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What we miss: An ode to city life as we knew it before the pandemic

#AllTheFeels for the foods we ate, the sounds we heard, the sights that felt familiar and the things that made us shake our heads and smile. What do you miss most about life in your city?

Updated: Sep 20, 2020, 10:48 IST

By Team HT, Hindustan Times

(HT Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)

Stuck home since March, working out of our living rooms, limited to our neighbourhoods, it seems all of India has been missing the India outside. Familiar corners, a local haunt, a favourite view. A secret short-cut we thought only we knew. Smells and sounds of the streets we walked, traffic jams we loved to curse. Little signs that made up everyday reality. HT writers across five cities sent us the things they miss. Take a look

MUMBAI

* Calling everyone “boss”. Well, except your boss.

* Taking a flyover late at night, and admiring the skyline illuminated by amber streetlights and the light from the occupied rooms in apartment complexes.



* The ‘tang tang tang tang’ sound of pav bhaji being prepared on that huge tava.

* Two-wheeler dudes, dressed so dope, with motorcycle stickers that say, ‘Aai Tuzhaa Aashirvad’.

* Being able to say stuff like, ‘Khaali fukkat ka magajmaari’ (‘What is this needless hassle’) dismissively.

* Pronouncing Hughes Road “Hew-Jizz Road” so that the taxi driver knows where he has to go.

* Driving past CSMT station at night, seeing it lit up in a particular colour, and trying to take a photo as your vehicle zooms past. And realising, belatedly, that it’s illuminated like this at least twice a week.

* Seeing your autorickshaw driver stick one foot out while he’s driving. Is it a flag? A weathervane? A rudder?

* Checking out the billboards and outdoor advertisements in unexpected places. This is Mumbai. If they’re trying to sell you something, it means everything’s all right.

* Wondering if you should check out the new Bandra restaurant everyone’s talking about. Looking up reviews. Wondering if it’s just hype. Phoning to make a reservation only to be told that they don’t do reservations on weekends. Wow, then it MUST be good.

* Heading to the mall during sale season. Queuing at the fitting rooms and then at the payment counters. And the disbelief when the cashier tells the shopper in front of you, “Ma’am, your total is Rs 24,696. Cash or card?”

* Digging into a truly unlimited Gujarati-Rajasthani thali, and having an army of servers top up every katori – even the salaad – until you can’t eat a morsel more. Then they bring out the rice.

* Shamelessly eavesdropping on co-passenger conversations on trains, buses and UberPool. “So I met this guy on Tinder….” Ooh! Then what happened?

* The morning after a night of drinks with the office gang after completing a project. Gosh. How loud were we! Who paid? And how much do I owe?

* ‘Dokaavney’, a word that crops up as the lady makes her safety announcements over and over, warning you not to stick your head out of a running train. A word you absolutely never hear anywhere else.

* That superfast cash-for-receipt exchange at the Sea-Link toll. The staff always has the right change for every denomination. What sorcery is this!

* The pointless, unending, but oh-so-entertaining one-upmanship between North and South Mumbai; the eastern and western suburbs; renters and those on EMI. What does it matter, when everyone’s struggling anyhow?

* Being able to catch a colleague’s attention at an office meeting and sneakily rolling your eyes at the presentation. On Zoom, everyone’s watching you now.

* Asking someone what they’re planning for the long weekend.

* Spam SMS featuring MahaRERA-approved close-to-completion luxury 3BHKs with exclusive harbour and sea views and all amenities starting at Rs 4.5cr only. Only!

(Rachel Lopez)

DELHI

* Drunken drivers arguing with traffic police, trying to convince cops that they are teetotallers.

* The noise around Jantar Mantar. The sloganeering and shouts of protest throughout the day. Everyone is a rebel in Delhi — students, their teachers, the opposition, the ruling party, activists, lawyers, cops, factory workers.

* Showing off at Khan Market. This is a place to see and be seen. Here, you could spot expensively dressed society hosts (including ex-maharanis) with huge wigs, private peons carrying their shopping bags; politicians (or their kids) with gun-toting guards; or miscellaneous folks who are famous for being famous. Now famous faces are hidden behind the masks.

* The foreign tourists with their DLSRs and sun glasses, taking photographs of India Gate and Red Fort. And the tour guides, photographers and taxi drivers waiting by the roads to fleece them.

* Going to a play. Every evening the clipped lawn of the Mandi House traffic circle would be crowded with various troupes rehearsing their plays. Hanging out in the circle, or just driving about it, was like being a gatecrasher in one of those open air theatres in Ancient Greece (sans the steps!).

* IIC book launches. Dining privileges at the India International Center are for members and their guests. But its book launches—held many times a week— would be open to all. There offered a rare opportunity for a face-to-face encounter with famous authors and to network with publishers and book editors. Plus, free pakoras and gulab jamun with steaming chai/coffee.

* The queue outside the Andhra Bhawan canteen and the hungry faces waiting their turn at the table.

* Browsing secondhand books. The Sunday second-hand book bazaar shifted from Daryaganj to a fairground opposite the Delite Cinema. Things won’t be the same even if the market reopens. After all, on spotting a lovely second-hand, won’t you worry about the hands that touched it before you?

* Fellow passengers in the Metro peeping into your phone for entertainment. What better way to travel home than in an air-conditioned coach, enjoying HD videos at the cost of someone else’s data?

* Auto drivers ready to take you everywhere but the place where you have to go.

* Car-O-Bar. Is it a thing of the past? Until the lockdown, the streets around Connaught Place and Khan Market would be full of Delhi residents inside cars drowning in pegs.

* The sight of school buses stuck at Ashram junction, Delhi’s perennial choke point. The restless children waving at motorists, making faces at other drivers, while the drivers wonder why Ashram junction is what it is.

* Hapless Ola and Uber drivers taking rounds of the Inner and Outer circles of Connaught Place on weekends, waiting for passengers who refuse to leave CP’s bars and pubs until the last minute.

* The chaos outside Jama Masjid in the evenings, when hundreds leave the mosque and head towards Qureshi Kebab.

* Delhi’s momo carts. Thousands of migrants have fled Delhi. Momo sellers and their steamers are a vanishing sight.

* Couples inside the Lodhi Garden and Nehru Park. The pandemic has come in the way of all love.

* Long walks on the JNU campus. Sipping hot tea and eating freshly made pakoras at the iconic Ganga Dhabha and debating why we need a change.

* Delhi police on the loudspeakers at Lajpat Nagar asking shoppers to look for suspicious items in the crowd. There are no crowds now. So no announcements.

* Yes to bargaining but no trying on in Sarojini and Janpath Market.

* The nightlife at Nizamuddin. Ghalib’s kebabs, qawalli at the dargah and the bustle.

* The crowded lanes of Old Delhi. What’s a weekend outing here, if you do not have to struggle to walk in the bylanes of Delhi-6.

(Mayank Austen Soofi, Sweta Goswami, Soumya Pillai, Shiv Sunny, Prawesh Lama) 

LUCKNOW

* Saying “Ama yaar!”, the first phrase that anyone from Lucknow learns. Its true value comes from how it is delivered. Standing in the middle of the street, Lucknowwalas are prone to putting their hands on their hips, tilting their heads, and saying it, out of frustration, out of joy, and sometimes just because they can. “Ama yaar, when will this Corona end!”

* JJ Bakers. No matter which cakes, pastries, or rolls you offer, for Lucknow walas nothing can be better than the ones dished out here. Luckily, they’ve started serving again.

* “Yahan pyaaz khud lana parta hai” (You have to bring your own onions here). The legendary sign on the wall in the most legendary restaurant in Lucknow: the original Tunday Kababi in the Old City.

* Rumi Darwaza trivia. Every time you cross the spectacular gateway to the Old City, someone from Lucknow will turn around and tell you how it was built every day, and then parts were demolished every night by Nawab Asaf Ud-Daula to ensure that people stay employed.

* Hearing old-time locals calling the city “Nakhlau”. It somehow seems phonetically more accurate.

* The joy of driving around in the middle of the night near the KD Singh Babu stadium to two different paan shops – so that you can decide whose concoction is better. That joy is back. As are the disagreements because each one. sticks by their old favourite

* The sound of the ghungru, tabla, and alaap ringing in the streets as you on go from Qaiserbagh towards Bhatkhande

* The sight of women artisans with fast fingers and fine needles engaged in making exquisite chikankari in the bylanes of Chowk and Gol Darwaza.

* There’s no one around to say “Pehle aap” to (a Lucknow courtesy of politely asking other person, Nawab or not, to take the first plunge).

* Haggling. If Bombay has its Fashion Street and Delhi its Sarojini Nagar, Lucknow has its Love Lane. But there’s no one to haggle with, and no one to beat to that last crop top.

*Riding the crammed shared tempos of the city. The tag line for Lucknow is supposed to be “Muskuraiye aap Lucknow mein hain” (smile, you’re in Lucknow). It should say, “Muskuraiye aap tempo mein hain”.

* Martinians. What would Lucknow be without those who went to La Martiniere, established in 1845 though the will of Major General Claude Martin, a Frenchman who defected to the British, and was a brilliant architect, scholar and… okay, okay, I’ll stop). Martinians, as you can tell, can’t get enough of their school. And they’re missing hanging out in its palatial corridors more than anything else.

* The cavalcade of cars that follow VIPs and threaten to run over anyone to dares to share the road with them. The cavalcades have reduced -- in frequency but not in size. And it’s easier to count the cars in a lockdown. We believe the record this season is somewhere in the late thirties.

* The smoky haze, the aroma of spices and the satisfying sizzle of chicken on charcoal grills lined up along the road when you enter Nazirabad.

* Hearing the chimes of the British-era General Post Office clock, Lucknow’s only operational clock tower. And watching commuters turn their head towards the tower at every chime.

* Navigating Charbagh railway station, an obstacle course of autos and taxis awaiting passengers. With only a few trains running, the station’s bustle is missing. You can pass through Station Road quickly — a rare experience.

* The sight of ice-cream stalls over Gomti Bridge. And being able to eat one while looking at the river, watching young people fill the place with energy.

* Sipping tea with a side of bun-makhkhan at Sharma Chai in Lalbagh with friends . Hazratganj and the evening crowds around the chaat and gol-gappa carts.

* Looking for place to park in old Lucknow.

(Deepika Singh, Rajeev Mullick, Oliver Fredrick and Chandan Kumar)

PUNE

* The loud IT-crowd parties that annoy the neighbours at Amanora and Magarpatta on the weekends. The techies have gone home for the lockdown, and no EDM plays in the buildings any more.

* Scholars getting together to discuss national issues in the lush gardens of Pune University over cups of chai.

* The whole ritual of acquiring Shrewsbury biscuits and sponge cake from Kayani bakery. You must first find parking on East Street, fight your way into the shop, make sure the salesman hears you, and then wait for your order.

* Senior citizens, many of them retired scientists, meeting in groups in peaceful Panchvati to chat, talk politics, and discuss their health.

* The delicious aromas of MG Road: Kayani biscuits, Budhani Bros wafers and everything in-between. Stopping for a sandwich and coffee at Marz-O-Rin, buying books from the roadside stalls and shopping at Clover Center and Wonderland.

* Commuting by PMPML, sitting in the seat near the rear door with headphones on, but actually listening in on multiple conversations.

* Watching the Mumbai crowd depart down the Expressway on Sunday evening and Monday morning. The bittersweet feeling of bidding goodbye to a friend with a job 200km away, but also ridding the streets of MH01, MH02, MH03 and MH04 cars.

* Celeb-spotting at the NH7 Weekender.

(Shivani Singh, Pranav Jadhav, Fatima Peter, James Mathew, Roopesh Raj, Steffy Thevar, Shalaka Shinde)

CHANDIGARH

* Heading to the cinemas at Elante Mall and Bestech Mall. The malls are open, but they just don’t feel the same without the multiplex crowd.

* Driving through wide roads lined with the flowering amaltas and jacaranda. We missed spring and summer and now it looks like we’ll miss most of autumn too.

* Running half-marathons and playing badminton with friends at the Club.

* Taking leisurely strolls at Sukhna Lake and watching people dig into street food.

* Making last-minute plans to catch a movie and then rushing to make it to the closest theatre, usually Piccadilly, before the opening credits started to roll.

* Live music sessions, gigs, discovering new indie music and listening to travellers back from the Karakorams or the Andes, all while sitting at the quaint Backpackers Café.

* Early-morning yoga class in the neighbourhood park, with fellow exercisers motivating you to stretch further, offering spiritual gyan and lots of friendly banter. Practising yoga alone at home or via Zoom, with the buffering, is no fun.

(Rajanbir Singh, Vidhya Narayanan, Aishwarya Khosla, Akshi Sharma and Yojana Yadav)

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