We stepped off the rickshaw and stepped into the car. “Was it fun?” I asked Pia. “Ooh yes, but my favourite part was driving past yours and Papa’s college!”
It was the last Friday of Ramazan – Jummat-alwida – and we had decided to trek across to Jama Masjid to taste the local iftar treats. Daughters came along on the adventure, despite dire warnings of crowds and parking hassles. We took the Ring Road that took us past Humayun’s Tomb - poetic in the dusky evening light, the Lego block Vikas Minar, once the tallest building of Delhi, and then the campus of School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). Pia looked out at all the landmarks dutifully, as they were pointed out.
“Uh huh” – as she stared non-committally at Humayun’s tomb;
“Hmmm” – unimpressed with Vikas Minar and back to Nancy Drew;
“Oh really?” – all perky and alert as we passed SPA – ironically, the least impressive of all the landmarks.
“That was the hostel, and this was the service road we walked down a million times between the Archi and Planning blocks”.
I looked curiously as the ”Archi block” went by – the gate had always been short and unimpressive for a premier institute, never pretending to keep anybody out, but I always loved its intimate size, the canteen sit-out looked a bit dismal, the main building reminded me of the studio nights.
As we entered Old Delhi, Pranay and I laughed at the number of trips we took to Nai Sarak – selecting yellow Schoeller sheets, model-making material (oh how I hated that!), glistening rolls of Ivory, handmade khadi sheets and of course rolls and rolls of butter paper! These trips were always full of anticipation – and the triumphant return with rolls of stationery goodies from the narrow, dirty alleys of Nai Sarak was a far cry from today’s retail therapy at malls. Nai Sarak trips were meant to include beef kababs from Matia Mahal and on days we felt rich – a super-oily dinner at Karim’s.
Back to the present, we parked our car at Gate no. 3 of Jama Masjid and much to the one-year old’s surprise, squeezed into a rickshaw. Crowds were pouring out of the mosque which was lit up for the festival days. It was intimidating; yet exhilarating. Rows of shops selling clothes, bangles, ittar, toys and mounds and mounds of dry seviyan. Pushing through the craziness we found our way into Karim’s.
Soon after – a feast ensued – mutton barra, seekh kabab, paya curry, chicken korma, gurda-kaleji, biryani, rumali roti.
“It was worth the trip,” I said as I distributed Zinetac 300mg tablets to adults and Enterogermina to minors.
“Never needed this crap during the SPA days’” said Pranay, sulkily gulping meds. “That was 20 years back”, I sighed.
Actually 22 years since we entered those gates of Archi block! When we spent initial days re-learning writing the alphabets - lettering was the first lesson from Ranjana Mittal and holding a pencil and drawing a line Mr Bahri’s! And initial nights were spent in intensive training for partying.
As our car headed back to South Delhi, a collage of images followed us from Archi block to our home.
Hostel Maggi, submission panic, missing the hostel bus from Maharani Bagh and hitching rides from Anil Laul, lemon tea at Kishan’s canteen, Frags’ gulab jamuns, the fear of juries, lost library cards, class trips and class romances, kissing in the canteen sit-out and Leonard Cohen audio tapes, Planning tank parties and summons from the warden’s office.
SPA was my threshold to an “adult” world. But true to college life we did crazy, un-adultlike stuff – some of it unadulterated fun and some of it borderline delinquent. I had forgotten that life. But on that day out, with my partner from those days – now with grey hair and BP medicines and my mint-fresh daughters who thought that the passing vision of an old, simple building overshadowed the grandeur and awe of Old Delhi, I figured that our memories are made of a plethora of flavours and we build our memories as we go.
Someday this day of Ramazan will be a potpourri of memories of college, the smell of kababs, rickshaw bells, daughters when they still clung to you, warm plates of shahi tukda and the silhouette of a city in which we lived.