Come monsoon and Delhi takes on a different hue. But there is one tradition that continues to survive - special sweets and savouries that are prepared during the season
The moment the rains arrive those who live in the cities begin to complain, the larger the city the louder the protests. The protests are almost always justified and those responsible for the urban mess that becomes visible after the first drizzle try brazenly to pass the blame onto someone else. We get so engrossed in these shouting matches and the inanities being exchanged between city fathers that we miss out on some of the most beautiful aspects of the monsoons.
Despite its high humidity, high temperatures, submerged, sunken and pitted roads, Delhi still manages to look its best in the monsoons, because of the super abundance of greenery. And yet the rain-washed trees, the dark clouds that foreground the rich built heritage of the city, the little bits of the reserved forest and the green lungs of the city rejuvenated after the burning summer and the few remaining water bodies that once again begin to brim with water are by and large ignored by the denizens of this city. Even those new arrivals to the city, hailing from the vast rural hinterlands, too succumb, strangely, to this cacophony of protest against the rains.
Thankfully though, there are pockets of the city that have not forgotten the joys of the monsoons. As the easterlies displace the prevailing westerlies, the moisture laden monsoonal winds arrive, bringing with them the season of kite-flying in older parts of the city. Kites also take over the skies in areas like Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar, Patel Nagar, Tilak Nagar etc -- areas inhabited now by the grand and great-grandchildren of those who had arrived in Delhi in the aftermath of the blood-soaked monsoons of 1947, carrying with them this shared tradition of the Sub-continent.
The only place where you will not notice kites, or see very few of them, is the erstwhile colonial capital of New Delhi, but that area has a lot of growing up to do before it can become a city and acquire the culture, traditions and practices of a city.
The lives of more than two-thirds of our population depend on the timely arrival of the monsoons and this centrality of the monsoons has inspired creative expression in the Sub-continent for millennia. Literary masterpieces like the Meghdoot, beautiful music as seen in raag compositions like the Megh Malhar and Desh in the classical and Kajri, Jhoola, Chaumasa, Hindola and Sawan in the Thumri-Dadra and folk traditions and many a raag based miniature paintings all draw from the same source - the monsoons.
But classical music and miniature paintings are things that have always had limited access, the monsoon for the average Dilliwala traditionally meant kite flying competitions - at Ramlila Grounds, the Parade Grounds opposite the Red Fort and on the open grounds outside Ferozeshah Kotla and behind the Red Fort. Of these now only the Ramlila Grounds survive. The monsoons were also great times for picnics and the favourite sites were the Qutub, Hauz Khas, Ferozeshah Kotla and the Okhla Canal, that tradition has now almost totally died with the exception of small picnics at Ferozeshah Kotla. The entire Hauz Khas area has been gentrified beyond the reach of the non-elite, the gardens around Okhla Canal have virtually disappeared and the Qutub is too crowded.
There is, however, one tradition of the monsoon that continues to survive in the narrow lanes and by lanes of Shahjahanabad and also to some extent in areas like Lajpat Nagar, Rajinder Nagar, Tilak Nagar etc - once again areas that were settled by those who arrived in Delhi from what is now Pakistan, and this is the tradition of special food, sweets and savouries prepared especially during this season.
The true celebration of the monsoon begins with the first rains and Pakodis – spice filled green chillies, potato slivers and onion rings all dipped in a spicy batter of chickpea flour, deep fried and eaten piping hot, with or without chutni and washed down with hot tea. With the monsoons also arrive Andarse Ki Goliyan and Ghewar, the former is a deep fried sesame seed coated sweet that is made from a thick batter of fermented rice and the latter is a delectable deep fried sweet made with a rather complex combination of white flour, clarified butter (ghee) and milk, topped with thickened milk, flavoured with saffron and decorated with very finely sliced dried fruits. The non-vegetarians usher in the monsoons with Qeeme Ki Goliyan, Tandoori Parathas made from chick-pea flour eaten with mince-meat cooked with a lot of green chillies and curd.
What is remarkable about these foods is that all of them are deep fried and yet it is this heavy stuff that goes so well with the muggy weather that is associated with the monsoons. The monsoons are around for another month, you can take the Metro to Chawri Bazaar, walk down to Barshah Bula Chowk and you will certainly get the Andarse Ki Goli and the Ghewar at Shyam Sweets. Balli Maran, Jama Masjid Nai Sarak and Bazaar Sitaram will help you with the remaining stuff.