatta had single handed shot almost over a lakh images of modern Delhi. He worked with over 60 of the top architects in Delhi documenting their work. A peek into Mahatta Archives makes me forget the hot afternoon trudge to Connaught Place to the upstairs office of Mahatta & Co. Mahatta’s closed their retail last year, they continue with their commercial work and studio above their showroom which used to be their darkrooms. What comes through is a mad passion to photograph with uncanny precision the growth of a city. The love for modernity, architecture, keen eye on the composition comes through in each of the photographs. It might have taken hours, days or months to document. The cameras he used from childhood to his professional life , baby brownie by Kodak,Zeiss Super Ikonta, Rolleifex, Nikon (35mm )the F, F2 , F3 , Linhoff (medium format), Hassalblad (Medium format). The photographs are still being documented and digitised. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and it is indeed true here.

Pavan Mahatta who now runs Mahatta with his brother Pankaj and son Arjun says, “there have been several outstanding buildings in Delhi even in the recent past. But the finest of them were done from the 1950s to the 1980s. It is not to say that architects today are not good, but those who created the buildings then had vision, they used a wide spectrum of materials and each design philosophy is different from the other. The sheer vibrancy and the depth of work was very different.” Adds Singh, “It was an exciting phase. This was a period of better patronage from the Government, where they tried to involve private architecture to raise the standards and add a new dimension to building. Once the actual construction of the building started one did have the feeling that one is a participant of an evolving city.”

And did the city evolve? Yes, it certainly did, the pictures are incredible. There is an aerial shot of the Jantar Mantar, Park Hotel area, all lush with a few buildings, the NDMC building yet to be built. There are shots of the American Embassy designed by Edward D Stone, there is a black and yellow ambassador parked right at the entrance. Yes, it must have been possible to drive so near the place. There is a photo of our apartments, Yamuna Apartments by The Design Group being built. The front of the society without any roads is a barren sand area. I am stunned to see the open space, today the road outside takes me a good 10 minutes to cross! There are many such gems. There is a shot of a plane landing at night, when the first night landing commenced at the Palam Airport. The runway lit by plethora of lights with the plane. It must have been some determination to document the changing face of the city so methodically. There are shots of the Safdarjung Tomb beautifully reflected in the water surrounding it. A shot which made me nostalgic – of bunking school for movies and ice-cream, was that of the inside of the famous Nirula’s restaurant next to Chanakya cinema. There is a shot of the “once happening mall of Delhi” the Super Bazaar where everyone shopped before the mall explosion occurred. The Bahai Temple, an architecture marvel, as Pavan says, “my father was involved with it from the time the model was built.”

There are shots of the Centaur, Akbar, Maurya, Oberoi and Ashoka Hotel. Raj Rewal’s Hall of Nations is well documented as are Kuldip Singh’s NDMC building and Palika Kendra. There is Charles Correa’s Jeevan Bharati, Stein’s Habitat Centre, India International Centre, The Design Group’s YMCA Staff Headquarters and Yamuna Apartments... As Pavan says, “my father was partial to Stein’s work.”

There is a beautiful shot of 19th January 1961, of an open cavalcade in which Queen Elizabeth rode with Dr. Rajendra Prasad around Connaught Place. There are crowds lining the streets and the aerial shot shows the tranquillity of the place. He recalls how when Palika Bazaar was being built, they would shoot it every month so the growth of the bazaar and the entire area would be known.  The Odeon cinema, Supreme Court…what is poignant is as Pavan says, “my father had cancer but even in those last days he would insist on being driven out. He used to mentally document the progress of the Metro through its pillars.” I ponder how would he have reacted to the demolishing of Raj Rewal’s architectural beauties at Pragati Maidan? 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wenger's - an establishment that changed the way Delhi ate its patisserie

The original article appeared in The Hindu - Stories from the oven - The Hindu
Read the unedited version here... 

Somewhere in the early 1924, an enterprising Swiss couple Mrs. Jeanne Strechi Wenger along with her husband H C Wenger began a catering venture for the British troops operating from Kashmere Gate called Wenger’s. Their food must have been good as in the then being built Connaught Place, a portion of the A Block was reserved to house Wenger’s. Wenger’s officially shifted to their present location, in early 1930s, with its confectionery and tea room  - Rendezvous (cafĂ©), La Mer (ball room) and Green Room (party room) spread over two floors. In true Raj style, during summers, Wenger’s downed its shutters to move to Wenger’s Simla, the summer capital. Soon a young Brij Mohan Tandan, joined as General Manager. In 1944, Mrs. Wenger sold the business to Tandan and retired to Dehradun.  Atul Tandon, current owner / partner who runs Wenger’s today with his brother – first cousin Aman Tandon recalls, “I still remember in the late 60s of going to Dehradun during summer holidays. In the evening we would visit Mrs. Wenger and she would treat us to homemade baked goodies and take us for a ride around town in her car. We used to call her Memsahib!”   

Tandan had learned the ropes of the business, and carried forth the legacy that the establishment spelt, the emphasis on quality and everything made in-house – proprietory. As Atul Tandon, says. “what my grandfather bought was the brand name, the utensils and some equipments which were there.  Over the years, we have innovated, closed some operations, introduced new variants, started the Deli, manufacturing at Noida and over hauled the production process.” Charanjeet Singh, manager, an old hand who joined Wenger’s in 1965 says, “then we had four types of pastries made using margarine - pineapple, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. They cost Rs. 5 per dozen and people would buy a dozen or half a dozen and not less. Today, we have over 70 varieties of pastries all made from fresh cream which no one does. In chocolates there were 7 – 8 variety, now we have 22 varieties of chocolates.”

It does come as a surprise that a majority of the “European confectionery or patisserie products” were actually introduced by the Tandons. At one point of time, it also had a range of Indian mithais available. The ground floor patisserie shop is the only iconic landmark reminder.   

Wenger’s had the who’s who coming for its delights.  Atul Tandon laughs, “M F Husain would sit in the restaurant and speak to my Tayaji. He would doodle and sketch on the cotton cloth napkins and leave them behind, which would be promptly thrown into the dustbin by my Tayaji. It was considered a wasted napkin.”   Singh adds, “He used to walk in bare feet and he loved our Shammi kababs and Chicken patties.” He parts with more gems, “Actress Helen is fond of our wine chocolates and visited us often then. Atal Behari Vajpayee before becoming the PM would simply walk in and buy vegetarian products. The plum cake was a great gifting option to the Late Indira Gandhi.” It is still a popular gifting option.  From the over 250 products, it is the pineapple pastry, black forest cake, truffle which rule the roost. Traditional preparations like the plum cake, pudding are still made using the old recipe perfected by Mrs. Wenger with improvisation. Easter specials of hot cross buns, marzipan and Easter eggs work well. Recently custard based peach tart pastry has been launched as also Panettone.

With the onslaught of competition, Wenger’s has managed a fine balance of uncompromising on quality with affordable prices. Fruits are soaked in rum for over a month and the long procedure is followed. However, what touches the heart most is the old world hospitality of personalised service, polite unhurried charm a throwback to the times of what Delhi once was. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Delhi's towering creation - 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., pub-8283208273141084, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0

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