The Hauz Khas Village

For the last three days I have been camping at a cubby hole in Hauz Khas Village. I am trying to get some work done by a few freelance artists that work out of here. And here is the mandatory disclaimer. The post is not about work, or the artists per se, but is about this place - Hauz Khas Village.

So, once upon a time, there was actually a time when the village was famous for a lake, a few historic remains and lush green parks where young couples could go and spend quality time together (away from peering eyes of all their well-wishers).

Now, its something else. Hauz Khas Village is now known, in the Lonely Planets (and other such travel guides), for fancy restaurants that patrons of the page 3 frequent. For the kitschy stores that sell everything from replicas of famous paintings to designer dresses to overpriced paintings to artefacts that only a handful people can appreciate to antiques to bagels (whatever that is, I am told you are supposed to eat it) to handmade teeshirts to "authentic" Italian gelatos to cheap thrills to Thai massages to silver jewellery and what not. If you can imagine it, they sell it here. And most of it has the sheen and label of being the output of a famous designer or a desperate woman in some obscure place in India.

And as a result, the kind of people that frequent this "village" are poles apart from all the people that visit all the other villages that dot the landscape of this modern marvel that we call India. For starters, there are numerous non-Indians. Atleast they look non-Indians. A few characteristics common to these "characters" are nondescript complexion, half pants, ample cleavages (even men), large sunglasses (even if its 8 in the night), loose Birkenstocks (fake?), generous tattoos, braided hair, long sling bags, accents that could put the most seasoned call centre trainers to shame (fake?), frequent pecks (on cheeks to greet others of the same clan), cigarette dangling casually on skinny fingers, unnecessarily large headphones (with no player in sight). Then there are a few Indians who are the waiters at the fancy restaurants, salesmen at these stores, parking attendants and other such people. And then there are people like me, who are as lost as Alice was in her Wonderland. Who, for their lives, cant seem to make any sense out of what they see.

I am no expert in people watching and the ethnicity (and even the nationality) of most of these people elude me. They cant be Indians because the India and Indians I know would think like a million times before engaging indulging in such overt public display of affection. More than them, I am sure their parents wouldn't let them step out of their homes in those dresses. I am not really traditional but what some people wear here is no less than sacrilege. But then, this is a free country we live in and everyone has the right to do what they deem fit. So I cant complain. But if they are Indians, I must be living under a rock because for some reason I have not seem them anywhere else but at the village.

Coming back to the village, there are people and sign boards that could lead you to believe that you are in some chic European market. And like it happens to me in all chic markets anywhere in the world, when I am at the village, I get very very intimidated. Scared is a better word I guess. Moment I am in the open at the village, I want to dig a tunnel through the street and hide myself in it (atleast my neck, like those pigeons when they see a cat). I otherwise believe in keeping the neck high and taking long confident strides. But when I am in the village, I walk with my head down, as if I have lost a penny and I am trying to find it. And I try very hard to not even come within an arm's length of anything that is non male. I have no clue how would their highnesses react if I make the mistake of accidently brushing my arms against her Highness. She would shriek at me in English, but in an accent that I would not be able to comprehend and thus would be humiliated unnecessarily in public. Anyone heard that maxim? Better safe than sorry? So, avoid all eye contact and physical contact.

Then there is that issue of being brown, bald and badly dressed. With these three B's there is no way I could look like someone who can afford a coffee at a half decent coffee shop. Truth be told, I actually can NOT afford a coffee at most of the places at the village but I really like to pretend that I can. I like to look in menu, bring out the fake accent and say, "nah I am not a coffee person. I like green tea" and move onto the next store. But here, at the village, where the shops talk to only the non-Indians, someone like me comes across as nuisance. And unlike most other shopkeepers over the world, rather than dismissing me politely, these guys, the shopkeepers at the village, unleash their wrath on me, as if doing that would take them closer to salvation. Even the restaurants treat me like I am a waiter that had cheated all others on the tip. I am always asked if I have made a reservation, even when I can see the damn place as empty as the space itself!

Apart from the kind of people that hang out here and the super expensive chic stores and restaurants, the last thing I want to talk about would be a general rant on the good and the bad of this place. Good, there are places that I can "show off" to my contacts that are not from Delhi. After all, Delhi may have the best infrastructure in the country, it still lacks in terms of coolness quotient. Then if I ever get a woman in life, I can get her here and let her blow away a fortune and make her happy. And finally, if I start smoking, I just need a tattoo and a Birkenstock to get access to all the stores and restaurants that have shunned me without any mercy.

In terms of bad bits, there are a few. I would not get into a lot of detail but I am not really happy that a real village has been left to the mercy of these stores and the bonafide residents are left to fend for themselves. Then I am definitely not happy about all the confused Indians. They need to realize that they need to grow up, some day or the other and take charge. No, no more public service announcements.

On a serious note, to remain impartial, here are a few highlights of the village if you ask me. TLR, Kunzum, Maati are the few stores that I actually support. TLR, apart from being a great place to hang out with friends, is doing a LOT for the Indian indie music scene. Most Indian bands (some with audience as small as my blog) perform here and get to know their fans. Brilliant brilliant initiative on behalf of TLR. Kunzum is a cafe with a twist. You go, you sit, you read, you sip a coffee and then you decide what you want to pay. Beat that. Thats changing the business model on its head. Ofcourse the place makes money by selling merchandise etc but I love the idea. Someday I would copy it. Finally Maati, a teeshirt store that actually helps the community that designs their teeshirts. And apart from these three, there are tons of cool work place (the place where I am holed up for example) that are so inspiring that you could sit here and actually dream of conquering the world. And you know what? You can get the dream to come true here! That brilliant office spaces.

Guess thats about it. I am waiting for my work to get done and it had been quite a few days since I had written. Loved wiping away those cobwebs on my fingers.

To end it, I sincerely think that Hauz Khas Village is one of those must visit places for anyone who is new to Delhi. I would definitely add this to my list of things to do, if you just have ODID. If I ever get around to doing the Raju Guide thing with ODID, a visit to Hauz Khas Village would be amongst one the top 10 things to do in Delhi for sure.

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