Culinary Gods

If you ever happen to be walking on a dusty street of Delhi, just stop for a moment and look around you. You will most certainly find a couple of culinary heroes. They are generally migrants who have come from far-flung towns and villages in UP, Bihar, Haryana, Darjeeling, Nepal, Mizoram, etc. From morning till night, they cook, toil, and sweat, and sell their stuff to the locals with the hope of earning enough money for themselves and their folks back home. Their grit, courage, and determination are really admirable and that’s what makes them little Gods in their own right.  The items they sell may not qualify for Michelin’s 5-star status, but they carry that special touch and feel of the land they have originated from. This is what makes Delhi a melting pot of so many cultures and cuisines.

Let me tell you about 2 such people.

Raju: You will find him at Uttam Nagar Bus Terminal, near Uttam Nagar East Metro Station. He has come from Uttar Pradesh. From morning till night, he fries cocktail samosas in a little karahi and sells them to the passersby. His price is Rs.10 for 4 samosas, that is, Rs.2.50 per piece, which is damn cheap if you compare it with a standard samosa in Delhi which costs Rs.10 per piece. His low pricing is his way of fighting competition.

A few days ago, it was raining when I passed by his shop. I usually avoid street food, but I just couldn’t resist the temptation and I bought these samosas. I was pleasantly surprised to find them very tasty and the spices were very balanced too. During the rainy season, he puts up a tent and carries on because sales are much more when it rains. Considering the amount of plastic that goes inside a packet of Kurkure of the same price (Rs.10), these samosas are, I think, far safer and more nutritious. Try them whenever you are passing through this place and you feel like eating something crunchy and spicy.

Tashi Sherpa: Tashi works for a living at Mini Market, AG-1 Vikaspuri. He has come from Darjeeling and lives in Uttam Nagar at present. He began his business in Vikaspuri about a year ago. His daily routine begins here at 4 PM.

His most significant contribution to this locality has been the introduction of ‘Buglet,’ a recipe which he has brought from Darjeeling, and 2 new varieties of samosa, chowmein samosa and macaroni samosa.

Samosas with fillings other than potatoes were earlier associated with places like Moti Nagar and Paharganj. Thanks to Tashi, we get them now in AG-1, Vikaspuri too! He is doing quite well here, he says with his characteristic smile, especially with his buglets and samosas.

Buglet is a kind of roll made from maida stuffed with chicken or vegetables depending on the preferences of the customers. The roll is fried in a karahi and sliced into two before serving.

Here are the photographs.

Raju @ Uttam Nagar Bus Terminal

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Tashi Sherpa, AG-1, Vikaspuri

 

Buglets being deep-fried…

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Before serving/packing, each Buglet is sliced into 2 pieces.

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Tashi, busy with his customers…

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Here are a few more heroes and Gods. These pics were all clicked near Uttam Nagar Red Light…

Seller of luscious and colorful fruits

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Guptaji’s Faluda Kulfi…

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Pawan Tikki Burger

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Selling Shikanji (drink made with lemon juice, water, sugar, ice, and spices)

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Juice stall…

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Prisoners’ Hospital

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital (DDUH), Hari Nagar, Delhi

 

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There is a government hospital in Delhi, the capital city of India, where all patients are prisoners; some live in a real prison, the Tihar Jail, and the rest live in emotional jails created by their illnesses. But this is where the similarity ends.

 

 

 

The Tihar prisoners don’t have to wait in queues as the Police constables accompanying them just barge in wherever required, handcuffs and all. It’s probably one of those few places where law breakers and law keepers walk hand-in-hand!

This hospital was established in 1970 and gets its name from the famous Indian philosopher and political activist Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. From 50 beds, it has  now grown to a 500-bedded hospital with a 24 hours’ open Casualty.

I have a deep, emotional connection with this hospital. It began about 25 years ago, around 1991, when I was a Medical Rep. in a pharmaceutical company and a visit to DDU hospital used to be a part of my monthly tour plan. I was a young, naïve, unmarried girl in my early 20s at that time.

During one of those visits, while I was coming down a crowded staircase, I ran into a handcuffed prisoner tied to a constable. Quite unexpectedly, the prisoner took out a letter from his pocket and handed it over to me. Hurriedly, he said, “Madam, isko please post kar dena (Madam, please post it for me). Without waiting for any reply from me, he turned around and kept walking. A few seconds later, he dissolved within the suffering mass of thronging humanity inside the hospital’s premises. For several seconds, I remained frozen and kept on holding the letter in my hand. As soon as I recovered, I went to the post office and got it posted.

It was the Gynaecology OPD that I always dreaded the most, but I couldn’t avoid it as it was a vital part of my tour plan. I still remember that incident when I came across a woman lying in a pool of blood  on the floor right outside the corridors. She was having a miscarriage while the world around her walked by in callous disregard…Something like this would probably not happen now.

Compared to other OPDs, Gynae. OPD was always the most crowded and getting undivided attention from the doctors used to be very difficult. I observed that they subjected every patient to an internal exam. The cries of pain that sneaked out through the curtains while I waited always made me cringe inside.  They gave me the first hint of the gruesomeness of becoming pregnant and having a baby.  I wonder why they don’t invent less humiliating and traumatic techniques of physical examination.

Once I heard a Gynae. doctor euphemistically advising a patient, “Yeh dawai roz lena aur apne pati se kuch din mat milna.” Translated into English, this means, “Take this medicine daily and don’t meet your husband for a few days…”

And then one day, while I was distributing free samples of my company’s anti-inflammatory enzyme and antibiotics to a group of Casualty doctors in DDU,  a severely wounded prisoner was admitted. All the doctors and nurses on duty rushed to attend to him.  Once he was seated on the bed, he coughed out blood. A few seconds later, some blackish-brown solid things popped out of his mouth and fell on the bed.  It was obvious that he was brutally beaten. Some of his internal organs had got dismantled and were expelled. He still had his handcuffs on him. It was a horrible sight and I just couldn’t bear to watch it any longer. I left in haste  and prayed that I never have to see anything like this again in my entire life.

Many years later, around 1999, I came to this hospital’s Emergency as a terrified mother with a badly injured and profusely bleeding child. I was pleasantly surprised to find the staff so prompt and efficient. By then I had already joined a different profession and I hardly knew anyone in the hospital. It is an open secret that to get best possible treatment in a government hospital in India, you need to have good ‘connections’ and I was happy to be proved wrong this time.

My most recent visit to DDUH was this month (May 2016). Not only was I treated well, I also found a lot of improvement in several areas. But there is still a long way to go.  ACs have been installed in the OPDs, but only those in the Paediatrics department were working. Wooden benches have been replaced by stainless chairs which are more comfortable. Toilets were horrible and running water was not available. At several windows, patients were waiting patiently in long queues. The only place where some amount of creativity and thought seemed to have been applied was the Paediatrics OPD.

It’s rather tragic that so many crores of rupees disappear annually in scams, while the general public battles it out in these poorly managed government hospitals. Chief Minister Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and Health Minister Mr. Satyender Jain, are you listening?

Here are some latest photographs, good, bad, and ugly. Ugly ones are in the end…

Good things first…

 

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Pics from Paediatrics OPD (the only OPD where ACs were working…)

 

 

Now the Bad Ones…The grim realities…

Comfortable chairs, but long wait, non-functioning ACs, overcrowding, overworked staff

 

 

Ugly ones…Brace yourself for what will see now…

Dirty toilets, no running water, no housekeeping staff…(A suggestion to Mr. Satyender Jain: Hand over the toilets to Sulabh. They manage toilets very well).

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A Storm Over An Earring

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Sometimes trivial problems turn into medical emergencies. An earring, stuck because of a hardened plastic stopper, got me admitted into a Hospital Emergency recently!

A few months ago, I began wearing a pair of gold earrings with an unusual design. They had a very thin gold chain running through each of the studs and the chain remained hanging from the ear. They were my favorite earrings because of their light weight and elegant look. I wore them all the time, since they went well with every dress, both in office and outside.

Last week, I felt an itching sensation on my ear lobes. When I touched them with my finger, I found an accumulation of wax around the studs. So I decided that it was high time I removed the earrings and cleaned my ears thoroughly.  I managed to remove the right earring, but the left one remained stuck. I pushed and pulled several times, but all in vain. Every time I tugged at it, I felt a shooting kind of pain going through my temple. Both my husband and my daughter tried to help, but the pain was simply too much. That was when I decided that I would get this earring removed in a hospital. But before that, I had to go to the office. Several colleagues asked me why I was wearing just one earring. I joked about it and said, “This is my latest style statement!”

Just before I headed for the hospital, an office friend very confidently offered to remove it for me. I said, “‘Alright, let’s make one last try.”

While she tugged and pulled, she muttered, “Waheguru” several times. But the earring remained subbornly intact and my pain was simply too unbearable. My ear also became red and swollen. So she gave up and I decided that that was it.

I stepped out and went straightaway to DDU (Deen Dayal Upadhyaya) Hospital at Hari Nagar, since it’s very close to my office. It’s a government hospital, but its Emergency Department is super efficient. I know this from past experience. That was when my daughter was 3 and got a severe cut on her forehead after slipping from a swing. She bled profusely on our way to the hospital and we were really frightened. We wondered if her eyes were injured too. It was a Sunday evening and no private doctor was available. So we took her to DDUH’s Emergency. Their response was prompt and timely and it was over in just one hour. She got 7 stitches that day.

DDUH staff is quite well-trained and well-experienced. They receive a lot of patients daily from the nearby Tihar Jail too, often in a severely battered condition. Tihar Jail houses some of India’s deadliest criminals.

This time, I was pleasantly surprised to find the hospital looking much cleaner and more orderly than before. The Security staff  was not only present in much bigger numbers, but they were also much smarter, better-looking, more polite, and more helpful. Gone are the days, it seems, of just a few surly ex-servicemen with outdated rifles making feeble attempts to control hundreds of unruly patients and their attendants. The patients who moved around in the corridors that day included a few handcuffed prisoners being herded around by policemen from Tihar.  That’s quite a usual sight here.

Once the entry formalities were done, they reassured me by saying, “Don’t worry. If your ear gets cut or torn during pulling, we will stitch it.”

My heart began beating fast in terror as they got their instruments ready. A minute later, they got me seated on a stool.

The doctor said, “Get me the forceps.”

I kept my eyes shut, prepared for the worst with prayers on my lips.

“Place some cotton wool.”

“There’s no cotton wool.”

“Alright. Put the forceps here and pull gently.”

I felt that shooting pain again, but it was not as intense as it was at home. There was a ‘cut’ sound at that instant and I let out a muffled shriek.

“It’s over now,” the doctor said.

Slowly and gently, she pulled the plastic stopper of the earring over the chain and handed it over to me with a smile.

“There you go. Happy now?”

The doctor’s assistant rubbed some antiseptic on my ear and that was the end of my ordeal. Finally, when I came out of the hospital, I felt extremely happy and relieved. The best part of it was that my only expenditure was on bus fare from office to hospital and back (Rs.10 only!) I didn’t have to pay a single penny for my treatment.

A shop nearby was running a special sale of night wear. I gifted myself a pair of nighties that day.

Here are some more pics. As you can see, Delhi Government seems to be making huge efforts to ensure that the poorest of the poor get basic health care and there seems to be greater transparency these days. A smiling face of Delhi’s Chief Minister Kejriwal gazes reassuringly at the public thronging around from the huge banners hung all over the premises.

Another interesting thing I saw was the rainwater harvesting tank. This is part of the government’s determination to conserve water and ensure water security for Delhiites. It really felt great! For a change, our government seems to be working at the micro level too. Keep it up! That’s all I can say at this juncture.

I noticed this lovely Bougainvillea just before entering the hospital premises.

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New potted plants were arriving that day as part of government’s drive to make the premises look better. A gardener looks curiously at me while I try to click his picture discreetly from my mobile phone!

 

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Take a look at these Government Smileys! These posters are spreading this message in Hindi, “Medicines prescribed by doctors in this hospital are completely free. If you don’t get any medicine, sms on 8745051111. This has been made possible because of honest governance.”

 

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The signboard below indicates that all services are complementary. This has been done to prevent corruption.

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The Hospital Security Staff…

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Isn’t that lovely? This Rain Water Harvesting Tank? It fills me with hope and joy

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DDU Hospital & Tihar Jail Coordination

DDUH houses a little police station which coordinates between Tihar Jail and Hospital to ensure treatment for the Tihar prisoners. The Jail ambulance keeps coming and going.

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Prisoners being taken by policemen from Hospital Police Station to DDU Hospital for treatment and back…

 

And here I am, on my way back to the office, with empty ear lobes, feeling happy and light…

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And here are those flowery dresses that I bought for myself…

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—Jasbir Chatterjee

14 May 2016