Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The monastery canteen

Visited the monastery canteen today, after a long, long time. This monastery is in Qutab Institutional Area, on a (roughly) crescent-shaped lane that runs behind the main road; lots of offices dot this lane, and a number of little dhabas too. I found out about the canteen when I was working in Britannica, a few buildings away, some years ago. Someone in office discovered it, raved about the walnut and chocolate cakes, and word spread; at least once every two weeks or so I’d saunter across during lunch hour for piping hot Maggi noodles with chunks of omelette, or maybe some thupka. After leaving EB I went there again a couple of times (it isn’t far from my house) but this evening was the first time in at least two years. I had an appointment in the vicinity, finished at 5.30 and had time to kill so thought I’d re-live a favourite old experience.

I started writing this aware that I was setting myself up for some platitudinal observations about the serenity, the feeling of well being in a place like this. But well, it really is like that, so what does one do. When you enter the main gate of the monastery, the guard sitting at the front desk just smiles benignly at you and looks bemused when you try to explain where you’re going: there’s no explanation required, walk right in. In the canteen itself, there’ll be people sitting around, in groups or individually, at various tables – but no one will look at you, subject you to the Gaze, none of the boorish intrusiveness that one is so accustomed to in public spaces. There are mostly foreign-exchange students (there was a blonde, Scandinavian-looking, poring over some notes at one table today), the kind who’ll occasionally look around timorously, happy to be left alone; but even those visitors who’ve just come in off Delhi’s mad streets, and who were likely swearing at fellow drivers a few minutes earlier, suddenly seem becalmed just because they are where they are.

There’s no artifice about the place and its people. The guard, the canteen-in-charge, the little boy who does the serving, the occasional monk whose eye you might catch - they all have gentle smiles on their faces, they all seem happy and content, and while that might sound frightfully vapid (it would to me if someone said it like that), you have to be there to know. It’s so unassuming, so matter-of-fact, so natural that one can’t ever be cynical about it. And Lucifer knows I try.

Have I said anything about how good the cakes (and the banana shake) are? Won’t. Last thing the place needs is a swoop of foodie journos ravaging it.


  1. Hey, Jai I think you are right. If any place in Delhi qualifies for the adjective 'serendipitous', it is the monastery cafe.

  2. Hey, Jai I think you are right. If any place in Delhi qualifies for the adjective 'serendipitous', it is the monastery cafe.