Friday, July 06, 2007

The Saket column

[Did this column for Time Out Delhi’s “I love such-and-such colony” section. Warned them that I'm indifferent to many things about the colony I've lived in for 20 years, and so the piece would be too lukewarm for the “I love Saket” headline that the column format would bestow on it. But it was a nice nostalgia piece to write. Have a longer version of it somewhere on my laptop, will put that up soon.]

We moved to Saket in September 1987. Still years away from acquiring road sense, I had little idea then of where this quiet colony placed on the map in relation to the rest of South Delhi, but I'd heard the area was once a forestland where people went fox-hunting, and it seemed a very adventurous thing to live in such a place. To reach the first-floor flat we made our home, we had to drive along a narrow, horseshoe-shaped lane off the main road and it felt like the opening scene of Rebecca, trees parting to reveal Manderley in the distance. The block we lived in bordered a small park, cut off from the main road, and perfect for cycling in and for playing cricket.

A couple of hundred metres down the road was a commercial complex that wasn't exactly the picture of activity: six or seven small shops (including the shacks with the dusty photocopier machines) scattered haphazardly about, a line of office doors and a single, downbeat cinema hall called Anupam. We never saw a film at this hall in the first decade of our stay; we were videocassette junkies and the complex wasn't a "happening" place, this being years before the Baristas, Subways and McDonalds' moved in to what is now PVR Saket.

Neighborhoods change gradually, through a slow accumulation of events, but in my mind's eye Saket's transformation can be condensed into a few cuts or dissolves, like in films where Master Raju jumps onto a train and becomes Amitabh Bachchan. One moment we are playing cricket in our small ground, a ball hits one of the few cars parked around the circumference and an uncle bellows that we should take our game elsewhere; the next second the park has lost its greenery and turned into an overcrowded car space where we have to find increasingly innovative ways to manoeuvre our vehicles in the evenings. One day we hear the Anupam hall is shutting down and the next thing we know we are gaping at the exteriors of India's first multiplex, plusher than any movie-hall we have seen before. (The interim period, many months of scaffolds and workers and tarpaulins, seems now to have occurred in fast-forward.)

Happily, some things haven't changed. I've gone to the same barbershop for 20 years (it used to be called "He-Man and She" or something such, now it's "A Cut Above"). Familiar faces, links to a more innocent time, still sit behind the counters of the chemist shops and the Mother Dairy en route to PVR. And though the name for our block of flats has changed to the duplicitous "Golf View Apartments" (the Lado Sarai golf course is nearby but nary a glimpse can be had), we still refer to them as DDA flats.

It would be dishonest to claim that I think Saket is a great neighborhood in some overriding sense. It's a pleasant, self-sufficient little place at its best, and crowded and traffic-spoilt at its worst, like dozens of other colonies. If it has a distinct character, I can't claim to know what that is. My love for it comes from intangibles, from the fact that the most important personal spaces of my life were situated here. The house I've lived in for two decades. The mini-market where we played Mario Bros video games outside a tiny grocery shop. The tree where a beloved kitten learnt how to climb for the first time. The large, invigorating F-Block park (a real park, not like the one outside our house) where I've gone for thousands of evening walks over the years, and where I sat on a bench with my girlfriend, now wife, in the early days of our courtship while a cop eyed us suspiciously from a distance. The Sports Complex with its giant swimming pool, clay-courts and cove-like entrance.

There are other advantages to living here. The growth of the NCR has turned Saket into a very convenient location, more or less equidistant from Connaught Place, Gurgaon and Noida (approx. 15 km each way). The Qutab Minar and the Mehrauli ruins are a ten-minute drive away. Except on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the road leading to PVR gets clogged, there isn't a major traffic problem. Let's see if that changes when the new malls near Pushpa Vihar open; I’m feeling ambivalent about those, but there’s going to be a huge new Landmark bookstore, and that’s something to look forward to.

What all this adds up to is that many of my best memories are connected with Saket, and I can't think of much that's wrong with the place. When you're living in a loud, messy city, not out of choice but circumstance, that's near the best you can hope for.

[A related post: PVR memories/Madhuban “Fine Dining”]


  1. Hey, the anecdote was really nostalgic. I have lived in Saket since years am still there,although currently stationed in Mumbai as well,but the post refreshed the memories of Anupam being changed to PVR and now the ubiquitous pubs, fast food, and cigaratte stall have invaded the place.Its sad that once a serene place, has become a conumerism hub but nevertheless I still love my Saket

  2. I guess all colonies would have a similar story to recount. Some would even have the metro as an additional tidbit and how it changed things.

    I wish google maps had come several years back, so that we could have documented all phases and then eventually we might have been able to cut a video of the sorts you describe here :).

  3. jai, wonder what you think of the quaint little j-block market.I loved the chinese place there,great for secret rendezvous:)

  4. Hi Jai,
    This is the first time I'm posting on your blog but I'm a regular reader - love your reviews. This post brought back so many memories. I grew up in Saket myself: we moved there in 1988 and I was there till I moved to the US four years back. Your post put me back about fifteen years...the Anupam days, He and She hair parlors, the F-Block Park (or "bada park" as we knew it, "chotta park" being the smaller one in G-Block right next to it), H-Block market, cricket matches, friends of days gone past...and the libaray run by the Sardarji in C-Block where I read all my Agatha Christies from :)
    For those of us of a certain age, it seems as if Saket lost its innocence at about the same time we were losing ours. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

  5. made me nostalgic and miss delhi too much... though i have never lived in saket, i have frequented it enough intially because of a close friend staying there and later on due to PVR.... those were the days....

    I tell u delhi is the most lovely city in india :)

  6. Oh I used to live in Saket (D block) years ago...and I loved it. The day my folks decided to move Anupam decided to make itself over into PVR. And the Saket now I really cannot recognise as home anymore but then, after living out of Delhi for 4 years nothing and nowehere does :(

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  8. Reminds me of amity days in '99, when we used to crowd around two first floor corner tables in Mc D's, furiously copying Workshop practicals while sharing one large fries and one large coke between the 8 of us and making it last 3 hours, till we were politely asked "if there will be something else, and if not, could we make way for the other customers". We used to always say that we were waiting for a friend(always the same friend) and it was his birthday.
    It will be a decade in another couple of years, and the memories are still oven-fresh.

  9. I used to live on Mandir Marg till 87 - it was the road right by the temple on the way to anupam. i haven't been back since... probably wouldn't recognise it at all. if anyone remembers, it was the house with the indian flag - because the owner (not us) was an MLA. Had lots of friends in the DDA flats but can't remember which blocks...

  10. This post revived all my childhood (and growing-up) memories of living in Saket..We moved there in the year '88, (to those DDA flats opposite Gyan Bharti School, and this little grocery shop called Mongia Stores). I remember the crescent shaped road, bordering the park - it was a park with a grassy hillock, and I used to love cycling down it at top speed - was that the park you spoke about? And I remember the "shahtoor" trees (not sure if I got the name right - those trees with sweet, sticky berries of purple and green - mulberries?) lining the colony roads and making purple splotches on them..Gosh, you've opened up this huge bank of memories, I'm half-inclined to blog about it myself. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  11. Empress of Blandings: good heavens, how did we not know each other as kids?! The grassy hillock was right outside our flat (we were on the first floor) and of course I remember the shahtoor trees. A friend and I irritated a lot of people by cutting branches off some of the smaller trees to make bows and arrows during the Mahabharata craze in 1988/89.

    The Mongia store has shut down now, by the way.

  12. Ah! U it was!!!!! I was wondering (after reading the story in Time Out) that I've read the name(ur name) sumwhere! It was here in blogsville! Nice read btw!

  13. I used to live there with my parents in Golf View Apartments C block. Now my parents stay there. I have seen that place change so much from Anupam to PVR and the shops. I was there last November and it still feels like home even after 5 years.

  14. Brooding and beautiful post. I am from Calcutta and barely knew Saket in her earlier glory. The modern avatar: I have seen all of it, as my work brings me often to a friend's place, who I share a room with. In your writing I can imagine who were the people who strolled the area around Anupam, in the evenings as I stare spellbound (a little uncomfortable) at the moving heads of Teazers or Buzz flash at us having our cafe au lait. The Nescafe kiosk beside PVR, that is my usual haunt, late evenings as you can sit there and watch our times stroll (or rush) by. There is a lot of energy now as there must have been those sepia-toned days. But inspite of the Irish tavern that seduces me on weekends, I often prefer the uncool plastic chairs of the chicken and mutton places with the sky above your head. The energy of the new India mesmerises but I often, like you (and surely many others) prefer to be a spectator, rather than a participant.

  15. I lived in Saket for almost the entire 80's and early 90's, going to school close by. Living with its many markets and parks and amongst hordes of children like myself it was a wonderful childhood. Your post was beautiful and articulate and made me realise that I not only miss Delhi terribly, I miss Saket more. Thank you.

  16. Hi...loved ur article on Saket..i lived in C block MIG Flats now GOlf View i think from 1983 ....loved the place....used to go for movies to Anupam nd then to PVR too...Loved the Rozana Bakery ..sweet palace nd Madhuban..though now these places r closed nd more fancy restaurants have come up still i miss the old times....Wow...the article has surely brought back memories of old times i am out of delhi but miss delhi nd specifically saket....I love Saket...