The orange sky is lazily turning grey-black as the sound of traffic steadily increases around me. There’s a park behind me, from where I can hear little children squeal with joy as they jump from rung to rung on the Monkey-Gyms. There’s this gust of wind that’s just blown across my face, foreshadowing the winter that’s about to set in soon. Now the sounds of angry car engines and the horns from the bikes of frustrated office-goers have doubled-within minutes! Yes! Loud horns! Everyone is very horn-happy here, and it’s not considered rude – it’s not considered anything.
As the sun sets in completely, hordes of hawkers come and set up make-shift shops on the footpaths, and there’s a lot of commotion as they arrange pretty red plastic chairs and tables for patrons to sit comfortably whilst enjoying spicy Indian delights. There are no streetlamps in the whole long lane, but it looks brightly lit up from where I sit. It’s these hawkers- I realise! Each little shop has its own lighting! At the foot of each cooking area are three-four car batteries, from which two black and red wires emerge curvaceously and connect themselves to little tube lights, bringing them to life. Ingenious!
Now all the shops have been set up perfectly- the Paratha shops, the South-Indian Dosa stalls, the curry shops, shops that sell highly ‘Indianized’, over-spiced versions of Chinese dishes, the shops that sell, once again, highly Indian unauthentic versions of pizzas- they’re all ready for the night. But the shops that stand out most are the Pao Bhaaji sellers! Even though all the dishes available in this lane are tasty and famous, by the end of the night the Pao Bhaaji stall will have done the best business.
And just as I have written this, as if to prove my point, hordes of customers start parking their vehicles until the lane is chock-a-bloc with traffic. Most of the people step down from their cars and bikes and make it to the Pao Bhaaji stalls.
As the customers at one such stall place their orders, a waiter fills the stainless steel glasses with cold drinking water. It’s not been two minutes and I can already whiff fragrance of onions and garlic turning golden, along with finely chopped green chillies and other Indian spices – a melange of colours in the hardy black pan. Then in go the fresh green bell-peppers, boiled potatoes, green peas, aubergines, cabbage, cauliflower and eventually a few sprigs of coriander. My mouth has started watering.
Just as I’ve suppressed the strong desire to shut my laptop and go grab a bite, the small-town master-chef smacks a large, golden dollop of butter down onto his huge non-stick pan, and as the butter fragrantly simmers, he extracts a fresh bread bun from its packet, cuts it into two, and places both the pieces face down onto the butter… That’s my order!
Words cannot do justice to what happened after the delightful dish took its place on the table. The aromas managed to shut out all the noise of the traffic, and the first bite proved transcendental, a burst of flavours telling me I was meant to be born here, just for this plate of Pao Bhaaji, if nothing else.