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The old order changes...

NOSTALGIA muses over a popular jamming address for the youth in Central Delhi, the Triveni canteen, which has just started a new innings

GONE ARE THOSE DAYS The canteen at Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi no more serves keema paranthas that was once its main attraction Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Bliss, as the poet nicely put it, was in that dawn to be alive - but to be young was very heaven. But while being young was wonderful, better still (as the poet didn't quite put it) was to have a place where one could hang around in central Delhi. Those were the days - the stupendous Seventies and the exhausting Eighties - when a revolution was not just a Beatles album, but something that was said to be round the corner. There was love in the air, and music in our breath. And helping us in our endeavour was an exposed brick building on Mandi House. This was Triveni - Joseph Stein's beautiful complex where the arts met, quite like the rivers.

For us, the Triveni was not just a centre of arts and culture. Equally important was the fact that it housed one of the best cafeterias in town. The Triveni canteen, for many of us, was a home away from home - we were there whenever we wanted to be away from home.

We used to all gather there from different parts of the city. And we had good reason to do so. First, of course, was that it was central. Second, the Triveni canteen was in the Mandi House area, which was the hub of anything cultural. And three, there was nothing to beat its keema-paranthas.

The canteen was dotted with different kinds of people. There was the actor struggling for a role; the Ph.D student in love with his thesis; the composer looking for that elusive tune; the writer waiting for a break. The waiters were old friends. They knew who didn't want milk in their tea, and who tipped well. The menu was not an elaborate one - but we always zeroed in on the keema-paranthas for lunch, and something that we called tasty-toasts - two slices of bread toasted and joined together with a spicy filling in between - for tea. And in those pre-cholesterol and pre-acidity days, we smoked an endless number of cigarettes while we drank our tea, strong and bitter.

Closure and reopening

The Triveni canteen was so much a part of our lives in New Delhi that the news of its closure -- and subsequent reopening under a new management - came as a bit of a shock. The new canteen is a part of the new India - it doesn't allow cigarettes or long addas.

A sign bans the holding of meetings in the canteen. The keema-parantha is no longer there, and the tasty toast is not quite tasty. And what good is a canteen if you can't have an `adda'?

But I suppose, life has turned full circle. When we were young, we heard our elders tell us about a Delhi where only tongas moved, and how everything beyond Darya Ganj was draped in forests. It's our turn now to tell our young ones: Once, there was a canteen...

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