Guest article by Tushar Shukla.
Day 23 (V) ~ #BlogchatterA2Z
All artwork is done by Seema Misra, Copyright Lonely Canopy.
As a kid of 10 years, I have faint memories of Bikaner House. We used to hear these words often- Sarai Kaley Khan, ISBT Kashmiri Gate, Dhaula Kuan when we used to go to Delhi by a “Semi deluxe” bus from Jaipur. Back in the 90s, going to Delhi was quite the in thing to do for us. The whole experience was well anticipated and planned. Reaching the Jaipur Sindhi Camp bus stand, leisurely watching the travelers from the seats outside close to the ticket counter, walking up to the water cooler, buying an apple juice or comic books (Chacha Chaudhary, Raj Comics) from the magazine vendor stalls. Then as our bus would get ready for boarding, we would load up our baggage in the rear compartment, and proudly board the bus. For the rest of the night, we would be on this magic ride to the city of India Gate & Lal Killa- Dilli!
One stop we eagerly looked forward to was the midway stop at Behror. I would get down sleepy eyed around 1:30 or 2 AM at the stop and run to the cafeteria there to find the ultimate object of desire, a hot piping bowl of Sambhar Vada. This was the north Indian version of sambhar with lots of coriander spice with a larger than life vada dunked carelessly in it, but for us, it was the stuff that dreams are made of. The goal was to finish it within 10 mins before the bus started again. In the odd chance of the driver being kind to us and waiting a little longer, we would even buy an espresso coffee and check out the savvy shops around, selling magazines, chocolates and cassette tapes of English music.
A few hours later, we would enter Delhi through Gurgaon. Delhi had this foggy smoky air, and in those times, it used to feel like we have really arrived at someplace transformative. The broad roads, a line of trees, fast moving vehicles, people who sported a look of menace and smoldering indifference, distinct neighborhoods and suburbs with quirky names. We would get down at Dhaula Kuan most of the times, and catch an auto from the impossible hordes of auto drivers fighting over us at this wee morning hour.
After we were done exploring Delhi, we would head to Bikaner House to catch the return bus. Bikaner House was automatically a hallowed place, as it was within the viewing distance of India Gate. Pandara Road was the name of the street. Our auto would get us there through the perfectly geometrical and concentric street patterns of Lutyens’ Delhi with beautiful monuments, buildings and statues, lots of them. Roads were emptier with fewer shops. In those days, seeing “Nayi Dilli” scribbled over shops used to fill my stomach with all kinds of butterflies.
Bikaner House was a posh bus stand, that never looked like a bus stand. It was an administrative building surrounded by many other administrative buildings. The waiting room had an AC, quite a feat back then, and even a water cooler. Much later they, installed a TV as well. We bought the ticket at the counter, and then did what we were destined to do – wait. Waiting at Bikaner House was a luxury, listening to the Walkman, reading a magazine, checking out other travelers with the judgmental eyes of a pre-teen, it was all that I ever wanted in a trip. I never wanted the bus to arrive but it did, and we would board it and bid farewell to Bikaner House, with a promise to see it again soon.
While reading up on this building, which has had a storied past, I was happy to find out that the recent restoration taken up by the Rajasthan government. Much of the damage caused by the neglect and abuse it suffered due to the bus boarding activity has been addressed. The house has been restored to the glory it enjoyed as the residence of the maharajah of Bikaner. Now, a hep cultural center, its Facebook page boasts of the high-society events.
Before it goes through any more changes, I would love to revisit Pandara Road, and sit at Bikaner House, and just wait….