In defence of the village
Frowned upon by the chatterati for having become too mainstream, Hauz Khas Village is still the place where desires distil and knights and damsels pirouette
Lily Tekseng Delhi
Dressed in an extravagant statement jacket and sunglasses, in the centre of the stage, Jehu sways to the solo riff that his bassist is belting out. His eyes shut, his mouth is twisted in an ecstatic grin, and his teeth shiny and white in the golden light of the room. The band that plays every Saturday and Sunday at the venue calls itself Solo Indien. Their sound is eclectic; sometimes you can hear reggae, at other times blues sprinkled with jazz, and then rumba, and the very definite sound of Afro-beats. The crowd is a mishmash too. Pleated red weaves, a number of blonde and brunette heads bobbing on the makeshift dance floor, unpretentiously comfortable couples, a group of brightly dressed cis and trans girlfriends laughing heartily by the bar, and so on, and more. A few buildings down this venue, a young woman can often be found doing the most beautiful renditions of popular Kailash Kher songs, along with plenty of guitar-happy boys who love Honey Singh as much as Coke Studio. This is not to give the impression that it is a zoo of human diversity (the dangers of that folly!). On the contrary, this is in defence of the Hauz Khas Village: a place so often clogged with cars and choc-a-bloc with human traffic.
Everyone seems to be in a mood to avoid it: “I try to avoid the place”; “It’s so pretentious”; “It’s too artsy for me”. And everyone seems to be heading there, weekend or otherwise. Only a few years ago, it was a quiet corner of the city with errant, aspirational graffitis and a few boutiques and restaurants (one of which served the best Malabari food in the city). Stretched over a few hundred yards, there are close to a hundred restaurants now in the area, capitalising on every nook and corner available for what seems to be nothing less than a sort of a mini boom.
The choice of restaurants, cafes and bars brings a huge crowd into the Village, more than the place can take, in all honesty. Then there are the parties. Then there is the sweet thrill of “Ladies’ Nights” on various days of the week in various pubs. Kamlesh Meena, the Division Officer of the area, tells me on a chilly night in the Village that more women visit the place than men. Herself a woman, her hair cut in an envious pixie, her nose studded with a delicate nose pin, she tells me that staying up till 3 am is a normal routine for her. She assures me that mild cases of fights or harassment are aberrations rather than routine.
I can understand why she says there are more female footfalls than male ones. As the many restaurants and bars shut, hordes of people trickle out. It’s a riot of girls – cute girly girls, beautiful women with a firm grip on their sexuality, excited groups of young professionals, bored girls walking alone, tired girls after a long day of work and then a night out. If this was an atypical sight in Delhi, the rape capital, at 1 am on a Saturday, one of the Ladies’ Nights is then ultra-atypical. It becomes a case of “birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it”. Free drinks for the ladies until 12 am means not just broke students and ‘underpaid/interning for the fifth time professionals’ flock to this ladies magnet phenomenon — even serious JNU slummers can be found drinking cosmopolitans from a plastic cup.
A microcosmic representation of new desires — the desire to dance, drink and make merry, the desire to break cultural restraints, the ambition to grow more than the roots of home allow for — is represented by this place. The Village then becomes a metaphor for this new desire in India and a desire for a new India.