A date with Delhi’s roads

“From despondency to gratitude”
by: Abhijit Bhattacharya / bhattacharya_abhijit@ongc.co.in

“If you play volleyball, you have the potential to represent the country and can visit the capital city”. Thirty years ago, a small town coach said these words to a young boy from Assam. That boy went on to represent the national team and re-discover himself in the streets of Delhi. This city gives you the comfort to call it “My city” no matter which part of the world you come from. You become addicted to it and that’s why I love it.
Caution: The love can turn to addiction with time.
One summer evening, I was completely drained out after a stressful day at work. The rush hour traffic added to my irriation and completley perplexed, I decided to leave my car and walk back home. Lost in my own thoughts I suddenly noticed India Gate right in front of me.
The vast openness of Rajpath mesmerized me and acted as a tranquillizer to my ruffled mood. Looking at the sun retreating behind the Rashtrapati Bhavan, I recalled my childhood memories from Assam where we used to listen to our teacher narrating stories of this same place.  We used to imagine the Rashtapati Bhavan as a big house, and India Gate to be located on the border from where foreigners entered India! But never in our wildest dreams did we think of Rashtrapati Bhavan to be so magnificent, and India Gate to be located in the heart of the city. It was an exhilirating experience to walk past these beautiful monuments which were so close to my office.
My mood was uplifted and my thoughts kept changing fast. I continued to walk through Mansingh Road. There was a roundabout where Mansingh, Aurangzeb (now Abdul Kalam), Prithviraj, Shah Jahan and Motilal Nehru Roads meet.  Interestingly, all these roads which are named after great Hindu and Muslim leaders end at a Christian cemetery. I entered the cemetery for a few minutes and felt “No matter how high & mighty we are, all have to finally rest in peacebeside each other.”
The gentle breeze from the giant green trees gave me a feeling of contentment. I decided to continue walking through Golf Links. The palatial bungalows on Arch Bishop Road truly reflect the prosperity of this city. With tall gates and huge boundary walls, these bungalows were well protected by guards. Then I saw a security guard open one such gate for the owner’s car to enter. I wondered how owner must be returning from the office after a stressful day. On any other day, I would have envied the luxury of this person. But on that particular day, I saw the Bentley enter the bungalow without me staring inside. I thanked God for giving me the wisdom to differentiate between material richness and richness of thoughts.

After an hour of walking, I felt quite refreshed. At the edge of Lodhi Road, I entered the Methodist Church. I sat down for a while and enjoyed the silence. I was completely at peace with myself. Peace and silence are a rarity in a city like Delhi and come at a premium.

On the way I made conversations with security guards, beggars, and strangers and also stopped over to eat kulfi and golgappas. That evening I reached home in Lajpat Nagar almost two hours late. My two daughters and wife welcomed a lively man that night. All my frustrations were left behind in the streets of New Delhi. I entered my home with a sense of pride and love for my city.

Photo Credit: GoInTheCity

'My City My Memory': A Tabla-Playing Priest's Delhi Story

Originally published on The Huffington Post by Simran Gill and Kush Sethi


It has been five months since Delhi, I Love You (DILY) began its "My City My Memory" oral history project consisting of a series of 24 conversations with senior citizens. The idea was conceived by historian Sohail Hashmi with an aim to bring out the memories of a Delhi of decades past.

On 9 November 2015 we shot the third "My City My Memory" conversation. This time Sohail sa'ab had found a gem of a Delhiite.

Father John H Caleb, 79, was going to be our storyteller. As a young boy he grew up in Old Delhi, raced bicycles, played the tabla and county cricket and aspired to be a singer. In the end, he became a priest, and we wondered how. Today, he is still like that little boy who loves his cricket and music and continues to encourage the same in his community as well.

I prayed to God asking for a second life, and I promised to devote my second life to the church. So, here I am.

It was a bright sunny afternoon and we could feel the winter chill slowly arriving in Delhi. The DILY team had arrived early to set up cameras at St Martin's Church in the Cantonment area. With 4ft-thick walls made of 3.5 million bricks and no windows, this 1930s' garrison church was built by the British to act as a fortress in case of another revolt like the one in 1857.

The church's committee member David Manohar was generous enough to give us an adventurous tour of the church, which is as much of an architectural marvel today as it was back in the day.

We began by climbing 200 spiral staircases, enough to make our heads spin. And our adventure had just begun. Mr. Manohar took us to a secret room used by soldiers to hide during WWI. Pointing at a narrow shaft with a steep edge, he commanded, "Now climb this monkey ladder". We took a deep breath, braved our fear of bats, dark-tight spaces and heights, to clamber up the 128ft-tall architectural fortress. And we received a warm welcome from the setting sun.

Here are a few excerpts of the conversation between Sohail Hashmi and Father John H Caleb.


Tell us something about your interests in music.

There are places like Suiwalan and Chandni Mahal in Old Delhi which have had generations of musicians playing for 200 years. When I would pass through those areas I'd hear music from every corner.

Initially, I was interested in singing. We had a harmonium, violin and a tabla in the family. Later I was more inclined towards learning to play the tabla and began training in Delhi under Pandit Gopaldasji in All India Radio.

I used to train for classical music with another student, Vijay Benedict, for two-three years. While I took to priesthood soon after, he continued his training and became a very famous gospel singer in India. He later sang for a film called Disco.

Will you tell us little bit about your engagement with Husanlal Bhagatram?

Husanlal was a great musician of his times. In the 1950s he was dominating Bombay Talkies. A friend, Mahindrajeet Singh, who is still in Bombay was his disciple. I used to accompany them on tabla when they would do riyaaz (Husanlal played violin).

I was more inclined towards learning to play the tabla and began training in Delhi under Pandit Gopaldasji in All India Radio.

Which is the best live performance you remember attending?

It was at Sapru House by singer, D V Paluskar in the 1950s.

There were only a few big concert halls back then like the Constitution Club, National Physical Laboratory (NPL) at Pusa and then there were National Radio Live shows, in All India Radio Station's ground.

While people no doubt loved Pt Ravi Shankar for sitar, my love for that instrument happened when I heard Ustad Abdul Halim Zafar Khan. His sitar sounded like someone was humming.

So finally from doing all this, how did you land up here...in this church?

There are a lot of mishaps that happen in life, and some happened even in mine. I met with a scooter accident in the 60s. The bus in front stopped suddenly. Behind me was a tempo truck which had iron rods coming out of it - these pierced into my back. I was rushed to the hospital for treatment and was diagnosed with a lung infection. I was then taken to Ludhiana Medical College; the operation was very painful. I prayed to God asking for a second life, and I promised to devote my second life to the church. So, here I am.

What did you do for entertainment? Within the city, where would you do for leisure?

During Ramzan, there were mushairas, stunts, magic shows around Jama Masjid. I used to really enjoy qawwali, sufiana and the special food. I miss this food called"andarse ki goli".

You still get it at Turkman Gate. There is myth attached to it that it is made from rain water. But it is made in the monsoons. It's made with fermented rice flour, covered in sesame seeds and deep fried."

We used to go for picnics to Okhla and Feroz Shah Kotla, mostly on my cycle. I had some friends who enjoyed fishing. By evening even if they didn't catch anything, they would come satisfied that they got to fish.

What more do you remember about the city?

We used to visit Jama Masjid, because we had a weakness for seekh kebabs. There was a very famous shop called Maseeta, we used to go there. Now I am not sure where it's disappeared.

Well they say in America, that if out in the night it'll seem like day. Our neighbourhood was the same. Restaurants and tea shops would be open...people would roam and have discussions.

More conversations with the senior citizens of Delhi coming soon. Subscribe to stay updated.

A day well spent with Traffic Police Officers

Disclaimer: This blog is meant to share the fun and laughter we experienced during the course of the day with our traffic police officers. They are as human as us! : )
This in no way suggests, complains, or criticises anyone’s role mentioned in the story

- Simran Gill with Pramjeet - 'Delhi, I Love You' movement


A dusty, broken road led me to an office with numerous cars parked in a haphazard manner. A dilapidated wooden bench was mounted on a worn out cement floor. I was awestruck as to where I had come. You might be wondering what fascinated me so much about a place I describe in such a nondescript manner.

When I woke up at 7 in the morning to pack my bag with files containing permission letters, not once did I think it would end up as the most interesting day I have had lately. Paramjeet, our official driver and DJ who aspires to be like Virat Kohli, at least in appearance, drove me all the way to ISBT traffic police office on a cold winter afternoon. The peppy Punjabi songs made us forget the strenuous task at hand. (getting permission for painting on public walls).

Two hefty cops walked out of a narrow gate into which we were trying to get our  ECO van to enter. Param at once lifted his hands and shouted, “Simran where are you taking me? You know I am not wearing my uniform. It’s like “Khud hi saanmp ke mooh mein ghusna.”(I am digging my own grave).

“Don’t worry they wont say anything to you today, you are with me.” I said with over confidence. Soon we saw the traffic inspector coming our way, his physique and features made me feel as if I was looking at a Bollywood character like our “Sallu Bhai in Dabang.” Param began to hide in the car to save himself from the  glare of this inspector. He was about to reprimand Param and he saw me whisk right in front. His stare shifted from Param towards me and his demeanor appeared slightly easier now. "Yes! Madam of what help can this traffic inspector be to you?" I could sense the sarcasm in his tone.

With various noises and sounds juxtaposing each other in the walkie-talkie lying on the inspector’s table, I was about to start my conversation with this friendly man when a call from the Lieutenant governor’s entourage made him jump from his seat. The official had decided to change his route last minute. At once he put up his hat, grabbed the walkie-talkie and shouted, “Get my gypsy in 30 seconds.” He was gone in 30 seconds….

While we waited for him to return, I went and sat next to a junior constable whose job was to sit on that broken bench all day and arrange every confiscated car that comes in. All of a sudden we saw a crane bringing a sexy black SUV into the station. This same man who gave an impression of being meek and lazy jumped up as if some VIP had arrived. “Tu pagal hai kya, itni mehngi gaadi kyun lekar aya hai? beep, beep, beep. Ab lene ke dene padh jayengen."(Have you gone made, why did you confiscate such an expensive car, we will have to give much more than what we fine them for). The crane driver a bit bewildered at the constable’s reaction replied, “Saab, galat jagah parked thi, sadak ki ulti taraf." (It was parked at the wrong side of the road and I couldn’t ignore).

This time with more authority in his voice, the junior constable yelled, " Bh*****d, beep beep... Ja wapis aur yeh gaadi ko wahi chodh de. Ek choti gaadi uthaakar lekar aaja. Yeh badi gaadiyon ko ek sacratch bhi padh gaya na, toh hum joh 400 rupee lene wale the, woh humse 4000 lekar chale jayengen." (Go and leave it, get a small car and come, any small car will do. Don’t get these big fancy cars, we will charge them a fine of 400 rupees and they will seek compensation worth 4000 rupees for just a scratch the car may get because of your action).

Both Param and I burst out laughing, “Param, you are driving the wrong car, go get a big fancy car to avoid any fine.” I suggested.

Before we could regain ourselves from the choking laughter, another traffic constable came saying that he is falling short of 200 rupees to make up for the day’s collection target. The constable shouted in a nonchalant manner, “It’s so simple yaar, just go the nearby market and confiscate a scooter. It will make up for the 200 rupees you are falling short of.” By now we felt we are watching an open air screening of a comedy film and we were still not done with our dose of entertainment. The traffic inspector called out to me and said, “let’s take your car for a round and see what my officers are up to.” We set out driving on the busiest road of Delhi in Param’s ECO Van.

Param and his Eco Van never felt this powerful while driving through ISBT. The road was choc-o-bloc with buses, cars and rickshaws, all trying to cut through the others’ way. A meter away from this chaos, we saw two traffic police officers standing in a corner in their bright white shirts and blue caps, sipping on tea. The inspector dialled their phone number….tring, tring, tring, 4th bell and if they had not answered he would have flown right out of the window of the car and jumped on them.

"Hello, Sir-Ji, hum ISBT flyover ki taraf hain." (Hello Sir, we are here at ISBT flyover), a meek voice replied from the other side. The inspector replied furiously, "Sir-Ji....Main batata hoon woh kya hota hai....ch****ye, beep, beep, beep." (Sir, I will tell you what is that) “Sirji...? And within seconds the officers were on the road clearing the traffic. The fastest we could have ever crossed from that area. Param and I laughed chokingly, without a sound. We were scared that the inspector may just fling us out of our own car…

He looked at me and said, "you wait I will show you how I catch the next lot on the other side.” We turned around and as expected three officers were huddled in a corner and chatting away while the traffic was left to find its own way out. Inspector called, "Hello, tum bh*****d kya baatein kar rahe ho, mujhe bhi sunoa, main aajon wahan par. " (Hello! What are you guys talking about? I would also like to hear, should I come join you?) The officers were left bewildered, wondering where is this sound coming from? Where is the boss? Soon they dispersed and in their disoriented manner started managing the traffic.

This time we could not control ourselves and both Param and I burst into a fit of laughter. The inspector had achieved his moment of glory. He looked at me and said, “They all want me transferred because I make them be on their toes all day long.” I prayed, hoping that it would not happen until my letter was signed.

We reached the station and within 10 minutes I got the letter signed from the DCP Traffic North Region, a man deeply respected by his people. He encouraged me by saying “Things which beautify our city should never face any hassles.” 

[click] Message sent to DILY whatsapp group: “We have been allowed to paint DILY’s #MyDilliStory Paintings at ISBT flyover.” I felt a strong sense of achievement.

The inspector offered me a McDonalds burger and a pizza. While the offer seemed tempting, I was done with my doze of being amongst traffic that day. I decided to leave. As I said my goodbye to the inspector and other officers who I had befriended, the inspector called out to me. “Like I said, just got a phone call, I am transferred.” I shouted back, “ Sir, I will now see you in ***** Delhi, very soon.” And we drove away, laughing at the day gone by…

Photo Credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/francoisdecaillet/8686196275/

Kush and Simran’s #MyDilliStory

"It was extraordinary to meet so many poetry enthusiasts, students, authors, artists living in this city and learning about their personal & beautiful experiences. This was our #My Dilli Story"
- Simran & Kush, evangelists for 'Delhi, I Love You' movement

#MyDilliStory started as a three week long competition asking people to share their stories, experiences about Delhi on Twitter. Were we being too ambitious? Would three weeks continue to hold the attention of millions of people on social media where trends change within minutes. Well, we had decided to be different and took upon challenge.

This is where our #MyDilliStory began. With more than 50 colleges, 20 language departments and institutes, numerous poetry and cultural clubs, our target map was ready. We set out each day for the next 21 days with our arsenal of empty white sheets, marker pens and posters. The scorching Delhi summer nor the lack of water and food, was going to stop this army of two from getting each student, professor and citizen of Delhi to share their stories about Delhi, be it online or offline. First week we spent walking into colleges, still being mistaken as students by the staff (which of course made us happy), numerous people and seeking permissions. What looked like a tedious task turned out to be the easiest. The colleges and institutes was extremely supportive of our project.

Did we spare any of them? From St. Stephens college to Jesus and Mary, Venkateshwara college, and Mata Sundri, and JNU to Jamia and Ambedkar University... you name it! We left our footprints everywhere. While we were getting an incredible response on twitter for stories in Hindi and English, the two other languages of Delhi - Urdu and Punjabi were lagging behind online. Thus we reached out to the DU languages faculty - Urdu and Punjabi Department. And to our amazement within one hour we had more than 60 effervescent students penning down their gazals, shaiyari, and tales about Delhi.

While one of us (Simran) concentrated on gathering students, chatting with them.  The other one, (Kush) an enthusiastic young and handsome boy would promptly be ready with a camera to click the participants pictures along with the story they penned down. In Kush’s golden words, 'thoda muskura dijiye please' and click. By the end of the day we had more than 100 stories and beautiful pictures of the participants all across DILY’s social media. 

A video posted by @delhiiloveyou on

Our brief encounter with the Punjabi department was another short and sweet #MyDilliStory. We were sweating it out from college to college in North Campus on a hot summer afternoon. At last, we reached a large room decorated with balloons and confetti. We wondered, looked in amazement, had we entered a party? The Punjabi Department was celebrating Teachers Day in their Punjabi style. We interrupted their fun briefly which resulted in us getting force-fed, Gulab Jamuns, coke and chips. By the end of one hour we had in our list of achievements, 80 #MyDilliStory in Punjabi. 

Day 3:  we had become pros in convincing the professors, gathering students and getting everyone to let their poet self come to life. Our highlight of the day would be when an army of students would run to us to get their #MyDilliStory photographs clicked. Without any malice, any rewards or awards they all wanted to share their love for this city.

Other visits that were engraved in our mind and brought a smile to our face were to Ghalib Academy in Nizamuddin & the Punjabi Bhavan near ITO. We met poets, authors, shayars as old as 91, for whom Delhi has been a home for a lifetime. The sincerity and purity of their thoughts and love for this city was awe inspiring. We met the chai-walas, auto walas, tourists, children, writers & actors. The three weeks made us meet more than 2000 people in Delhi, every heart had felt a different experience and every mind had a different story.