The smell of hot oil mixing with the Delhi smog on a cold Delhi evening, the gawking street vendors, the incessant pushing and ploughing, the task of finding an inch of a space that gives the foot immunity from the sleek tyres of the ever-patrolling dusty rickshaws and the sleepy wires hanging like chandeliers from the tired old buildings of Chandni Chowk. Mecca of Street Food. This is where I come to meditate.

No, there are no incense sticks placed in a room painted in the cleanest, purest hues of white with soothing (read Westernised chants of Om) music. To be frank, my experience with them has been short of horrifying, to say the least.

So why the food bylanes of Chandni Chowk in particular? Essentially because they are the opposite of the conventional meditation environment most of us have been exposed to. I am a person of excesses and stark contradictions, (which kind of makes me like every other person on Earth), artificial silence doesn’t help me concentrate as much as natural chaos does.

Chandni Chowk packs in too much. It doesn’t let you breathe and yet you soak in the most natural order in what’s going around. Travelling from South Delhi to Chandni Chowk seems like a passage back in time and space. The Chowk always seems slightly daunting in the fact that I can never fully decode the routes (maybe I am just terrible with navigation) and the fact that Google Maps also bows out meekly when I tumble down some dead-end alley.

You might be irritated by most of it but yet the restrictiveness designed by the narrow galis and hundreds of pedestrians and vendors popping like mushrooms urges one to zap out of the virtual matrix of data emanating from the all-encompassing grip of smartphones.

And the food! It’s funny how the urge to relish sumptuous food makes me forget everything transpiring around—the dust, the sweat, the potholes, the open side manhole—to just fight my way through the swarm of human bodies to reach the heavenly plate of hot spicy kebabs half mingling with the pudina chutney at the side of the plate or the quick to melt aam kulfis enclosed in soft mango skins and cooled to perfection.

There is an inner chamber of emotions that gets unlocked with food. It comes out even better when it’s placed at a pivotal binding role at the Chowk dissolving a lot of urban-rural, literate-illiterate, economic and cultural barriers and calming many a frustrated souls. It is quite similar to a religious yatra (journey)in India wherein the devout brave the odds to get the limited facetime with the divine.

Happiness. My modern view on comfort, luxury and money had made it quite difficult to conjure up a happy scenario that lacked all of the above. I read somewhere that the pursuit of happiness is all but in vain as it is something that we cannot in fact avoid.

I saw it to be true in the heart of Old Delhi. True, unadulterated happiness wafting along the aroma of the mutton biryani and the seeping out from the cold matkas of phirni. How can pure joy not erupt at the sight of folks syncing their steps and temperament to indulge in culinary delights?

Chaos is what triggers escapism and for me, it’s what I can merge into and relax. We are all tiptoeing on the thin wire of peace surrounded by the abyss of chaos and everyone needs to have their own definition of peace to survive and thrive. For me peace is best served with a side of hot kebabs and cold sherbet.

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  • Swati Sudhakaran

    Policy Consultant, Lover of All Dogs and Self-Proclaimed Foodie

    Swati Sudhakaran is currently working as a policy consultant at a global communications firm in New Delhi.   She is a Journalism graduate from Delhi University and holds a Master's in Public Policy. Mallu girl, born and brought up in the National Capital. She loves to be rattled and bewildered by Indian politics.  She can eat anything that walks (no, not cannibalistic - not yet) and has taken upon her life's mission to embark on a food adventure every now and then. In the Era of Information, she is one of the millennial victims of information overload but also one of the rare ones not on Insta!