Com­ing Full Cir­Cle

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

WERE YOU alive when Trin­cas rocked, Usha Uthup and Pam Crain crooned and it seemed like Park Street was the cen­tre of the uni­verse? I was. But sadly, I didn’t get to Cal­cutta till I was 29 and so, missed the hey­day of that glo­ri­ous street. But I do re­mem­ber Church­gate Street in Bom­bay, where the restau­rants were laid out side by side, the sound of the waves of the Ara­bian Sea rang in our ears and the crowds came to roam (and eat!). You could split open your Chicken Kiev at Gay­lord, while Sweet Lorraine sang. You could go all veg­e­tar­ian at Puro­hit. There was froth­ing cap­puc­cino at Napoli (which was called Ex­presso, alas, con­tribut­ing to a fa­mil­iar con­fu­sion that per­sists to this day). And deep in­side what seemed like a cave full of sculp­ture there was more mu­sic at Talk of the Town: Ajit Singh strum­ming his gui­tar or Usha Iyer – the days be­fore she went off to Cal­cutta and mar­ried Mr Uthup – gen­tly croon­ing Hurry Sun­down.

The restau­rant boom re­viv­ing Con­naug ht Place is re­defin­ing t he city cen­tre and m ay ju st be t he boost oth­erIn­dian cities need

United Cof­fee House (some of my par­ents’ friends would go there ev­ery sin­gle day!) and even of a place that had cabarets and to which I was never taken. (Could this have been true? W ere there cabarets at Con­naught Place restau­rants in Delhi in the Six­ties? Or is this a false mem­ory?)

By the time I moved to Delhi in the mid-90s, Con­naught Place – like Park Street and Church­gate Street – had be­gun to lose its lus­tre. It was still the cen­tre of the city, but one that you needed to visit less and less. The colony mar­kets had de­vel­oped to a level where each colony was largely self­con­tained with its own shops and restau­rants.

Noth­ing pre­pared me how­ever, for the de­cline of Con­naught Place in this new cen­tury. Its char­ac­ter changed, large sec­tions of it were dug up, the streets were filthy, beg­gars hung out at ev­ery cor­ner – and after dark they were some­times re­placed by street­walk­ers.

All this took place when Delhi was boom­ing. There was more money pour­ing into the city than ever be­fore. But with each surge in its pros­per­ity, the cen­tre of grav­ity moved fur­ther and fur­ther away from Con­naught Place. The Gur­gaon boom seemed to sound the death knell of the old New Delhi and even­tu­ally, places that had been con­sid­ered far away, even in the Nineties when I moved to the city, such as Vas­ant Kunj, sud­denly be­gan to seem not just cen­tral but also up­mar­ket.

But over the last cou­ple of years, some­thing strange has hap­pened in Delhi. W hile Park Street and Church­gate Street still seem like relics of a van­ish­ing Cal­cutta and Bom­bay, Con­naught Place has sud­denly re­vived. I went, a cou­ple of months ago, to the new Ma­m­agoto, and was star­tled to see how packed the area was with peo­ple hav­ing fun. The streets were cleaner too. The con­struc­tion de­bris had been re­moved and Con­naught Place was rock­ing.

I mar­velled at the res­ur­rec­tion of Con­naught Place when I went for lunch last week to Junk­yard Café, down the road from the Hin­dus­tan Times build­ing, on the site of an old gym­na­sium. That block is packed out with restau­rants. There were the old ones like Blues and Taste of China, which was once an un­of­fi­cial HT can­teen and went by the name W aste of China. (W hen I once gave it a bad re­view I was ber­ated by an­gry col­leagues who feared that venge­ful cooks would now spit in their soups. I’m sure they never did – Taste of China was more hurt than an­gry and the chef wrote me an emo­tional let­ter.)

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