The neighborhood

Backpack pic 2  Four foot dosa

Until this point, I haven’t said too much about the neighborhood or apartment in which I am living.

I live in Lajpat Nagar, a neighborhood along the Violet Line of the Metro. It is known for having a very large market, including the Central Bazaar, which is an open-air space where all manner of goods are haggled over: shirts, pants, shoes, kurtas, household items, fabric for tailors, groceries, freshly ground spices, freshly squeezed juices, paintings, knickknacks, stationery, toiletries, rugs, pretty much everything. Some of the stores are fixed-price, but most stated prices are flexible and can be bargained down. There are many restaurants in the area: Anna’s 101 Dosas (which, yes, has 101 types of dosas), Karim’s (a chain based off a centuries-old restaurant in Old Delhi), Bikanervala (one of the top sweets stores in Delhi), Indian-style Chinese food (it’s quite good), momos (Tibetan dumplings) cooked on the street. There are also a number of Western chains: McDonald’s, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s a hub of commercial activity and there’s always crowds of people sifting through the Central Bazaar. I fortunately live close by but in a quiet corner of the neighborhood.

Lajpat Nagar is known for having many Punjabi residents. Many of these Punjabis were caught on the Pakistani side of the border during partition in 1947 and were forced to flee if they were not Muslim. There is also a sizable contingent of Afghans in the northern part of the neighborhood as well; I believe, though am not certain, that many are recent refugees. I went up there the previous week and had a delicious Uzbeki palov. All the signs in the area were in Dari.

Our landlord is a stout man with thick glasses and a bushy mustache. He captains commercial oil tankers, and presently spends half the year captaining ships in different corners of the world. We’ve taken to calling him “the Captain.” He has colorful stories from his experiences captaining ships across the world, including one epic encounter with Somali pirates. The Captain has been very helpful in introducing us to the neighborhood and helping us navigate the transition to life in Delhi. He is quite proud of the hydraulic system within the apartment and will tell you about it extensively. His wife likes to paint and her artwork decorates our apartment: a woman on a beach looking towards a ship at sea (I believe this one is autobiographical), a trail through a wood in autumn-colored tones, the Hindu god Shiva playing a flute. She knows how to bargain with the shopkeepers in the neighborhood very well, and sometimes tells the Captain that he talks too much. Both have been very helpful in telling us from which stores we can purchase desired items. They have a son who is about to enter his final year of university in Singapore, and an older daughter who is married.

Both the Captain’s grandparents and his wife’s grandparents left the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan during Partition and arrived in Delhi. The Captain’s family is one of seven Sindhi families that have stayed in the neighborhood and helped to maintain it. They cleaned up several areas that were formerly landfill and turned them into gardens with palm trees. The largest of these gardens has been filled with white geese and trees from every corner of India. In the center is a Kashmiri pine tree.

My housemates are two other Fulbright scholars, Brandon and Alex. Brandon was a Pashto linguist in the US Army for five years. He served a tour in Jalalabad, and has many fascinating stories to share about Afghanistan and life in the army. He’s the handyman of the house, and can always be relied upon to explain what needs to happen when water is not running in our apartment–which has happened more often than I expected. Brandon’s research project is about foreign direct investment, and he will be studying business at NC State after the grant period is over. Alex recently graduated from UPenn. He studied Hindi and knows an incredible amount about Indian history, culture, and politics. He is presently taking Hindi classes on a special language grant; his research project is on conceptions of the Indian middle class in the earlier 20th century. Once the grant period is over, Alex will be studying economic history at the London School of Economics. These men can both cook, which is an ability I aspire to, and it has been my joy to help them prepare our dinners earlier this week. We made bindhi masala (okra with spices) on Tuesday night, and on Thursday we prepared chana masala (chickpeas with spices) and aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower in a curry).

The apartment has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and is blessedly close to the Metro; it’s only a few minutes walk. We have a rooftop terrace that overlooks the neighborhood and offers excellent scoping into the surrounding gardens. In the apartment beneath us is a family with two teenage children and a German shepherd named Caesar. They often leave the main door open with the barrier shut and Caesar barks ferociously when we walk by. It alarmed me at first but it happens less often now; plus, it’s an excellent security provision. There’s a corner store just around the way from our house that sells snacks, drinks, and basic ingredients for cooking; the owner is a kindly old man with thin glasses and a thick white beard. In our building, there is a gym in the basement where pump-up music is being blasted constantly. You can usually see a handful of bulky gym bros going in or out. There’s also a sabziwallah (vegetable salesman) who wanders the neighborhood in the mornings and evenings selling vegetables from his wheelcart. He often wakes me up in the morning with his reedy screams of, “SABZIIIIIII!”

All in all, I have to say that we lucked out with our apartment and neighborhood. It’s happened once that our water was not running because government delivery was delayed, and once that our electricity was down for a few hours due to load shedding. But that is not so uncommon here.

Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly claimed that the Captain was a naval captain before captaining commercial oil tankers.


2 thoughts on “The neighborhood

  1. Sam! I’ve enjoyed catching up on your blog this morning. I’m so glad to hear you are settled in your apartment and you’re soaking it all in. I’ve never read your writing like this – you are talented, keep it up! Have you gotten your phone back yet? You were missed at the company picnic yesterday – but not too much is new over here. Take care!


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