SDA - My Foster Home

Friday, August 18, 2017

If places could be personified, then SDA might be the only place in Delhi which would have seen most of my dates and I, together. It's strange, if you think about it. You're attempting to forge intimacy with someone and yet, zero to few people know them, let alone have met them. Unless ofcourse you're Divyanshu's version of a woman, where everyone tells everyone everything and all women then laugh about penis sizes together.

No, really. That's how he thinks womenfolk behave in private.

I digress, but SDA is the single space in Delhi that's seen me from my "haha, I'm SO cool sitting at Village Café and watching two women blow a man over a stupid Pineapple drink phase" to smoking weed with a Tinder date at 1 am (dressed in a Sari, nothing less), to even going there after my Post Grad convocation with a bunch of people I loathe. In that way, SDA qualifies as the most versatile space, I've been there with my friends, dates, assignments, broken heart and terrified gut- all of it.

Like the can of worm that conditioning is, SDA and I started out really early. Mum stepping out of her car to get me a simple, coleslaw filling sandwich on the day of the last exam in Final Term (from Rainbows) is how I remember it. That became our ritual, until my mother abandoned it around the time I was 14 or something. No one likes to deal with a budding teenager, I suppose. However, thankfully Rainbows did not give up on me. It continued to make appearance in and around my life till I graduated out of school. Well within the first year, a bunch of us from school decided to meet and call it a 'reunion'.

Reunions are amazing, only people who attempt to put them together are those who have met with the others probably thirty times in a year (and yet insist on calling it a fucking reunion). Regardless, at that outing the food had become insipid. The sandwiches that we used to look forward to receiving as a part of "refreshment box" from school for volunteering during the inter-school competition were dry, and filled with two day old stale cream and chopped cabbage mostly. To add insult to injury, Rainbows from my childhood went down the dumps, when we were thrown out of their basement- some 15 of us from school, as we were making a lot of "noise". I don't understand how could I miss the circular saying that Rainbows had become a fucking hospital instead of a chilled out pastry parlour.

By the time I was one set of Board examinations old, Barista had come up. I also had the first misfortune of attending a friend's insult lesson when a Barista from Barista told her that she should have known before ordering an Americano that it's black coffee. The said friend added three sachets of sugar and still claimed, "कड़वा है" (it's bitter). Nobody was pleased, least of all their staff. I believe it had something to do with the fact that they were overloaded with people like us, dressed in school uniforms and ruining their marketing plan of looking at freelancers and fellow marketing executives to work out of coffee shops than offices or homes. To this day, each time I order Americano, I go back to wondering, whose fault was it really? My friend's for not being culturally aware or the pissed Barista for explaining why the coffee tasted bitter (it's my friend's, for being completely stupid, I know).

There were those occasions when my batchmates from school would pay money to the guard to ask him to bring us a plate of chole kulche from the guy standing the intersection. He's no longer there, neither is Shefali Sweets, who was a poorer cousin of Anupam Sweets in GK-2. Shefali used to do killer chaat at some point, which when they stopped, I was extremely sad. For years later, I would stop at the Frankie outlet outside Shefali to buy a Mutton Egg Frankie, the best 140 bucks you could spend at SDA. Last couple of times I went, that guy's missing. Everything familiar about SDA is lost in time.

Off late whenever I visit, I find myself transfixed at the magazine/stationery shop in the middle of the market. His shop faces the park, and the old man looks idly into the space. I am moved, each time I see how hopeful he looks, when I just stop to look at magazines. I wonder, how long until he shuts the business. Maybe till he dies? Is it his way of entertaining himself in the absence of company? How would it feel like to be in a market full of people where everyone is with someone and you're by yourself? Satisfying? Easy to see no customers flock to buy Greeting Cards, Magazines or obsolete tech? Last I remember, it was about a year ago and I was on a date when the man and I decided to play a round of cards (disclaimer- his idea). I bought a pack from the man, and proceeded to Beer Café, without battling an eyelid. Later, ofcourse, it occurred to me why on Earth would a magazine shop stack playing cards? Over the next couple of visits, I found he was selling everything- from miniature animals to complete school projects, to plastic glasses so people can drink in their cars after buying the booze from the alcohol shop next door. Versatile, the only way you can wrap the idea of SDA around your head.

There used to be this tiny shack selling the best Rajma-Chawal in the same market. The owner was really hospitable, especially so for the size of his operation and scale of venture. My working hours don't allow me to get back and stop for a plate of subsized lunch, curated to target the IITians, across the road but man, I'd go back in a heartbeat. A family run setup selling chai and bread pakoda has come up on the side of this guy's shop, they take over starting 4 pm or so, selling the office staff and IIT folks in the market, cheap and strong cup of tea. Chaayos, Barista, Costa Coffee and other coffee shops in the same market have nothing on this family. Goes on to say, if you're good at something, you'll always be valued well.

Which also comes to life for SDA. The place was a small, sleepy market that nobody cared about, years after till HKV was a thing. It's coming up to life now, with new flashy cafes, pubs, fine dine restaurants, cheap booze, cheap food..everything in between. There are so many vendors selling momos, each rumoured to be better than the other by old Hauz Khas veterans who claim that their recommended stuff is out of the world. There's everything at SDA, marketing executives (which Barista once wanted) to rich kids with deep pockets (because HKV is so 2012), broke school and college students, brooders and pretentious mofos, world's friendliest dogs, condescending cats, Rajma Chawal, Nitrogen Ice Cream.

However, the only thing that SDA and I share more than others is this sense of nostalgia, that bitch of a feeling of ownership, of loyalty and definitely that of fondness. I'm so crippled of sharing this sense of affection, attachment with other beings, but wear on my sleeve for the market that SDA is.

When I was young, my stomach used to have butterflies (of a variety which would make me want to throw up every morning as soon as I landed up in school) as soon as I would enter SDA. The snake like turns inside the residential area always terrified me of the Math class starting in under 7 minutes, of the horror of being inside the Physics lab and not knowing anything, of wanting to tear eyeballs out of everyone...and yet, years later, I'd kill to be back in the labyrinthian lanes of SDA and walk around. There's plenty of Delhi there, the Delhi I knew from the 90s, the place that gave me a home outside of home.

Maybe, one day when I leave my residence for better things, I'll find myself house hunting (and hopefully landing) at SDA. Until then, I can only see it from a heart full of emotions in moving car when I'm crossing it to get back home. 

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