You know what I love most about train journeys? The fact that you really get to meet so many people. I know this is a cliché, but this is more true about train journeys than any other. Now, bus journeys are spent in bumping into people and feeling to see if your wallet is still there. Flights are too short. But in a train, you spend over a day in other people’s company, getting to know them, see their little quirks.
So anyway, I met some really interesting people on the journey (one man who had worked as a cinematographer with Satyajit Ray, another man who devised a way to smoke in Rajdhani Express without getting caught – “Blow your smoke inside the commode”, and a child who cried continuous for
seven hours). After enduring many such people, I finally reached New Delhi.
I know this has been spoken about a number of times, but the truly amazing thing about Delhi is the abuses that people dole out to each other. I got a sample of this even before I had gotten down at the station. I was adjusting my hair in front of the mirror when I heard a voice say, “Oye hero, bas kar”
I turned back to see a small chai selling boy who was waiting to get down behind me. Once I got down at the platform, it was a string of b****chods and m*****chods flung around without a care in the world. I think there is a sense of camaraderie among the people that gives them the confidence to shower such abuses without being taken seriously. So anyway, I then got into a metro, and the door closed centimetres away from my face, giving me memories of Shoorpanaka, from The Ramayana. And since it was so congested and I was carrying two bags, I put my hand behind me to feel if my wallet was intact from time to time.
On one such attempt, a papaji standing on one of my feet turned around to give me an uncomfortable glare when my hand grazed his derriere.
“Kya kar raha hai?”, he says.
“Bhaiyya jagah nahi hai.”
“Meri ***** mein haath daal de, bahut jagah hai.” he retorts, to loud cheers among co-passengers.
Things do not happen like that in Bhubaneswar. Here, one abuse about a family member could give you two black eyes. And another thing I notice about the place is that nothing really changes around here. After reaching the platform, I recognised three people in five minutes straight. It’s not because there are less people, but I think the same people hang out in the same places all the time.
But then, that’s the thing I love about the place. There are no people rushing, no worried brows on people’s faces. People here are more calm, more laid-back, and ( I think) more spiritual. You will never find people here talking about work, fussing about targets. The discussions would revolve more around bitching, and who did what to whom at what time and where, and other such important stuff.
Another thing that is amazing about this place is the creativity that goes into naming their businesses. Where else can you find a saloon called ‘Curl up and Dye’? Or a shop that is named ‘Omm Licky – A gift shop’? Or ‘Bichi Communication’? And just yesterday, I noticed one that was painted on a wall. It went:
Homeopathy Clinic, Backside of Pappu Saloon, Front of Shauchalaya.
Not exactly the best image you are trying to give out, my friend.
But it doesn’t take long for someone who has been even four months away from here to realise what it is about the place that one misses the most. We do not have IT parks and amazing pubs and all that. But we have the best goddamned junk food in the entire bloody world. For those who have had paani puri in other places and believe that is the real thing, you are light years away from the truth. Pani puri is supposed to have potato in it, not matar/chana/other crap. And there is no point having pani puri in one of those hygienic places where the people wear gloves and stuff. There is no fun in that.
The actual taste is at those places where bacteria would have a blast and the Dettol guy who goes about giving gyan to people would faint. The potato is mashed with the hand, and the puri is smashed with the finger, and then dipped in the pani, and then served. I know it sounds a little odd, but when you eat it, you realise how much of a difference the personal touch of the maker makes.
Then there is Aludam Dahibara. This is another junk food item that is probably only found here. Aludam Dahibara sellers tie two steel pots to the rods of their cycle. If you look at it from the front, it gives the impression that the cycle has got hydrocele. One of the pots contains dahi vada and the other contains alu dam – a red spicy potato curry with gravy that’s so hot it would qualify as rocket fuel. The man first rolls up his sleeve, dips his hand into the dahi, takes out the vada,puts them in the plate, and presses them down, cleanliness can take a well deserved holiday. He then takes out a ladle, dips it into the curry and pours pieces of potato, along with the red, shiny gravy on top of the dahi vada. He then gives you a small toothpick like stick that you dip into the vadas and potato pieces and eat. The flavour created when the vadas mix with the red hot gravy is out of the world. Once you are done with the second or third helping, he takes a small katori and pours dahi, and on top of that the red gravy. You mix all of it, and slurrrp it up. Your stomach is full, your immunity to germs increases several notches, and it just costs you ten bucks.
Then there’s the chaat. Before I begin to describe Orissa’s chaat, I have to mention what passes off as chaat in Hyderabad. It’s got matar, and some onions and tomatoes and a lot of whatnots. The taste treads a thin balancing line between sour, spicy and shitty and costs four times what it costs here. That, my friends, is not chaat. It is bullshit. To have real chaat, you have to come to one of the small shops here. Again, the big ones are corrupted by consumerism and go all out to give hygiene a priority, thus negating the meaning of junk food in the first place. It’s JUNK FOOD, dodos. If you want to wear gloves, go play Shaktimaan somewhere.
Anyway, the chaat is a red, orangy assortment of all things spicy. He piles it up on your plate, and then crushes some papad with his bare hands, and adds a lot of tomato (?) sauce on it. He will ask you if you want to add the dahi vada on it as well, which you have to politely refuse, as it kills the taste a wee bit. You then proceed to eat it, making small talk with the seller about the weather, the rising costs, or anything else under the sun. You can ask for more of anything you please, and he would definitely give it to you.
Then there are the rolls. They are called frankies everywhere else. But before I begin, I have a message for the Frankie sellers of Hyderabad:
The things you sell suck. Big Time. You can take your frankie and shove it up your crankie. Fuck you!
The rolls you get here actually have stuff in them. So, if it is a chicken roll, there is more than just the smell of chicken in it. The rolls are cooked on a large black, flat plate. The person adds four to five naans/parathas on the plate and cooks them simultaneously. He then flips them over, and brings them on to the small slab of marble tile that is in front of him. Again, with his own ungloved hand, he adds fried onions, tomatoes, and pieces of chicken/panneer, and sprinkles it with dry onions and tomato sauce. The rolls here make the frankies everywhere else seem malnourished and poor. The ones here are thick, and bursting at the seams with stuffing.
This has led me to the conclusion, that it is the bacteria and germs that make junk food tasty. As soon as you try to become hygienic, you lose it. The thing is, if it was sold in expensive hotels by waiters dressed like Rin models, it wouldn’t be junk food. The junk food sellers in Orissa understand this and operate on a business model that is more volume based than margin based (whatever that is). And yeah, they are generous with the bacteria.